By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 29, 2008
For 40 minutes, people planted themselves on bar stools in nightclubs and on crowded couches in private homes, their eyes fixed on television screens and history.
There were tears and butterflies and a giddiness to it all, as Sen. Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president of the United States.
They gathered at such places as Busboys and Poets restaurants in the District and Shirlington, the three-story Sideline restaurant and bar in Prince George's County and in homes across the region.
There were homes like the one in Mitchellville where the Rome and Eiland families, whose roots are in Detroit, came together for a "soul food feast," said Tony Rome, a 42-year-old marketing executive.
"It is rare to be able to live out a piece of history," he said. "I want to be able to celebrate this moment with friends and family."
At Busboys and Poets in Shirlington, diners clapped along as Stevie Wonder performed and applauded when Al Gore took the stage.
At a circular table in the back room, under black-and-white photos of scenes from the civil rights movement, neighbors from Alexandria talked about Obama's remarkable journey and the ways they feel connected to the candidate. Charlie Hundley, 39, was sporting "one of many" Obama T-shirts he owns. Hundley said he has volunteered in voter registration drives and door-knocking campaigns but still has a hard time believing that a black man has a chance of becoming president.
Hundley said he and his wife see some of their story reflected in Obama's life. Hundley is African American, and his wife is a first generation American, daughter of an Irish mother and a Canadian father.
"His life story is our life story," Hundley said. "We try to look at people as people, not as black and white."
Krista Hummer, 33, his neighbor who works as a social worker, sat beside him.
She realized the power of Obama's story, she said, when she was working with a young African American man who was on probation. She photocopied the first chapter of Obama's memoir "Dreams From My Father" and read it with her client.
"It was not similar to his life," Hummer said, "but that chapter allowed me to connect with this kid."
For African Americans, the night took on extraordinary meaning. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 64 percent of blacks felt that Obama's nomination made them more proud about being an American, compared with 32 percent of whites.
Inside the Sideline restaurant -- and outside, where there were three large screens -- anticipation of Obama's speech generated more excitement than the Washington Redskins' final preseason game. Hundreds of people had gathered in the restaurant, and some, turned away because of crowding, stood in the rain to watch Obama on the big screens.
Harold King, 61, remembers listening to Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, when he was 15.
"In my lifetime, I never thought this would happen," he said last night. "This is incredible, and the timing, we need it so badly. . . . Our previous administration has messed up so bad."
King, a retired systems analyst, said of that day in August 1963: "I heard the speech at 15. . . I was there by myself. . . . At 15, you don't know everything that's going on, but I knew it was very, very special. . . . Today, with Obama making his speech, it's wonderful."
Although Denver was the place Obama gave last night's speech, it was the Washington region that helped solidify that place in history books. In February, the District, Maryland and Virginia primaries gave Obama an edge in the nomination battle against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In many cases last night, total strangers entered the intimate sofa settings of enthusiastic Obama supporters who posted invitations to their parties on Obama's campaign Web site: "The Revolution Will Be Televised," "Obama-Rama!," "Witness History" and "The True Hope," among them.
Mikal Diamond, 30, a Republican who hails from Philadelphia, opened her District rowhouse, decked out with photos of the Obamas and decorations with Hawaiian themes.
Diamond has poured herself into all things Obama, consulting the campaign on how to conduct her party and getting official sign-up sheets, T-shirts, buttons and stickers.
She said that Republicans speak to her pro-business concerns and other issues but that Obama moves her, Diamond said. "The 'Yes, We Can' speech, tears were streaming down my face. I was like, 'Okay, that's it,'" she said.
At Busboys and Poets in Shirlington, Carolyn Chambers, 56, a teacher at Gunston Middle School in Arlington County, said she was moved by the speech. Afterward, she said she remembered the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy and Malcolm X. She lived through segregation, when there where places in the District she couldn't go as an African American.
"And now we're sitting here watching a black man and a white man about to become president and vice president," she said.
Staff writers Ben Hubbard and Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.