Charter for Change makes a pilgrimage to D.C.
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ON THE SOUL PITT BUS -- In a deserted East Liberty strip mall, sleepy-eyed travelers slugged down coffee and Honey Buns, grabbed their pillows and boarded a bus to the nation's capital for what, for most, would be a once-in a-lifetime journey.
Under a street light's orange glow, they climbed aboard The Soul Pitt Charter for Change.
The 54 travelers were friends, relatives or strangers, united by their ultimate destination -- President Barack Obama's inauguration.
"As soon as they said he won, we said, 'We're going,'" said Gwen Sims, 52, of Aliquippa. "We wanted to be part of history."
With her were 53 others, mostly from Western Pennsylvania, who joined a massive pilgrimage of African-Americans who long ago pledged they would find a way to witness Mr. Obama's swearing-in if he were elected president.
The roughly 230-mile journey by The Charter for Change wasn't always smooth.
By hour two of the four-hour trip, the travelers had already switched buses; their first one, trundling down the Pennsylvania Turnpike at no more than 5 mph, was declared broken.
The travelers, who set out at midnight and caught the Shady Grove Metro at 5:30 a.m., were tired. They were cold, stuffing hand warmers into their mittens and boots. But they got to see the first black man sworn in as president -- and that was the only thing on this trip that seemed to matter.
In the rows of multi-colored velveteen seats was Kimberley Randolph, 48, of Wilkinsburg, who once saw her brother turned away from a Birmingham, Ala., hospital during a visit in the 1960s.
There was Sage Berlin, 43, and his son, Jerico, of the North Side, who came on board for father-son bonding. There was Ariyana Sobkowiak, 16, of Swissvale, who studies African-American history at Woodland Hills High School and got an itch to experience it firsthand.
"I didn't want to hear it from someone else," she said. "I wanted to be here. I wanted to tell the story."
The bus -- a coach -- was chartered by The Soul Pitt, which boasts that it is Pittsburgh's "premiere minority community Web site." Arranging an inauguration bus tour, a plan hatched in the months before Mr. Obama was elected, was an extension of the Web site's place in the community, said its designer, Donna Baxter.
While other travelers slept, their faces illuminated by the blue glow of "I Am Legend" playing on video screens, Ms. Randolph shared a bag of popcorn with her friends, Camille Carlos, 48, of North Fayette, and Vicki J. Harvey, 45, of Stanton Heights.
In their purses, amid blankets,were Terrible Towels to commemorate a different victory Sunday in Heinz Field. The trio has traveled on vacations to New York to see the play "The Color Purple," and to Baltimore for the black rodeo.
But yesterday's journey was hardly a vacation.
"They're calling this a pilgrimage because that's exactly what it is," Ms. Randolph said. She said she sees Mr. Obama's swearing-in as a sign the country has come far since her youth.
For those of younger generations, such as 11-year-old Jerico Berlin, the day was symbolic, but his father doubted he fully appreciated its magnitude. As Jerico slept with his head pressed against a frosty window, Mr. Berlin, a North Side business owner who led bus passengers in prayer, whispered.
"You always want your kid to see a powerful black role model," he said. "He doesn't grasp it yet. He still thinks nothing is impossible."
First Published January 21, 2009 12:00 am