On a recent Tuesday night, I watched something breathtaking happen.
The date was November 4th.
The event is not what you're thinking.
After what seemed like an eternity, the most important presidential election in my lifetime had come to a close. I was at a downtown "watching party" that night with a group of about 20 friends” -- a healthy mix of Democrats and Republicans. When the giant TV screens flashed the news "Barack Obama elected president," there were cheers and boos, even tears (both of joy and frustration) from the group.
But the people had spoken. The decision made. History made. A new leader of the free world made.
As I sat observing the reactions of those around me, I realized -- for the first time that night -- just exactly where I was.
I was sitting about 200 yards from where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. I could literally see the Lorraine and the National Civil Rights Museum from my perch at the bar. It took my breath away for a moment. Perhaps it's because I spent months researching the civil rights leader and the events that led up to April 4, 1968, for the King anniversary issue we produced in April. I felt a connection to the scarred, sacred ground that I probably wouldn't otherwise have felt.
I needed to go there. I wanted to stand in front of room 306, to remember, to grieve and celebrate and just be.
A friend and I walked out of the noisy, crowded party and into the chilly night, making our way down the block, headed toward the Lorraine.
As we approached, we saw a group of four people already in the parking lot, gazing up at the balcony. No one said a word. We were all quiet, each of us there for our own reason, each respecting one another's space. As I stood and thought about how much had changed over the last 40 years, others were making their way from all directions to the site. They were young and old, black and white. Someone lit a candle, then another, and began passing them around. The crowd grew larger, but remained quiet, until someone began to sing "Amazing Grace." Her voice was soft, her pitch perfect. Another voice chimed in, then another.
As much as I wanted to join in, I didn't. I'd had my time to reflect and pay homage. The night was over. My friend went his way, and I mine.
Making my way back to Midtown, I turned the radio off and drove with my own thoughts keeping me company.
Yes, I'd just witnessed history. The country just elected its first African-American president. But what stayed with me was the way a group of different yet like-minded people arrived at the Lorraine that night. Unlike so many of the other celebrations and gatherings all over the city that night, this one happened organically. I felt lucky to have witnessed it, to have been a part of it.
We'd only walked a few blocks that night, but with each step, I realized just how far we'd really come. And that's what I'll remember most when I recall this election, and that night, in the years to come.