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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Barack Obama's Inaugural: "History Paints No Other Picture"



Washington, D.C. The capital of the United States of America, intellectual capital of the Free World.

January 20th, 2009 was a special day, an understatement if there ever was one. It was one of those special moments in history. The first time a black family moved into the White House, who wasn't there to clean up or cook.

NOVEMBER 5, 2008:
The chronicle to witness one of the most important events in American history began a couple of months ago, when I starting floating a wild idea to actually GO to the inauguration. Many of our Douglass alumni and Riverview neighbors wanted to go and just be there in person, but trying to do a lot of things in this economy is difficult, if not impossible, especially traveling. I thought the same thing as many African-Americans for a few days after the inauguration; just think.. the 1st Black President. How would it be like to be there, in person, in the flesh.. seeing it, experiencing it.. breathing the same air, so to speak.

And then, I thought of the broader picture. African-Americans have a history as long and difficult as this country's history itself. I started thinking about all the black folk who fought the big fight for us to get to this point. Thoughts flooded my mind about fire hoses, busted-up voter registration drives, "white" and "colored" water fountains. All of those happened in our collective memories.. worse things happened just years before that. And then, there was just the harrassment.. "no, you can't do this.. no, you can't do that." It was always "NO, YOU CAN'T."

But one candidate for President told us during his campaign, we can overcome obstacles. HIS theme was "Yes.. we CAN," and he just happened to be a Black man. Although he was younger than I was, his words sounded inspirational, as if history was speaking to all of us right now. That man who just happened to be Black, had just overcome his own obstacles to be elected to the highest office in the Free World. It was at that moment, I decided that I was going to this inauguration, no matter how much it cost, and no matter the personal sacrifice. No sacrifice I could ever make in my life, would equal the sacrifices other African-Americans made years ago, just so we could all get to this moment in history.

Of all the events I felt privileged to attend, only one stood out in my mind.. I wanted to be there to hear Barack Obama say the words "Yes I do.. so help me God." That moment would be the one always frozen in time. The U.S. Constitution says, every four years, the duly elected president-designate has to be in sworn in at 12 noon.. I researched constitution scholars, and it turns out, the person who wins the election automatically becomes President at 12 Noon every four years, where there is a ceremony or not.

But this wouldn't be an ordinary ceremony. American politics and American history would not permit this man to just be automatically ushered into office. This ceremony would be special.

NOVEMBER 14, 2008:
I applied for tickets to the inauguration ceremony on the U.S. Capitol steps on January 20th. The only way to get tickets was through my U.S. Senator or U.S. House Representative. Never thought of actually RECEIVING them.. so many people around the country had applied for tickets, I never had a hope of getting one of those coveted historical mementos. Imagine my surprise when I got an email from U.S. 3rd District Congressman Zach Wamp's office from Tennessee, that I would be getting inaugural tickets from them. I was profoundly shocked when I received a phone call from Tennessee's U.S. Senator Bob Corker's office that I would be getting tickets from that office, too.

Shock.. turned to awe at that point.

My late mother had a wonderful friend that she and her sisters knew from college at the Tennessee A & I State University (now Tennessee State) in Nashville.. she lives just outside Washington, D.C., her husband having retired from the U.S. Department of Transportation offices near Capitol Hill. Ernest Hawkins knew every in and out of the Capitol District, and he promised to personally get me as close to the events as possible.

Thousands of people had gotten the same message I did: the inauguration tickets have to be picked up Monday, January 19th, in the Congressman's or Senator's office. I made a spirited trip up I-81 in Virginia to Washington, and battled a 6-inch snowfall between Bristol and Roanoke to boot.

JANUARY 19, 2009:
9:15 AM -
I never dreamed the trip into the District, as it's called, would be so easy. Ernest Hawkins, my "chauffeur" lives out Pennsylvania Avenue on the other side of Andrews Air Force Base. I was getting antsy, and as the hours approached on the schedule to pick up the tickets, I grew more nervous, thinking the Capitol District would be blocked up, streets closed. I thought I would be walking for miles.

