Nearly 2 million people journeyed from all corners of the globe to witness history on Inauguration Day. Anyone participating in inaugural activities would agree that this is not only a celebratory time because of the milestone our country reached, but is was also a festive occasion - almost magical. President Obama has a God-given talent that fills us with hope and optimism in these most uncertain times. It's hard to resist thinking that somehow the President can sprinkle magic dust over this land and right all of our wrongs.
The limits of President Obama's words and the reality of living in the nation's capital finally settled in later that evening on my way to a Ball. Standing in the Dupont Circle Metro Station was a young college-aged gentlemen. He wore only a thin athletic jacket despite the below-freezing temperature. When I came into earshot, the young man with downcast eyes mumbled, "do you have 50 cents?" I honestly didn't have it, so I wasn't much help. Since my date was running late, I had plenty of time to watch the young man ask dozens of metro riders for change. Over a span of 30 minutes, he managed to collect a nice sum of cash. The problem is that he never got on a train. Finally, after discrete inspection of his eyes, lips, and twittering arms, I concluded that the young man was a junkie in training. At first, I was angry. I was angry with him for ruining this glorious night. Then, I was angry that he was such a horrible representative of African American males on a day where African American's seemed to be vindicated from centuries of negative stereotypes. I was angry that he was using drugs. Most of all, I was angry that there was nothing I could do to help him. You see, he could be saved. He still had some dignity - evidenced by his unwillingness to look anyone in the eye. It was apparent that he was new to this begging thing.
So what could anyone do in that situation? Well, I could have purchased a fare card for him. I could have prayed for him. Instead, I did what many of us do - nothing. I just stood there on the sidelines as this young man flushed the most glorious day in modern history down the toilet.
Are you sitting on the sidelines too? If you are, please visit www.usaservice.org to find out how you can become a soup kitchen volunteer, ESL instructor, or a mentor for at-risk youth. There are a myriad of community service projects that fit various personalities, skillsets, and schedules. Echoing Pastor Rick Warren, President Obama is not the Messiah. There is no magic wand that will rebuild our communities for us. If we don't care about our community enough to volunteer our efforts, then why should policymakers in Washington care?
On the campaign trail, President Obama explained that "we are the change we've been waiting for." I'm ready to step up to the plate. Are you?