Coming from a place where sunny weather, palm trees and the “Hollywood” sign is the welcome mat for visitors — I never thought I’d move to cold weather, and a neighborhood of graffiti-covered brick buildings in Harlem, the capital of black America. Harlem is not only a community, it’s a state of mind. On November 4, 2008, the mindset of the people in my community became a united front, uplifted by optimism. We embraced each other without reservation as we waited for the verdict of our fate. Could Barack Obama actually become the first black president of the United States?
Taking in the cold, brisk autumn air, I inhaled deeply as I stood under a dark, pre-dawn sky patiently waiting for the polls to open. I was greeted warmly by my Harlem neighbors and shared conversations of excitement and anticipation. I was surprised by the variety of people in line — there was the older woman who actually experienced the original civil rights movement; the blue collar working father who expressed what this vote would mean for his children; the college student who was eager about voting for the first time; the local drug dealer clad in oversized pants, leather jacket and a baseball ap turned to the back; and then me, the young woman originally from Los Angeles, enthusiastic about contributing to the history of the country in Harlem, New York City.
At the end of the work day, I was eager to leave my midtown office and start preparing for my first election party and I darted to the train station heading uptown to pick up some hot wings and sweet potato fries I’d ordered that morning. Harlem was wide-awake and wasn’t going to sleep that night, I could feel it. People of all ages paraded the streets proudly displaying Obama badges and buttons on their clothing. There were still lines at the polls, and my church on the corner of 116th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard was preparing for live coverage from the local news stations. Harlem was getting ready to party in the same streets where blacks had been beaten mercilessly not so very many years ago.
By 7:00 PM my election party was in full swing. My guests and I watched the reports on the television closely as I flipped from station to station, anxious to see if new information had been released. Since it was too early for anything to happen and the polls weren’t closed, some of my guests started to talk about the possibility of what this could mean for our country and then our race of people, considering that all of my guests were African-American. By 10:50 PM all Americans knew that John McCain and Sarah Palin didn’t have a chance. I started to hear Harlem outside making noise for what was about to happen. At 11:00PM, California’s polls closed and “President Elect Barack Obama” flashed across my screen. I leaped out of my seat, grabbing the hands of my girlfriends as we jumped in a circle screaming, “WE WON! WE WON!” Seventeen hours had passed since I’d stood in line with my neighbors and now I was ready to party with them. People were yelling in the streets, jumping out of their cars hugging each other, honking their horns, yelling, “Obama!” and I was one of them. On 125th Street live coverage showed thousands of people dancing to music blaring from the speakers of the stage in front of the State Building, celebrating the democratic win and the hopeful expectancy of change; change that began the moment Barack Obama was elected president.
My head didn’t hit my pillow until 3:00 AM and I was beat. I’d been up close to twenty-four hours and I had just walked my last guest to the door. Feeling satisfied about the outcome of my party and empowered about being an African-American, I reflected on the struggles that black people had endured over the last hundred and fifty years; we had no more excuses. We could be anything we wanted to be and that was proven on that fateful night, November 4, 2008.
The following morning I lay in my bed, snuggled against my boyfriend. Feeling as if the night before were a dream, I asked, “Baby, was last night real? Do we really have a black president?” In a groggy and matter of fact voice he answered me, “Yes, baby, we do.”