36° Good Evening
36° Good Evening

Long Islanders travel to Washington for ceremonies

"In today's sharp sparkle," said inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander, "Anything can be made, any sentence begun."

For a black family from Uniondale and a white family from Greenlawn who made the pilgrimage together to Washington in an RV, Tuesday was a day to hoist little ones on their shoulders. There, the children would see - and always remember - what it looked like when America's first black president took his oath.

For a Harborfields High School senior, who joined 15,000 other students at a leadership conference, the inauguration of Barack Obama was a chance to be part of the pomp and circumstance of a historic day - the magnitude of which left her "numb."

For a community activist who departed from Roosevelt at midnight with 40 chanting teenagers in tow, the day was a way to show them the possibilities out there.

The crowds were crushing, the cold bitter, the traffic simply impossible. But for Robert McDaniel, 58, of Hempstead, who'd ridden down from Long Island on an NAACP bus wearing double sweatshirts and two pairs of gloves, these things were not worth mentioning.

"We bleed red, we breathe air. We need to be one," McDaniel declared. "Maybe now there's a chance."

- - Elizabeth Moore

The Williams and Ryder families woke up in darkness yesterday. Moving around the galley of their RV at 4 a.m., they fixed coffee, hot chocolate and oatmeal.

The two Long Island families had rented a GulfStream, and on Saturday had driven it to College Park, Md., so they could witness the 56th presidential inauguration.

Kim James, 29, a daughter of the Williamses who stayed awake all night celebrating with college classmates in Washington, returned to the campground Tuesday morning just as the rest were stirring. She woke her twin boys and bundled them in as many layers as she could muster.

The RV had been her mother's idea.

Why not pack two families into a 32-foot hotel on wheels and drive down to Maryland, Rosita Williams had thought aloud.

And so the Williamses, who are black, and their good friends, the Ryders, who are white, hit the road. Quarters were cramped for the party of nine, which included Frank and Rosita Williams, Woody and Joyce Ryder, and assorted children and grandchildren.

At 5:55 a.m., the families stepped into the frigid darkness and boarded a bus to the College Park Metro station.

The Williamses, who live in Uniondale, and the Ryders, of Greenlawn, met in the East Norwich-Oyster Bay Kiwanis Club. Through service projects and family dinners, they discovered shared interests.

On the Mall, the two families danced and cheered with the crowd. And when Obama emerged, the adults lifted 6-year-old twins Justice and Noble James on their shoulders. Then the moment came: Woody Ryder took photos. Kim James whooped. And little Noble raised both hands above his head.

- - Jennifer Maloney

On the bus back to her hotel late Tuesday afternoon, Harborfields High School senior Genette Gaffney was still trying to comprehend that she had actually seen a fellow African-American elected president.

"I felt kind of numb," said Gaffney, 17, of Huntington. "I was very excited."

Gaffney, who was among 15,000 students attending the inaugural Tuesday as part of the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference, stood outside the Freer Gallery of Art on the National Mall with a few of her new friends from Los Angeles, Massachusetts and Washington to take in the festivities.

She came prepared, dressed in layers that included tights, leggings, jeans and dress pants - and then a sweater dress and a jacket to cover it all.

"My face was the only part that was freezing," she said. "But it was very good. I enjoyed the speech. I enjoyed the procession beforehand."

Gaffney and the other students were to attend a gala last night at the National Air and Space Museum. She was to wear a new black and white gown.

Wednesday, she returns home a bit wistfully. "I feel kind of disappointed, that I am going to be leaving the spirit of D.C. right now," she said.

- - Pervaiz Shallwani

Seretta McKnight had a message for the African-American teenagers she brought down from Long Island: The next time they come to Washington for a presidential inauguration, they'll have a better view than from the National Mall.

"When (Obama) goes back in four years," she said, "then we'll have to come back and go to the balls."

McKnight, 50, of Roosevelt, presided over a highly energized group of 40 teenagers and 12 adults Tuesday morning at Washington's Capitol Skyline Hotel. To prove it, she called out, "O-bam-ah!"

"O-bam-ah!" the group cried back in unison.

The group left Roosevelt at midnight and arrived here at 4:30 a.m., just in time for a breakfast of French toast and scrambled eggs. Headed to the Mall for the swearing-in, McKnight's charges touted the event as proof that they can achieve their dreams.

"To see it now, it's amazing," said Tolitha Henry, 16, of Roosevelt. "It shows you can do what you want whoever you are."

The teens, most of whom are members of McKnight's organization Sisters in the Struggle, professed similarly high hopes for Obama's presidency and their trip to the capital.

Tony Ramsey, 17, of Uniondale, said "It's history. Everybody should be here. I want to hear him say some of the stuff he's going to do. And truthfully, I want to meet him and shake his hand."

- - Reid J. Epstein

At noon Tuesday, Enrico and Deborah Nardone boosted their daughters in the air so they could look at the crowd spreading across the National Mall and watch Obama put his hand on a Bible.

The Nardones drove down from Islip because they wanted to see history unfold before their eyes - and because they wanted their daughters to get a sense of possibilities.

The Nardones are white. They adopted Jasmine, 5, and Lia, 3, who are African-American. The family has made a point of sharing multicultural experiences, including trips to African-American museums and Kwanza celebrations. But this was the ultimate experience - seeing the swearing-in of a black president.

"Watching it at home in a warm living room would have been nice, but shoulder-to-shoulder meant we got to share everyone's energy," said Deborah Nardone, a lawyer. Strangers shared hot chocolate, adding to the communal feeling.

Because the girls are young, she plans to show them photos and videos in coming years to keep the inauguration memory alive.

Jasmine approved of the political change unfurling before her. "I wanted Obama to be president because he doesn't want war and I don't want war either," she said, "and because he wanted kids to have good schools."

- - Dave Marcus

Lynn Kaufman's inauguration day began at 4:30 a.m., when she and her husband, Jonah, boarded the first Metro train of the day from the West Falls Church station in Virginia toward the Capitol.

Such punctuality earned the Huntington couple a position in the front of the standing area of the yellow section in front of the Capitol, close enough to see the proceedings without binoculars - quite a feat among the enormous crowd.

"You could see a very little Barack Obama," she said, "but you could see him."

By 7 p.m., as the couple walked up Seventh Street NW to the Mid-Atlantic States inaugural ball, Lynn Kaufman, who traveled up and down the East Coast volunteering for the Obama campaign, said the day's events were just as gripping as the election.

"I found it so emotional," she said. "That after the last eight years it is all finally over."

And heading into her first inaugural ball, Kaufman, 54, said she hoped the formal event would bring the same thrills as the swearing-in, despite bringing one particular discomfort.

"It's going to be a lot more standing," she said, "but not quite as cold."

- - Reid J. Epstein

News Photos and Videos