1:30 PM -
Mr. Hawkins delivered on the promise to get me in as close as possible, and did he ever. We found no streets blocked off at all. We actually drove right up to the U.S. Capitol, where crowds had formed to get into the Senate and House office buildings. Those lines were incredibly long, born by the necessity of metal detectors and screening at the buildings' front entrances.

The Everett Dirksen Senate Office Building was my first stop, the Washington office of Tennessee U.S. Senator Bob Corker. I made my way up to his office, showed my I.D. and picked up the admission ticket to history.

4:10 PM -
My next trek was the Longworth Building, one of many office complexes, housing the offices of many of our U.S. Representatives. My destination was Zach Wamp, Tennessee 3rd District Congressman, of which I had originally thought, well if I can't get tickets through Senator Corker's office, I might through Congressman Wamp's.

Thousands of ordinary citizens milling around, joking, having a good time, me included. It was a time that we all shared a common bond, where anybody could become a professional camera person. If I wanted to document my moment in history, there were plenty of ordinary citizens, a.k.a. camera people, that were only too willing to take my camera and record the moment, if I would return the favor.

4:55 PM -
After 45 minutes of standing in the wrong line at the wrong building (thanks to a D.C. cop too busy to really help me), it was over to the Longworth Building for U.S. House members. I finally got in the right line there with NewsChannel 9 colleague Tanya Mendis and a few other Chattanooga people. As the hour of closing the building approached, many Congress members came out and got their constituents to bring them inside to make sure they got their tickets, and Congressman Wamp came out and got us.


The reception in his office was in short, a family reunion, whose members all had tickets to history. The congressman's office had refreshments with picture-taking opportunities with Chattanooga neighors and friends, among them former City Judge Walter Williams, Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Beck, Chattanooga councilman Leamon Pierce, and current Tennessee State Representative Joanne Favors of Chattanooga, who told me to remind the folks in Kingsport to get Nathan Vaughn back into politics. Rep. Favors, a personal friend of Vaughn's, told me to convey the message that he was the victim of racism and that his Vaughn's leadership is still needed in Nashville. She said the Democrats' denial of the Republicans' attempted takeover of the State Senate failed, because of, among other things, actions taken to oust Vaughn from office; his other Democratic colleagues were angry about the racism directed by state Republicans towards Vaughn, in an spirited effort to take over the Tennessee Legislature. "Pure dirty politics, with a racial edge," she told me. "We need him back, so folks in Kingsport, keep the fires going."

I promised to convey the message to folks in Riverview and South Central Kingsport.

10:20 PM -
The day ended, with me going to bed early, because I wanted a head start on getting in line at the Blue Gate on Inauguration morning. THAT decision was one of the best I made the entire trip.

3:05 AM -
Mr. Hawkins knocked on my bedroom door, and I sat there on the edge of the bed for about 15 minutes, trying to decide if I "really want to do this." Home was only 9 hours distant.

3:40 PM -
After lining myself with insulating material, again thinking I would be walking for miles.. fooled again. We drove to within 4 blocks of the U.S. Capitol. Take that terrorists.. this is MY country. I got in line at the Blue Gate outside the Capitol grounds at 4:15 AM, temperature 21 degrees. I was about 8 or 9 people from the front of the line, which stretched about 200 feet across. The crowd at that time, about 2,000 people, were happy, jovial, getting songs started. The favorites were "Na-na-na na.. Hey, hey, hey.. Goodbye," (an obvious tribute to George Bush), "You've Got A Friend" (James Taylor), and anything Motown. I overheard one of the black ladies standing next to me, talking on her cellphone, referring to our group as "The American Idol" line. She'd had enough when they broke into "My Girl."

5:05 AM-
Glance over my shoulder. The crowd, now about 8,000 or 9,000 according to the TSA people, who've just arrived with their security screening stuff and metal detectors. Individual space was drawing up really fast, and unknown, strange-looking people bumping into me, touching me. Temperature still 21 degrees.

6:15 AM-
Just a small glimmer of sunlight, and the TV helicopters started buzzing the crowd, especially one from WUSA-TV. Crowd now estimated between 15,000 and 20,000, cannot see them around the street corners. Temperature now 20 degrees, I am not feeling my toes, and the shawl is not staying over my mouth and nose like it's supposed to.

