Inauguration infuses African-Americans in Pittsburgh with high expectations

'A momentous event'


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As Dion Poston's razor buzzed and Terrence Washington brushed loose hairs from a client's neck, two big-screen TVs at the Barber's Inn in East Liberty boomed out the pomp of yesterday's inauguration of the nation's 44th president. Even for young barbers who said they voted for the man based on the content of his character, this one was decidedly different. No matter how you cut it, a first black president is an exciting milestone.

"Oh, my God," said Dash Taylor, 31, watching ex-presidents file through the Capitol Rotunda to take their places in the VIP seating area. "I feel like I have to hold my breath, like, for the next hour." Her face became a transfixed glow when Mr. Obama appeared some minutes later.

Mr. Poston is 27. Mr. Washington is 24. Ms. Taylor, too, was born after the iconic moments in civil rights history. Among the young people who helped elect Mr. Obama, they are part of a generation that Sheila Brown, 48, judged to be "able to see a different future. I really think what we're witnessing today is a reflection of the new generation."

Ms. Brown owns the Barber's Inn, a shop that's part clubhouse, with puffy couches and chairs. People hang out waiting for a haircut, for a friend getting a haircut or just to hang out.

Ms. Taylor was in town from Philadelphia visiting friends and chose to watch what she called "a momentous event" at the shop, which is on Baum Boulevard. There is another location in Swissvale.

"It's true," said Mr. Washington. "People my age and even younger need to learn a whole lot more than we know."

He said his mother was born in 1968, so he would have to go back to his grandparents to get the historical perspective of people whose faces streamed with tears as they watched yesterday's ceremonies.

Ms. Brown said: "I'm not going to say I have high expectations of [Mr. Obama], but I think he'll do a good job. It may be natural for him to do a very good job because so many people are behind him. I think if he had a campaign for volunteerism, people would go out and volunteer. That's the sign of a good leader."

When he voted, near his home in the Central North Side, Mr. Poston took his then 3-month-old son with him to let him press the button to vote for Mr. Obama.

"I never thought I would see in my lifetime a woman or an African-American president," said Mr. Poston. "I'm proud to be a part of it. I'm glad I voted. I'm glad I went to the trouble of registering."

A hush fell over the assembled group as Mr. Obama took his oath.

When the new president said, "So help me God," Ms. Taylor leaped and did a little dance.

"That's great," said Mr. Washington, his cool-guy face dissolving into a grin as an estimated 2 million people on the National Mall in Washington erupted in cheers and waved flags. "But it's not like gas is going to be a dollar tomorrow."

Does he think maybe people of all races will start seeing each other as brothers and sisters? He grinned and said, "Not gonna happen tomorrow."

The message of hope and accountability made its way past the guarded gate of Pittsburgh Job Corps Center in Lincoln-Lemington, where a sign reads, "A chance for change."

"It's not going to happen overnight. But I believe Barack Obama is going to get us moving in the right direction," said Antonio Marrow, 22, of Richmond, Va. He and some classmates watched the inauguration in the center's cafeteria.

Job Corps, a U.S. Department of Labor program that provides vocational education to 850 disadvantaged students in Lincoln-Lemington, also sent a van of eight Student Government Association representatives to Washington for the event. The trip was organized by SGA President George Thomas, 21, of Philadelphia.

"It was a great moment in history, and this was something every American should be a part of," said Mr. Thomas. "The crowd was incredible. You would think with that many people, they would be getting angry, but the crowd just seemed to flow."

Another dozen students watched the event in the lounge of Evans Hall, a residence hall at the center.

"I admire the call for accountability, that the younger generation doesn't typically have," said Christian Devaruex, 23, of Orange, N.J., who is studying architecture.

He said he hadn't planned to watch the inauguration, but once seated in front of the television, he was caught up in it.

"Every once in a while something happens that you don't want to take your eyes off it," he said.

At the University of Pittsburgh, about 100 students and employees watched the swearing-in on a projector screen set up in the William Pitt Union assembly room. A crowd almost as large gathered in front of a smaller TV near the union's information desk.

Some in the union applauded and yelled "Whoo!" after the oath was administered. A few welled with emotion.

Ama Sarfo, 21, an African-American student from York, was convinced the country would never see this day.

"When I was in elementary school and we all learned that in this country you can become anyone, I remember thinking, 'That's not true. That's not my reality,' " she said.

"To see that it is possible for a black person to become president makes me feel as if I can do anything" said Ms. Sarfo, a senior whose has triple major in Africana studies, English writing and history.


Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Dan Majors can be reached at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456. Bill Schackner can be reached at bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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