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Queens Chronicle

Obama inauguration draws Queens group to DC

100 joined Jamaica NAACP Branch to celebrate historic Obama oath

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Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:16 am, Thu Jan 31, 2013.

In his acceptance speech in November, President Obama asked the country for its support in his second term.

And members of the Queens community, with the assistance of the Jamaica Branch of the NAACP, were happy to oblige him on Monday.

About 100 residents, some with long ties to the civil rights organization and others not, left the NAACP’s St. Albans office before 3 a.m. on Inauguration Day for the long, but rewarding trip to witness history.

The day marked the nation’s 57th presidential inauguration.

Maylean Brown Thompson of Jamaica said she knew before 2008 that an African-American someday would be elected president, but did not know if it would happen in her lifetime. She was just as enthused Monday as when then-U.S. Sen. Obama broke down the barrier in 2008.

Leroy Gadsden, president of the Jamaica branch, said the trip was arranged largely with the help of the staff of Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica).

The weather was warmer than forecast, but most of the Queens contingent opted to avoid the chilly 40-degree temperatures and the mayhem of hundreds of thousands of people on the National Mall.

With other groups, Meeks arranged for more than 200 of his constituents in all to watch the ceremony live with heat and refreshments a few blocks away in the Wright Patman Room on the first floor of the Rayburn House Office Building.

The space normally functions as the Financial Services Committee meeting room.

Joan and Major Myers of Queens said they took the trip out of more than just a sense of pride and history.

“I want to support his policies,” Joan Myers said. “He needs to finish the job. They say it takes four years to learn the job and four years to finish it.”

Joan Myers said this was even more special than 2008.

“Because this time, I’m here,” she said.

Gadsden, who is in his fifth year as branch president, said he too was every bit as proud and excited as he was four years ago.

He praised Obama’s handling of things like the drawdowns of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. But he also is at a loss for what he sees as the utter contempt reserved for the president by factions of the Republican Party.

“When he was elected there were people who said they would not work with him,” Gadsden said, still incredulous after four years.

“How do you do that?” he asked. “How do you say you will not work with the president? How can a congressman call the president a liar on the floor of the House? I sometimes wonder what other countries think of us when those things happen.”

Regardless, he and others were overwhelmingly upbeat. And several were pleased that since the traditional Jan. 20 swearing in took place on a Sunday, the public ceremony on Jan. 21 coincided with the national celebration of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s birthday.

And two sights during the predawn bus ride down the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway offered promising omens of the festive day and patriotic events to come.

The Freedom Tower, undergoing its finishing touches in Manhattan on the site of the old World Trade Center, is tall enough and was well-lighted enough to be seen for miles.

The Statue of Liberty, for more than a century a symbol of the hopes and promise of America, was arrayed with light in New York Harbor.

Security procedures upon arrival in the capital meant for walking 10 to 12 blocks to make the three-block trip from the buses to the Rayburn Building.

Waiting near the Queens contingent in line to go through security was actor Richard Schiff, who won an Emmy portraying presidential advisor Toby Ziegler on the former NBC White House drama “The West Wing.” Schiff is in Washington to film scenes for his upcoming series online web series "Chasing The Hill."

Once inside, Meeks’ office treated the crowd to snacks and sandwiches, and the venue offered comfortable chairs — “which your tax dollars paid for,” Gadsden said — and wide-screen televised coverage from Sen. Charles Schumer’s (D-New York) opening remarks to the now-controversial national anthem performance by Beyonce.

Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, this year allowing himself to read from a card, administered the oath of office.

And the Wright Patman Room erupted in applause followed by a standing ovation upon the president’s recitation “... so help me God.”

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