21 January 2009

Vancouver park commissioner Constance Barnes sheds tears of joy as Obama inaugurated

By Shadi Elien, Georgia Straight
Publish Date: January 20, 2009

There are seldom moments when people watch collectively as history occurs right before their eyes. But today (January 20), which saw the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States, marked one of those days.

According to BBC News, over one million people gathered at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to watch as the first African-American president placed his hands on the same Bible used to swear in Abraham Lincoln in 1861.

The cheers from the crowd sent chills down the spine and tears down the face of Vancouver park board commissioner Constance Barnes, as she watched from her home in Vancouver. Barnes spoke to the Straight this morning from the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden, where she works as operations manager.

She held back tears as she said, “It was just an amazing, amazing day for the world.”

The daughter of Emery Barnes, one of the first black men elected to the B.C. legislative assembly and a former Speaker, believes that if her father was alive today he would have made his way to Washington to watch the historical day unfold.

“He’s probably there in spirit right now,” she said. “Pops would be overjoyed; he wasn’t a very emotional man but this would have been a dream for him.”

Barnes admitted she didn’t get much sleep last night, as her excitement and nerves around this morning’s event kept her awake and glued to her television from 5:30 a.m. As she recalled the shots of people from around the world celebrating the occasion, her tears could be heard on the other side of the phone.

“They had African people dancing in the streets, a story on Gandhi and the people of India and all of their trials and tribulations, then back to Africa, and China, and Japan, and then it hit me that the whole world was celebrating today.”

Barnes’s family moved to Canada in 1957 when she was a child. Her father and mother were both activists and proponents of the civil-rights movement and raised their children with the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, teaching them about “the fight the blacks went through”. Growing up in Port Moody, Barnes was very aware of the racism around her.

Barnes remembered her own struggles and that of her parents, yet recognized the leaps and bounds that were made today with the inauguration of Obama.

“As a woman of colour, I am looking at this whole world that has come together and it’s [because of] this belief that change can happen,” Barnes said.

Despite the joy and excitement of the morning, Barnes had higher expectations for such a historical ceremony.

“It’s interesting that the only other black person up there was Aretha [Franklin]. I would have liked to have seen a black preacher get up there and preach some shit,” she said with a contagious laugh. “I thought for sure there would be some serious gospel. I thought there would be a black preacher getting the crowd motivated, you know, really spiritually motivated.”

She also thought that Obama’s decision to have conservative Rev. Rick Warren from the Saddleback Church in California give his invocation was too cautious of a choice—one that she hopes isn’t indicative of Obama’s future decisions as president.

The selection of Warren, who is a vigorous opponent of same-sex marriage, was seen by many as an attempt by Obama to pander to the Republicans. Warren has been called one of the most influential people in America, having sold over 30 million copies of his book, A Purpose Driven Life.

Barnes continued to praise Obama, especially when speaking about his relationship with his wife Michelle, whom Barnes describes as a "rock”, and said that watching Obama play such an active role with his children is something very valuable. She said that the role Obama has taken on as a family man with strong morals and values is imperative in helping change the reality that many black men aren’t around to take responsibility for their children and family.

"I think he will definitely make it aware that this is a possibility, that a family unit can be real,” she said. “He’s got a following of young black men and women who now know that they can truly do whatever they want to do.”

It’s a tall order, taking the presidential oath and leading a country and its people, but Barnes seems confident that Obama can fulfill his promise.
Source URL: http://www.straight.com/article-197338/vancouver-park-commissioner-constance-barnes-sheds-tears-joy-obama-inaugurated

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