Chicagoans gear up for Obama’s second inauguration

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CHICAGO—In 2009, the streets of Chicago were overflowing with excitement, honor and pride. One of the city’s very own had become the United States’ first black president, instilling a sense of “I can do anything-ness” into many black Americans, especially those from Chicago.

But four years later, many black Chicagoans who supported Obama admit to being slightly less excited the second time around. These people are happy Obama has reclaimed his seat, but the novelty of having a Chicago-bred black president has worn off.

“That thrill that we had a black president was more exciting then,” said Chicago resident Torrin Koonce, 22. “I’m happy about the fact that he was reelected, but I feel like they forgot.”

This sentiment, which is more somber than the emotions felt on that historic November night in Chicago’s Grant Park in 2008, is shared by 44-year-old Monique Green. “I think we’re all stunned he won again,” Green admits, but “I was more excited then. It was new, different… Now, I think we’re more relieved, but it’s not like it was the first time.”

Chicago resident Claudia Persons, 46, said although she’s not as excited, she’s looking forward to Obama’s second term. “It’s even better because his hands are untied. He can do all of those things he couldn’t before,” she said. When asked about how the city views Obama’s second inauguration, Persons said, “I feel that people are more concerned about Jesse Jackson, Jr. locally than the president’s inauguration.”

But although some Chicagoans aren’t brimming with excitement, many have said that the fact that Obama won the presidency the second time is more pivotal. A record number of early voters turned out at the polls, followed by a close race that turned quickly into a landslide victory on Election Night.

Additionally, although Obama wasn’t born in Chicago, there’s that sense of pride for celebrating a hometown success story.

“Here in Chicago, especially if you’re African-American, a lot of us have some story where we can say we had some encounter with Barack Obama, Michelle Obama or the Obama family in general,” said Vanessa Abron, 31, who worked on the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns with the Obama camp. “People are still excited, because he’s ours, he’s one of us. Plus, you have a group of people who are excited, because they didn’t have an opportunity to go the first time,” Abron said.

Abron is also the marketing coordinator for the Young and Powerful Group, which raised over $300,000 for Obama’s campaign. The group has several city affiliates, but will be hosting events in Washington, D.C. and Chicago during inauguration weekend, giving those unable to attend the official events the inaugural experience.

Perhaps one of the most exciting groups in the city that will be part of the festivities is the South Shore Drill Team. After a first-time rejection four years ago, the renowned precision dance group will get their chance to perform in the official inauguration parade this year.

“I was very excited because it’s a once in a lifetime chance,” said 17-year-old China Jones, who’s been on the South Shore Drill Team for five years. “I still think I’m dreaming!”

Jones, 53 other teammates and 12 adults will make the trek to Washington D.C. for the performance. “We’ve just been practicing. We’re excited, but nervous, because it’s a big opportunity,” Jones said.

“We applied four years ago and we didn’t get it. So this year, we really tried hard to do everything we could to make our application as attractive as possible,” said Sarah Vlacjic, resident consultant for the South Shore Drill Team.

“They’re just walking on air. They’re really proud,” exclaimed Dawn Gray, 38, who works with the drill team as well.

State officials are also thrilled at the chance to celebrate a former colleague. Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and State Senators Mattie Hunter, James Clayborne, and Don Harmon are hosting a celebration in Washington D.C. featuring Chicago artists. The Illinois State Society of Washington, D.C. is also hosting an event in Obama’s honor.

Says Hunter, “We just want to show our appreciation and let everybody know, he’s Chicago’s own, he’s Illinois’ own.”

Renita D. Young is a Chicago-based multimedia journalist. Follow her on Twitter @RenitaDYoung.