7:15 AM-
The sun is up, but the temperature isn't. 20 degrees, my toes are numb, even with the foot warmers. The songs continued, and so did the shivering. The Washington Post says the crowd at the Blue Gate at 7 AM was about 30,000.

8:30 AM-
The TSA security people announced they were opening the gates early, because there were too many people to guarantee that everybody would get in, in time. Everybody stood up, pressed tightly together, all at the ready. Thoughts went through my mind of stampeding people at a Wal-Mart Christmas sale. All of a sudden, as one part of the fence opened slightly to permit a single-file line, there was a surge to that direction. Small, baby steps were the only way to move. Then, another area of the fence opened, and my group surged in that direction. Eventually, that was the way that got me to the screening with metal detectors.

8:40 AM-
The TSA agent ran the hand-held metal detector over me, and asked me why I had clear adhesive tape around my camera. I told him I had dropped it so many times, tape is the only thing holding it together. He just grinned and passed me through.

8:55 AM -
I made it around into the Blue area, which would be standing room only. It was located on the side of Capitol Hill, to the right as you're looking at it, right behind the Orange area, whose privileged folks were allowed seats to enjoy the Inauguration. My group questioned who those people had to know to get seats. We later found out, those "privileged" folks included Denzel Washington, Kobe Bryant, Steven Spielberg, Muhammad Ali and his wife, and a host of other celebrities.

9:35 AM -
Again, I'm about eight or nine people back from the barrier that separates the Blue from the Orange sections. Not believing I've spent the past six hours standing. Temperature now up to 23 degrees.

Again, folks start taking up available breathing space. Thank God for Irish Spring. Among the nearest places I could hear were Austin, Texas.. Chicago.. Portland, Oregon.. Greenville, Alabama (these Crimson Tide folks chided me on my Tennessee Big Orange jacket).. Flagstaff, Arizona. These Blue Section people are getting pretty rowdy. They were more "blue-collar" than blue area, very Democrat, and not afraid to express themselves and their political beliefs.. they had made their politics known by voting, and now they let it be known in no uncertain terms that their physical voices would be heard THIS election. America is the greatest country on Earth.

10:25 AM -
The U.S. Marine Band starts playing, and you can really tell the ex-soldiers in the crowd. Theirs were the care-worn faces, wrinkled with time, whose eyes glazed over, hearing "America the Beautiful" and the other patriotic songs. Those guys reminded me how proud I was to be an American, about to witness an historic moment.

11:10 AM -
My Blue Section group wasted no time, letting the rest of America know they were loyal Democrats. Each time a recognizable face arrived on the Jumbotron, their political leanings were known to the arrivals, because we were within earshot distance of them. Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy arrived to chants of "Teddie, Teddie, Teddie" and he graciously acknowledged our area with a nod and waves. It was a magical moment.

Demoratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was also lauded with loud applause and whoops. So was Tennessee Favorite Son Al Gore, Junior and his wife Tipper. I even got slapped on the back by folks near me, because of my Tennessee Football "Big Orange" jacket, still providing a measure of warmth, by the way. Howard Dean acknowledged our Blue Area group's "YEE-awe" growl from his presidential campaign.

11:31 AM -
A large ovation came at the announcement of the arrival of former President Bill Clinton and his wife, presidential candidate and Secretary of State designee Hillary Clinton. I overhead behind me a loud "We still love you!" Each view of the Clintons produced enthusiatic yells and whoops from our group.

The arrival of Vice President Dick Cheney in a wheelchair did not escape the notice of the Blue Group. The V-P reportedly pulled a muscle while moving boxes and was told to stay off his feet for a few days. Overheard in my group: "Next time, spend the money and get Mayflower."

As guests and dignitaries were announced, straining to hear wasn't necessary. Each word from the announcer was as crisp and clear as the morning air, which at 28 degrees, had not risen that much since the early morning.

