I hugged a stranger today.
I felt warm in 28-degree weather.
The frozen corners of my lips could not help but lean toward the sky.
Barack Obama's election night win was terribly anticlimactic for me in the wee hour of 3 am on Nov. 5 in Mali. I was excited, for sure, but we had been traveling from the U.S. to Africa for nearly 24 hours. I expended all of my emotional excitement stepping off of the plane into the dusty Malian night. We slept for a few hours and then got up to hear the results. Since we didn’t find a television, we listened to a BBC broadcast of McCain's full concession speech on a tiny radio only to have the BBC station abruptly interrupted to return to a French broadcast of who knows what because my French abilities barely go beyond bonjour and viva la vie boheme. I heard Obama’s speech for the first time six weeks later. C'est la vie!
So today was my moment.
Lanecia and I walked to Nashville's historic Belcourt Theater to meet our friend Ingrid and watch an amazing day in history with my neighbors in Nashville. We have a new President and First Lady--a moment I've desired for 8 long years! We have our first bi-racial leader of the United States! We have the first First Family of African descent living in the White House--a building constructed, in part, by African slaves in America. And it's all happening on the heels of celebrating Martin Luther King's prophetic dream. Oh my God! It is a new day in the United States, and I am happy to live it.
I was six years old and starting my first day at a new elementary school. I met Jungle Gym Guard at recess. She was a six-year-old white girl who told me that I could not play on the jungle gym because of something the last black kid who played on it had done. Like a good first-grader, I ran to the teacher and told on Jungle Gym Guard. The teacher happened to be a member of the church where my father was appointed the new associate pastor. As it turns out, Jungle Gym Guard was a member there, too. The teacher told my classmate, "We don’t keep don’t make rules like that. Be nice to Ciona. She's going to be in your Sunday school class. Remember the new pastor who is coming to our church? This is his daughter."
See, my father was the first black pastor in South Carolina United Methodism to serve in a predominantly white congregation since Reconstruction (and by predominantly white I mean that we were one of two black families in the entire 2500-member church. The other black family had the last name White). Eventually the girl formerly known as Jungle Gym Guard became one of my best friends. I learned more of her story. Her grandparents had stopped coming to the church after my father was appointed there. So many members stayed and loved us and supported us for nearly 6 wonderful years. Others left like her grandparents, though. And some who stayed even requested my father not enter the room when he did regular pastoral hospital visits. This was less than 25 years ago.
Even in my lifetime of integrated schools, inclusive water fountains and school cafeterias where the “sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners” sit at the same table, I’ve still experienced jungle gym guards in various parts of my life in the U.S. I thank God that in this same lifetime I’ve been able to experience today. I especially thank God that my parents, and my 97-year-old great-grandmother got to see today, too.
So I walked to Belcourt in the cold. Smiling. Feeling warm from my excitement. Hugged a stranger after the inauguration. And cried.
It’s a beautiful day!
Images by Lanecia in the Belcourt