Across Region, Partygoers Raise Glasses (and Juice Boxes)

Following a swearing-in ceremony attended by thousands, Washington, D.C., residents and visitors gather to view the inaugural parade.
By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Years from now, when they think back, the group of 7-year-olds that filled Jennifer Robinson's Fairfax home for the inauguration will remember it as the day they moved the furniture aside and danced.

Dressed in their best, or as close to black tie as an elementary school student's closet allows, 17 children and their parents gathered to watch the inauguration on a living room TV and then party the afternoon away. A disco ball dangled from a ceiling fan.

"They needed to know it's not just a day off from school," said Jennifer Robinson, hostess and mother of three of the children.

A star-speckled runner led to the front door; inside, a life-size Barack Obama cutout greeted visitors. A menu listed Delaware chicken nuggets for the kids and Maryland crab cakes for the adults. The children pushed fistfuls of Goldfish crackers in their mouth during the ceremony.

Then Obama flashed on the flat screen.

"Here it comes. Let's be quiet. This is it," Robinson said. "This is history. This is the most important event that has ever happened in your lives to date."

Across the region, similar parties played out in homes, bars and churches, under roofs that allowed for communal celebrations without the cold and chaos of downtown Washington. Planned and spontaneous, the gatherings offered proof that no matter how far people were from the official ceremony, the beer, champagne and juice boxes would flow.

About 400 people gathered in the dim art deco theater at the AFI Theatre and Cultural Center in downtown Silver Spring to watch the ceremony on the big screen, munching popcorn and sipping coffee and soda. Many in the audience echoed "amen" to the prayers, took photos of Obama -- albeit on a movie screen -- and cheered, hooted and hugged when Chief Justice John G. Roberts told Obama, "Congratulations, Mr. President."

"This is all the goodness of community with the added comfort of cushy chairs, warmth -- and a restroom," said Barbara Johnson, 48, an art teacher at Elizabeth Seton High in Prince George's County.

Kimberly Matthews-Williams said she and her partner, Pamela Matthews-Williams, who are both African American, wanted to be able to tell their children, ages 2 and 5, that they were part of it. "We didn't want to just be home in our pj's." They plan to add Obama's photo to the wall of their home office, next to the poster showing 43 small photos of the previous U.S. presidents -- a sea of white faces.

"Now there will be a picture of a president up there who looks like us," Kimberly Matthews-Williams said.

At the Southern Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Temple Hills, almost 300 people gathered to watch the ceremony on TV. The hallway of the church was decorated with laminated posters featuring Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, the Black Panthers and Jackie Robinson, among others.

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