11:45 AM -
Finally, the arrivals were over. Everyone is in place. Dignitaries seated, with smiles on their faces, perhaps produced by the nip in the air, but probably by the pomp and circumstance of the occasion. The 2009 Presidential Inauguration began with a welcome flourish, people in predictable nervousness, as the results of hours of standing in long lines for hours earlier, and the prior day finally came to an end. This was the event we had all waited for, planned for, and anticipated for weeks and months prior. "Please," one white woman overheard behind me, "let's get this going." A white man standing near me was overhead to say, "let's get this man sworn in."

Hostess Dianne Feinstein produced a loud chuckle when she told the audience to "please be seated" at the end of the invocation, given by Dr. Rick Warren, in that our Blue Area group, all 30-thousand strong, had been standing the whole time. Given the uproar over his selection as Minister of the Invocation, the conflicts proved unnecessary. Dr. Warren spoke the Word with conviction and determination, and his prayer was well received. There's only one way to Preach the Gospel, and for men of God, it's the Right way.

As Senator Joe Biden was sworn into office by John Paul Stevens, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, the mood in the air became electric. I heard someone behind me say "C'mon.. let's get this man in office." As mentioned earlier, Mr. Obama would have become President anyway; the person with the most delegates in the Electoral College is AUTOMATICALLY President at the first stroke of Noon on January 20th, every four years. The ceremony, the pagentry, the hoopla.. all mere formalities, ceremoniously performed with the pomp and circumstance the event calls for. The automatic ascension to office is thought to have been a war-time measure, designed to protect a President-elect, should an outside ceremony not be possible.

11:53 AM -
After a number from four of classical music's icons, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, clarinetist Anthony McGill, pianist Gabriela Montero, and violinist Itzhak Perlman, the moment arrives for the swearing in of the president-elect.

The swearing-in of 47-year-old Barack Obama began simple enough as Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts, presiding over his first Presidential swearing-in, started reciting the oath Obama was to repeat, a few words at a time. That's when the program went slightly left of center.

"I, Barack Hussein Obama," began Roberts.

"I, Barack," said Obama, and before he could continue, Roberts said, "do solemnly swear."

Obama: "I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear"

Roberts: "That I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully...

Obama: "that I will execute..."

Before he could continue, Roberts said: "faithfully execute the office of president of the United States..."

Obama: "The office of president of the United States faithfully..."

At that point, Roberts got back on course, leading as Obama followed with "and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

"So help you God?" asked Roberts.

"So help me God."

As written, the official swearing-in speech begins: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States...." But Roberts said, "I will execute the office of President to the United States faithfully." When Obama stumbled in repeating the line, it was because he had already memorized the passage exactly, and he knew what was supposed to be recited by the Chief Justice.

Of course, members of the Blue Area caught the error, and a few mumbles were heard, but none out of the ordinary. Once the words "so help me God" were sounded by Mr. Obama, the mystery was over. Folks in my area, black and white, rich and poor, old and young, and from every socio-economic background were overheard sniffing, and seen either crying or holding back the tears. The long struggle for black-white equality in America had indeed, crossed a threshhold with one big giant leap.

12:03 AM -
47-year-old Barack Hussein Obama is the first president of African-American descent in the history of the United States of America. It was a sight to behold. I felt so honored and humbled, especially since reports got back to us that many Blue Group ticket holders were later denied access because security people felt they had reached the maximum number of people to get in. Sometimes, it pays to be early.



12:40 PM -
As I left, I was lucky enough to capture a picture of the presidential helicopter with the Bush family leaving the U.S. Capitol, and the White House for the last time after the ceremony. At first, I felt a twinge of resentment to the one president whose approval rating at this point, is the lowest of any president in history, who never seemed to know that Black folk existed. Almost immediately, I softened, realizing that sometimes, old thinking is based on old habits, that are hard to break. As much as friends and neighbors in Riverview and black communities across the country disagreed with his policies that largely ignored the needs of African-Americans, I do respect the man for sticking with his principles. His helicopter circled the Capitol Rotunda once, then headed east to Andrews Air Force Base for the Bush trip to their new home in Texas.

3 PM-
After buying souvenirs, thanking my wonderful hosts and getting ready to head home, I heard on the CBS coverage that Senator Ted Kennedy had suffered a seizure just minutes after we had seen on in the cold afternoon air. Said a silent prayer for this majestic man from the one political family considered a friend to African-Americans.


