Front Page
January 23, 2009
President Barack Obama opens new chapter in US history

Jamila Soso-Vincent 23.JAN.09

As the 44th President of the United States Barack Obama was sworn in at the Capitol, Washington DC, on Tuesday, the world stood still for a few minutes. And St. Vincent and the Grenadines was no exception.{{more}}

Throughout the country, people were glued to television and computer screens to watch the new president, the first African American ever, take his oath.

In particular, the students at the Girls’ High School in Kingstown were provided with a big screen projection of the event, which was sponsored by Corea’s Hazell’s Inc.

Listening to the girls’ excited chatter, it was apparent that many of them had been following Obama’s 2008 presidential election campaign, not necessarily because of his policies on U.S and world matters, but definitely because they recognized that it was history in the making.

One student was overheard chiding another for not paying proper attention to what was happening on screen. “This is the first Black man to be president!”

Speaking to SEARCHIGHT, a few students related how excited they are at Obama’s presidency. “He’s the most powerful man in the world now, and he’s black!” one student exclaimed.

Each time President Obama graced the screen, the girls broke out in deafening cheers. Their reactions were so heartfelt that local cameraman Stephenson Wallace sent video footage of the event to CNN. In turn, the video clip was included in Wolf Blitzer’s CNN news programme, “The Situation Room”, which aired on the station on Wednesday, January 21.

Andrea Bowman, Headmistress of GHS, said she chose to show the inauguration at the school because she believed it was an historic moment that her students needed to be part of. “I found it important enough for them to not just see a recording but to see it in the moment!” she explained. Bowman acknowledged that Obama did not run as a black president, but that did not diminish the meaning of his win to the black community worldwide. “It takes away some of the stigma and negativity that is sometimes associated with black people. It does something for their sense of place in the world. It gives them validation.”

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves expressed how moving he found the event. He also related that President Obama’s speech had given him cause to reflect on many issues, one being that of struggle. “It causes me to reflect on the importance of struggle… and not only the struggles of people of African descent, but struggles of people against colonialism and racism throughout the world – including here in the Caribbean.”

Gonsalves further advised that the nation should not expect Obama to execute a quick fix of the USA’s problems. “We must not expect miracles from Obama because he is functioning within a particular structure… What is important to us from the Caribbean is that he wants to hold conversations… One of the best favours which can be done to us now is for him to help revive the American economy, which will be to our advantage.”

In Canouan, the inauguration was cause for much celebration. ‘Majella’s on the Beach’ Restaurant, in conjunction with the Ministry of Education and the Canouan Government Primary, hosted a get-together that televised the event live. Event Organiser Majella Gallant was elated at the success of the event. “It was off the chart! It was incredible!” she exclaimed. The main sponsor of the event was LIME, with secondary sponsors such as Kerosene Lamp Foundation, Karib Cable and Canouan Raffles Resort, among others.

Back on the mainland, the celebrations continued with a well-attended party at the Bayview Carpark, which began around 6pm. With music, drinks and a replay of the President’s inaugural speech, the atmosphere was understandably joyous and celebratory.

President Obama’s highly anticipated inaugural speech touched on all the issues that affect the United States of America – from the economic downturn to acts of terrorism. He was candid about the challenges and drove home the responsibility of the Government and all Americans to face them. “The challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: they will be met!”

The common messages throughout Obama’s speech were those of unity, perseverance, change and equality, not just in America, but also throughout the world. He declared: “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics… The time has come to reaffirm… that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness… Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter… we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”

Following his speech, President Obama attended the signing ceremony in the White House, then traveled, in a heavily guarded convoy, down the National Mall to view the inaugural parade. Obama then capped off the historic day’s formal events by making the rounds at ten inaugural balls, one of which was attended by SVG’s own Kamal Wood and Natesha Alexander.

It is estimated that 1.8 million people traveled to Washington, braving the bitterly cold weather, to be part of this historic event – a never before seen figure at the presidential inauguration.

Around the world, many countries also had celebratory events. In the UK, the Queen sent a personal message of support to President Obama ahead of the inauguration.

In the small town of Obama, Japan, local dignitaries gave speeches at an “Obama for Obama” event. In the Indonesian city of Jakarta (where Obama spent 4 yrs as a boy), children from the president’s former school and old classmates gathered to watch his speech and sing songs of celebration.

Moreover, the Madame Tussaud’s Museum in Hong Kong unveiled a wax figure of Obama. Other such figures have already been unveiled at Madame Tussaud’s in New York, London and Berlin.