Sharon Mesfen of Uniondale, who came to the United States from Ethiopia at age 13 and now has a young daughter of her own, was among the Times Square crowd lining sidewalks five deep yesterday to watch Barack Obama's inauguration on one of four large screens.
"I never thought this would happen," said a teary-eyed Mesfen, 38, a chemist who took the day off from Estee Lauder to travel to Manhattan for the historic event. "Now there is proof that I can actually say to my daughter, 'You can be what you want,' and mean it."
Across New York City's five boroughs, in City Hall, outside federal and state buildings, in churches, at universities, people massed for public screenings of Obama's swearing-in as the 44th president. The gatherings had a festive, holiday air and spectators were adorned with all manner of Obama gear: T-shirts, sweatpants, caps and buttons.
Tanya Carter, 40, of Harlem, kept her three sons - Jorden, 15, Miles, 12, and Vaughn, 7 - home from school and brought them to Times Square.
"Today means hope," she said.
Jorden Carter, a sophomore at Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics, said, "It shows change and that we have progressed. I've always believed that I could be what I want to be, but now I have an example - proof."
In Harlem, which for decades has laid claim to being the capital of black America, residents packed the square outside the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building to watch on a jumbo screen. Lanae Richardson, 38, of Bushwick, Brooklyn, brought her three children to bear witness to history.
"This is chicken soup for my children's souls, and they'll be able to feast on it forever," Richardson said.
Little Josephine Ventress and her family crowded inside City Hall, where they fanned out in rooms with about 1,000 others to watch the inauguration on large flat-screen TVs and small monitors.
Judi Ventress, of Manhattan, kept Josephine, 10, her daughter, and her son, Samson, 11, home from school for the occasion.
"This is an education," said Ventress, a substitute teacher.
Outside the United States Courthouse in Foley Square, hundreds gathered in the cold to watch the inauguration on large screens.
As Obama took the oath of office, they erupted in cheers and applause as he spoke the last four words, "So help me God."
Maria Alvarez, Daniel Edward Rosen and staff writer Anthony M. DeStefano contributed to this story.