3:45 PM-
I'm on the way back down I-81 to Tennessee. Before the mandatory stop at 9:55 PM in Bristol for 3 gallons of Pal's Peachy Tea, I have a ton of road salt to give back to Smyth County, Virginia, to go with the 6 inches of snow they couldn't get off the Intertate fast enough, on the way TO Washington.

Some Riverview folk say, they started thinking about "The Jeffersons" and "moving on up to the big time" when Barack Obama won the nation's popular vote to become President. Humorous references instructed us to try to avoid that, because that's what would be expected. All of that was replaced by the optimism of a new president, one who identifies with us in Riverview and South Central Kingsport, because he IS one of us. For my part, I will never forget the humbling experience of seeing history happen right before my eyes.

January 20, 2009.. a day to cherish. It is a day to live in our hearts and minds in Riverview, South Central and indeed ALL of Kingsport. Let the renewed challenge from the president of ALL our country, be bonded with three words that have always been there, but now, have inspired meaning:



Jennie Hankins at the Inauguration: "History From One Extreme to the Other"


For Riverview resident Virginia (Jennie) Hankins, the 2009 inauguration of America's first African-American president began with an historic look back at one of the places where the Black Experience in America first started.

Colonial Williamsburg, as near as we can tell, was one of the main entry points into this country for the slave trade from Africa. As a student of African-American history, Jennie says it was fitting for her trip to the inauguration of the first Black president, begin with a visit to a place frozen on the OTHER side of history.

What was life like for those slaves on the plantations at Williamsburg?

"Our two guides were African-American themselves," Jennie says, "and they gave us the African-American perspective of life for slaves back in those times. They told us how differently the slaves lived, about them doing their jobs. Some of them were servers you know, standing at attention, waiting on something to do at the dinner table, while their "masters" and other people were talking about politics, community events, the government, and their slaves, how many they owned, what they had them doing, who's a good worker, who needs to be out in the fields, how much they could get for the pregnant slave women, especially if they bore male children."

Jenny says, the guides told them the "masters" talked of their slaves almost as if they were non-people, but little did the whites know, the slaves were actually hinging on every word they overheard. "They could hear which slaves were getting talked up, which helped determine their future," Jenny says she learned. "Who was going to be sold, who was going to get moved around. The slaves were listening, but pretending not to. What they heard, determined whether they should run away, try to stay with their family, what to take with them if they ran. Turns out, the slaves were smarter than the 'masters' gave tje, credit for. They also did subtle things to tip off their family members as to their intentions, but not the white slave owners or their families. The slaves had a well-thought out plan of staying one step ahead of the 'masters.'

"We saw the building where the plantation owners stored ammunition, with a wooden fence around it to keep the enemy out," Jennie says. "All the houses were original and restored to what they would have looked like back in 1785. The church was the government back then, and so whatever the church said to do, the government did separation of church and state then. One white family was in charge of the church, another one was in charge of the school, still another in charge of the courthouse, and so on. A real step back in time."

From one extreme in history to the other, as the group entered Washington, D.C. for the inaugural of America's first Black president. "All you could see was people.. just people everywhere. Our destination was the Silver Gate, which was behind the Blue Gate folks where you were Calvin, but then we got turned in another direction as the Silver section got filled up too quickly. It was so crowded at times, your feet didn't have to touch the ground to move..they'd be moved for you. It was just packed. But it was so exciting.. people were singing when things would get kinda slow, somebody would break out in song, and that would get everybody back in a patriotic mood."

"I felt a cold chill when the band started playing the patriotic songs," Jennie says. "It brought tears to my eyes because I remember my granddaddy Thomas Cartwright, who'd fought in the wars for his country. When I was a kid, every time he'd hear the National Anthem or other patriotic song, he'd stop what he was doing, and just stand up and salute. This was his country. I get that same feeling, remembering him showing respect for the land he fought for. It's overwhelming, because I remember how patriotic he was."

"At the moment Barack Obama said the words 'so help me God,' my heart just melted," says Jennie. "This was so special. I hope his presidency gives everybody back home a different perspective on life.. our young people, some of them just mullng through life, not really with a purpose. I hope it gives them the realization that "YES, we can." When we were growing up, we hard our parent say 'you can be anything you want to be,' and while we'd all listen to it, we still had doubts in our minds, because we'd never witnessed things happen."

