She traveled to D.C. to see history made

Published 7:50 am Friday, January 23, 2009

FRANKLIN—At 12:01 a.m.. Tuesday, Franklin resident Sherita Sykes boarded a bus filled with 50 other Tidewater residents and headed to Washington, D.C., to see Barack Obama become the first African-American president in U.S. history.

“I am so excited. I can’t wait till we finally make it. I just need to get there,” Sykes said.

Sykes, who worked with the Franklin-Southampton Democratic Party during election season, was originally a Hillary Clinton supporter.

However, after hearing Obama speak during a radio interview, she picked a new candidate.

“The interviewer asked him if he was afraid he might be assassinated because he is black if he won. Mr. Obama said something I’ll never forget: ‘This election isn’t about me; it’s about the people of this country getting a better chance for success. If I die trying to help them do it, then I guess that was my destiny.’ I knew then, he would be my president.”

Sykes said that as she started to listen closely to his message, she believed he was the only candidate concerned about “common people like me.”

Sykes, a waitress, said the downturn in the economy has put a serious dent in her bottom line.

“When people lose their jobs or they are scared they might, they don’t go out to eat. If they do, they can’t tip as much as they used to, and I need my tips to survive.”

Sykes said she concluded that President Obama “had what it took” to inspire people and bring confidence back to the economy after she observed his demeanor in the debates against his Democratic rivals.

Soon after, Sykes became involved in candidate Obama’s campaign.

“I knocked on doors and called as many people as I could. I just tried to do everything I could to help.”

Tuesday, when her bus pulled into RFK Stadium at around 5 a.m., she became one step closer to seeing all her hard work come to fruition.

But first, there were a few obstacles to negotiate. The crowds were massive, cellular-phone service failed, the temperature was well below freezing, and Barack Obama was not scheduled to speak for another seven hours.

As Sykes stepped off the bus into the elements and caught sight of the crowd, her spirits were not diminished.

“This is amazing. It is so unreal. I see so many people of different races, creeds and colors coming from every direction.”

Looking around to take the moment in, there was a crack in Sykes’ voice as she fought back tears.

“This is what he (Obama) stands for: everybody coming together.”

For hours, Sykes stood patiently in freezing temperatures, only breaking for an hour to sit in a heated mall area, waiting without complaint until the moment her candidate would be sworn in as president.

When President Obama took the podium and was sworn in by the Supreme Court chief justice, tears rolled down Sykes’ cheeks. “I can’t believe this is really happening,” she whispered.

While making her way back to the bus through the throngs of people and fighting back the cold, Sykes was still glowing with inspiration from the words spoken by her new president during his inaugural address.

“The words that he spoke — about how less than 60 years ago his father wouldn’t have been able to go to some restaurants — shows us just how far we have come as a nation,” said Sykes.

“The same discrimination that we had on us has been lifted a little. My son could be president. That’s something I wouldn’t have thought possible before,” she said.

When asked if she thought President Obama had the ability to correct the problems plaguing the country, she replied: “I think he has the ability to inspire us all to do more. But, he can’t do it by himself, he will certainly need some help. We just all have to be patient.”