Residents excited about chance to witness history


Published: Sunday, January 18, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 17, 2009 at 8:14 p.m.

Tuesday will be the second inauguration Veita Jackson-Carter has attended. The principal of Mebane Middle School in Alachua was in the audience eight years ago when President George Bush took his first oath of office.

She will be a chaperone, as she was in 2001, for the Pre-Collegiate program that takes students from several area high schools to Washington, D.C., each year - a trip that includes an inauguration every four years.

Carter flew to Washington Friday to meet the group of students, who left Alachua County on Wednesday.

She is among the millions expected to arrive in the nation's capital to witness Tuesday's inauguration of President-Elect Barack Obama as the country's 44th president.

Attending a presidential inauguration was something Carter never thought she would see in person, so to have a second opportunity is overwhelming.

"To be at the first inauguration was history in the making, but to be able to be there for this one, to see the first African-American, just takes it to a whole new level of historical precedence," she said. "It's not only about race, that's huge, but more about a leader who is uniting people. Now I feel this is a United States of America."

Gainesville's Chestnut Law Firm is sponsoring a pre-inaugural reception later today at a Washington area restaurant in conjunction with the Young Elected Officials Network. Christopher Chestnut, founding partner of the law firm, said approximately 700 people have sent RSVPs for the event. The confirmed guest list includes a mix of young elected officials from across the country, along with CEOs, celebrities and professional athletes.

"This is one of the few events in D.C. that will be free. It is designed to allow young leaders and professionals, inspired by Obama, a platform to network on a national stage," Chestnut said. "At some point, some of the people in the room will be the next senator or maybe even president."

In preparation for Tuesday's forecasted temperatures in the high 20s, Chestnut is becoming familiar with earmuffs and scarfs to stay warm during the ceremony.

He said the trip is about showing Obama support, to celebrate his continued success. "It seems that everyone is focused on the historical value of this date, but I'm confident he will continue to set precedence as he leads."

Katheryn Russell-Brown, University of Florida law professor and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations, will participate in a discussion Tuesday evening at UF about the effect of Obama's election on the Civil Rights Movement. Obama takes office the day after the national holiday in honor of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Yes, it's prophetic that is happening on consecutive days, just like when he accepted the nomination on the anniversary of Dr. King's 'I Have a Dream' speech," Russell-Brown said. "The link between Obama and King is one of hope. People are looking to Obama to speak to many issues because he carries the prayers, dreams and hopes of so many. This is an amazing moment."

Russell-Brown said Obama's win came as a surprise to many older African-Americans, who lived through the dark days of the Civil Rights Movement, like her own 76- year-old father.

Also representing Gainesville in Washington will be Oak Hall School classmates Danielle Ellis, Clarke Stresing and Christina Perry, who were invited to attend the inaugural as alumni of the Congressional Youth Leadership Council and National Youth Leadership Conference. Several other students are expected to travel to the inauguration with their families.

Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, said her office received more than 10,000 requests for inauguration tickets, far exceeding her office's 198-ticket allotment. Locals who requested tickets from Brown's office include Alachua County Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut and Gainesville City Commissioner Rodney Long.

She also organized a bus and train trip to Washington for constituents in the Third Congressional District. "It's like a whistle stop tour and there are stops in DeLand, Palatka, Gainesville, Orlando and Jacksonville," she said. "There are about 175 people coming up on the train. I'm not sure how many are on the buses."

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