But this is here. it is now," she says. "Now we know 'we are better, we can do better."

"And we will DO better."

Bert Lanauze at the Inauguration: "My Heart Was Just Beating Uncontrollably"

For Knoxville resident and Kingsport-Riverview native, Roberta "Bert" Webb, the excitement started on the night Barack Obama was proclaimed the winner, after the California polls closed.

"I just couldn't wait," she says. "I started planning a trip to Washington right then. I arranged to stay with one girlfriend in Baltimore, and another one who lives near Catholic University in D.C."


"On Saturday, we were riding around, seeing the sites, waving at people, going into the stores," she says. At least one exciting time was upcoming. "My sister-in-law's daughter is married to Kim Whitley's brother. Kim Whitley is the actress who played in 'Road Trip' with Raven Symmone and Martin Lawrence. She also played in 'Salon' and had a TV show 'Cruising with Kim Whitley' with her brother Kyle, who's one of the main characters on the show. Her brother Kyle had an Obama Inaugural party Saturday night."


"My girlfriend's house was near the train station at Catholic University," she says, "and on the day of the inauguration, we got on the subway and headed down to 601 Pennsylvania Avenue. That's the headquarters of the Southern Power Company, the parent company of Georgia Power, Alabama Power and Mississippi Power. It's right across from the Capitol. We'd already got Secret Service clearance, so we went up to Suite 8, had a phenomenal breakfast, and went out on the top deck. It's about 200 feet long, down Pennsylvania Avenue. The company also had big screen TV's for everybody to watch, and we could go back and forth, both inside and outside."

"The ceremony itself was just so moving," Bert said. "My girlfriend had to console me.. when he took that Oath of Office, I started crying like everybody else.. my makeup was running down my face. I look like CRAP, but it didn't matter. It was probably one of the most moving experiences that I had ever had. I kept watching the TV screen for a shot of my father-in-law, he was one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, guests of the Inaugural people. CBS interviewed him when they arrived for the ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, and I kept watching to see if he got on TV during the ceremony, but I never saw him."


(CALVIN'S NOTE: In the Blue Section where I was standing, I did spot Tuskegee Airman Harry E. Lanauze on the Jumbotron just before the Inaugural ceremony started. It was a quick shot of him, nodding and smiling to the Marine Band patriotic music, with a small American flag. I recognized him immediately).

"After the inauguration, we watched the parade come down Pennsylvania Avenue right towards us," Bert says. "Just as they got to the end of our building, the Obama's got out of their car and started walking. We were able to see them a half-block down the street. It was just so heart was beating uncontrollably because I actually saw the President, so lifelike, just for a brief moment. A short time later, we left the Southern Company building, and went back to the Chinatown exit to go back to my girlfriend's place. That was exciting, too, because at that time, everybody was moving AWAY from D.C. Everybody was calm, but still excited, and so courteous to each other, letting us in front of them, 'can I help you m'am.' When we got back to South Dakota Avenue, I got to watch the recap on TV of what I had witnessed and chilled with my girlfriend, my brother-in-law and our friends."

"I was particularly struck by the diversity of participation by all the people in the ceremony," Bert says. "From Reverend Rick Warren on down to the Reverend Joseph Lowery, whose Benediction brought it all home for us. He took us back to places we had heard of before, when he mentioned the Negro National Anthem, and went on with 'being black, step back.. if you brown, hang around.' A lot of Anglo's in the Southern Company suite, of course, had never heard of those things. They were just stunned by it, and it brought home to them what black people have struggled with for years. This white girl sitting behind us, all of a sudden it hit her, and she just busting out crying, which made us all cry, too. The inauguration was for all of us, but when Barack said his father years ago, couldn't even be served in a restaurant here in D.C., and now here he is, President. He's an African-American who just happens to be president. The amount of pride shown this day forward, shows 'we got it going on, too.' Given the opportunity, we'll show everybody."

