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Businessman's Gift Stirs 'Platinum-Level Guests'

"As Dr. Martin Luther King said, 'Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness,' " said luncheon co-chair Carol Thompson Cole. "Earl heard a call, and he answered it, and here we all are on this incredible occasion, a gathering whose proportions are as historic and unprecedented as the inauguration we are here to celebrate."

For the swearing-in ceremony, some guests ventured out to the Mall to try for a good spot near the Capitol. Others had slept in, storing energy for the ball later in the evening. Many converged on the heated terrace where, munching on macaroni and cheese with lobster and crab cake sandwiches, they watched the festivities in high definition color on television screens mounted on the wall.

Radio One founder Cathy Hughes, one of the sponsors of the event, circulated among the guests jubilantly, taking pictures and giving hugs.

"I've always believed you don't get points with God for helping people when times are good. You get points for helping when times are tight, because then it becomes a sacrifice and not a gift," she said of Stafford. "It is sacrifice that wins favor with the creator."

At the reception Monday night, dozens of the 450 disadvantaged guests Stafford had brought to the hotel thanked him. About 300 had come from out of town and 150 from the Washington area. They were located by a cadre of volunteers who had signed on with Stafford shortly after he decided in November to host an inaugural ball.

Margie Lewis, 82, the youngest of a group of elderly New Orleans residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina, wanted Stafford to know how much she loved the hotel and appreciated the cream-colored gown she'd received for the ball.

"I brought my own shoes and clutch -- gold, you know," she said. "They said they'll have people who will be doing hair, but my daughter already did mine. I'm just going to fluff it up, and I'll be all ready for the ball."

Mark and Erica Powell of Cincinnati said the trip to Washington had ignited a sense of altruism in them.

The couple was invited to the event after Mark Powell wrote a letter to organizers about his wife's problems with sickle cell anemia. After the luncheon Monday, they took a walk to find someone to share their good fortune.

"We went looking for a homeless man or woman to give them some money," Mark Powell said. "We only had $100, but we wanted to do something for someone like Mr. Stafford had done for us. We wanted someone to think about us the same way we think about him."

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