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Inauguration Eve: The Whole World on Night Watch

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Richard O. Jones
If you live or grew up in a Black community in the United States, you have probably heard of “Watch Night Services,” the gathering of the faithful in church on New Year’s Eve.

The service usually begins anywhere from 7 p.m.  to 10 p.m. and ends at midnight with the entrance of the New Year. Many of the Watch Night Services in Black communities and in our churches that we celebrate today can be traced back to gatherings on December 31, 1862, also known as “Freedom’s Eve.” On that night, slaves came together in churches, gathering places, and private homes throughout the nation faithfully praying that the Emancipation Proclamation had become law. Then, at the stroke of midnight, it was January 1, 1863, and according to Lincoln’s promise, all slaves in the Confederate States were legally free. People remained in their State of Limbo eagerly awaiting word of their freedom or slavery status. When the actual news of freedom was received later that day, there were prayers, shouts and songs of joy as people fell to their knees and thanked God. Over 130 years would pass before Africans and African Americans would be joined by the world in a global Night Watch Service. This particular Night Watch occurred in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected the first Black president of South Africa.

However, 15 years later, on the eve of January 20, 2009, the world, once again, would jointly enter into a Night Watch Service by anxiously waiting the dawn of the uttermost historic political act the world had ever witnessed. This phenomenon would become the first with a yearlong drum roll of anticipation. The sound of the drum roll increased with every passing month, then week, and then day. The drum roll continued as Night Watch became Hour Watch, then Minute Watch.  Finally the drums were silent as President Barack Hussein Obama, with his wife Michelle at his side, took the oath of office.

In the long struggle for justice and equality in the United States many citizens have ascended on Washington, D.C. to make a statement; however, the three most attended gatherings had Black leaders as the helm. First there was “The March on Washington” for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, led by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Approximately 250,000 attended the “March on Washington.” Second was “The Million Man March,” a political march convened by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan in Washington, D.C on October 16, 1995. The official crowd estimate was 700,000 – 1, 004,400. However, the largest gathering in Washington, D. C. was for the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama who received more votes than any other president in U.S. History. The crowd was estimated at almost 2 million.

President Obama, who once said, “When millions of people cry out for change nothing can stop them,” is a role model to all people, but especially African-American children. Obama instills the drive in Black children that they can raise their goals higher than the ambitions of merely wealth and celebrity status but to degrees of true significance.  Obama once gave-up a six-figure income on Wall Street for a much smaller salary as a community organizer on the Southside of Chicago, which is evidence that true power is not in the size of your bank account. And children, especially those without fathers at home, should know that President Obama only saw his father once and the only thing his father ever gave him was a basketball, which is evidence that good strong character and integrity is not determined by the fatherless circumstances of your youth. The world is now poised in a four-yearlong Night Watch awaiting the dawn of a brighter tomorrow.

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