For the Douglass Alumni and folks back home in Riverview and South Central, Bert has a message: "We cannot stop with the events of January 20th," she says. "He's gonna be at the helm of the nation, but we can't stop with the generosity, we can't stop with the loving when the 20th goes on. We can't stop helping people and helping each other. Barack challenged us to continue to be there for everybody all the time, and continue that emotion.. he'll run the country while we run our communities. For all the people.. we're gonna have to get out and do more volunteering, start helping our neighbors more, asking how we can be of service. If all of us in the individual communities from Riverview, to Knoxville, to Atlanta, to Chicago, to Washington, and the rest of the world, continue together we can help turn this nation around."

"He has challenged us.. and we have to pick up that challenge and move forward. And we WILL."

Joni Howard at the Inauguration: "Barack is Devoted to his Wife and Kids"

"You could tell whenever they showed him on TV, that he's totally devoted to his wife and children."

Riverview resident Joni Howard says, just seeing how loving Barack and Michelle Obama were at the Inauguration, that they will serve as a good role model for black families everywhere.

All Black families bonded together as friends during the week of the Inauguration. It was the culmination of a whirlwind trip to our nation's capitol for Joni and her tour group during Inauguration Week. "We had a ball," she says. "We had 29 people on the bus, the majority of them from Nashville, and the rest was family. We stayed in Williamsburg, Virginia at the Kings Creek Plantation; it's like a resort-estate-timeshare. It was really nice and so were the people. It had a kitchen, washer-dryer. We had a man with us who knew how to cook, and the first day we were there, he cooked tilapia, whiting, red beans and rice.. we ate and got full. Denise (Horton) baked a cake and we brought it with us. My mother and my aunt Dottie came with us, but they stayed behind because of all that walking they'd have had to do in the cold weather in Washington."

On the day of the inauguration itself, "we bundled up and Lord have mercy, we walked and walked and we just found us a spot over by the Washington Monument," Joni laughed, "and just filed in with all the rest of the, looked like a million people that were there. We could see everything happening at the Capitol off in the distance. We watched it and we were just screaming and hollering and shouting, people were crying. It was just wonderful, a wonderful feeling."

"That he got in there, and won it is still unbelievable," Joni says. "Barack Obama, president, African-American. I never dreamed in my lifetime that I would see that. Never, ever dreamed that. I know that all people want him to succeed, blacks and whites together."

"I told people from the beginning, that God's gonna put in there who HE wants," says Joni. "When I said my prayers, I said 'Lord.. send us the president that YOU want us to have. And he sent Barack, because I believe he has a plan for Barack. I believe He has a plan for our President, our first African-American president. He can'tdo it by himself.. he's got to have people walking with him. He can't make the decisions by himself without Congress. Black America didn't elect him by themselves, there's not enough of us. White Americans actually put him in, because there is something about him that they like."

Maybe it was the loving way the Obama's are with each other and the family way that they are with their children, that won over White America, as well as most other voting bloc's in the country. It was most evident on Inauguration Day, says Joni.

"When they were dancing," she says, "you could tell they are a loving couple. That way he would look at her, and she would look at him.. that loving look that says 'no matter what.. I will always be right here by your side, and she's gonna be by his. He's gonna be right there, helping him. It sends a big message, especially to the Black community Calvin, that people would look at them and say 'well that's the way I want my marriage to be.' Even though they are two different people, two different personalities, they make it work. From what we've seen.. loving each other, gonna take care of each other, gonna be there for each other, united as one. I think Black people are going to look at that and say 'Yes, we can. We can do this, too.. we, too can have this loving, nurturing husband-wife relationship.'

Joni says, it doesn't stop there.

"Black children can also look at the Obama's mother-father relationship and think, 'oh yes.. yes I can.. I can do that, too."

Friday, January 23, 2009

Nelson Foster Passing & Arrangements

KINGSPORT — Nelson Foster, 84, of Kingsport, and went home to be with God on Monday (Jan. 19, 2009) at Select Specialty Hospital in Bristol.

He was born March 30, 1924 in Murfreesboro, Tenn., spent his youth in Nashville, and came to Kingsport in 1941 where he spent most of his life. After retiring from TVA as a truck driver, Nelson worked for Creech Radiator Service for several years. He was also a bus driver and body shop repairman.
Nelson was a member of Central Baptist Church and a member of Universal Masonic Lodge # 239 for twenty-five years.
His wife, Georgia Edna Foster, preceded him in death.
He leaves to mourn his lost, his son, Nelson Keith Foster of Kingsport;
granddaughters, Nicole, Keita, and Myee McKinney (her children, Keence and Dravin); other great-grandchildren; two sisters, Bernice Leftridge of Chicago, Ill. and Dorothy Jones of Nashville; six nieces and eight nephews; a host of great-nieces, great-nephews, and other relatives, and friends.
The family will receive friends from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at Hamlett-Dobson Funeral Homes Kingsport.
Funeral services will be conducted at 5 p.m. Saturday at Central Baptist Church with Rev. Anthony Daniels officiating.
Graveside services will be conducted at 2 p.m. Sunday at Zion Cemetery.
Family members and friends will serve as pallbearers.
Please visit
Hamlett-Dobson Funeral Homes, Kingsport, is serving the family of Nelson Foster.

Free Tax Prep Help Offered At Fresh Start, Kingsport Library

VITA offers free tax help to low- to moderate-income individuals or families, as well as elderly taxpayers and those with disabilities.



KINGSPORT — Tired of giving a chunk of your federal income tax refund to a paid preparer?
You may qualify for free tax help through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

Erica Yoon —

VITA kicks off tax season next week through the Weed & Seed program at the Fresh Start Center on Martin Luther King Drive in South Central Kingsport. Volunteers trained by the Internal Revenue Service will be on hand to help complete federal income tax returns from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursdays.
VITA officially starts Feb. 2 at the Kingsport Public Library, and IRS-trained volunteers will be on hand there from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays and Fridays.
VITA offers free tax help to lowto moderate-income individuals or families, as well as elderly taxpayers and those with disabilities.
“We just want to get the word out — people can come here and keep their tax refund for themselves instead of paying someone else to do it,” said Joe Durant, VITA site coordinator.

VITA has offered the free tax assistance for several years in Kingsport, and volunteers have seen an increase each year in the number of people seeking help.
In 2007, only 35 people sought help with their federal income tax returns through the Fresh Start Center.
Last year that number jumped to more than 250, and volunteers at the Fresh Start Center helped generate $108,722 in refunds for area residents. Many of those folks qualified for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which helped increase their refund amount.
“Lots of people don’t realize they qualify for that,” said Weed & Seed coordinator Mary Alexander.
Jack VandeVate, who has volunteered with VITA for 18 years, said he and other volunteers helped prepare 350 tax returns at the Kingsport Public Library last year. In addition, he helped prepare another 90 returns for residents at the Kiwanis Towers last year.
Durant said volunteers are expecting even more people to seek tax help this year.
“We expect a dramatic increase this year because you have a lot of people out of work. And with the economy the way it is, people are cutting back and looking to save money. So I think we’ll see an increase,” he said.
Durant said paid tax preparers often charge $35 to $40 for the first page of a tax return, plus an additional charge for each additional page.
Other tax preparers charge a flat percentage of the taxpayer’s refund amount, such as 10 percent of the total return.
“It’s a chunk, and we want people to be able to keep that money,” Durant said.
Louetta Hall is a longtime VITA volunteer and chairwoman of the South Central Community Development Board — the parent of the Weed & Seed program. Hall said many people opt to pay a tax preparer in hopes of getting their refund as quickly as possible.
Durant noted that taxpayers who use the VITA service can get their refund back in about two weeks if they have direct deposit, or in about four weeks if they receive their refund by paper check.
Durant said those seeking help should bring with them their Social Security card, photo identification, all tax documents for 2008, and the amount in rebate stimulus payments they received last year. A copy of last year’s tax return would also be helpful, as well as information on unemployment compensation, if applicable.
Alexander said appointments are not necessary. However, if too many people seek help at the same time, appointments may be given.
South Central Community Development partnered with Eastman Chemical Company and TriSummit Bank this year to receive a $9,385 grant from the IRS to fund the VITA program.
For more information call Alexander at 392-2578 or Durant at 378-2939.