The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States and the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office was one of those historic moments on which each witness may be able to offer a different perspective.
Whether you were a witness up close near the steps of the Capitol, among the massive crowd in the National Mall a mile away, or from the comforts of your own living room, you will likely tell your own story of the moment the new president placed his hand on the Lincoln Bible to take the oath of office.
Like others who were in attendance in Washington, D.C. for the inauguration ceremony January 20th, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to take part in an event never before seen in this country.
“It was a significant point in this nation’s history and there’s nothing like witnessing it for one’s self,” Ridley-Thomas said of Obama’s inauguration. “I was very fulfilled to be a part of this extraordinary moment in history.”
Ridley-Thomas was elected in November to serve as county supervisor for the Second District, which has a population of nearly 2.3 million people and includes some communities in the Argonaut coverage area, including Mar Vista.
As Obama made history by being the first African American to become president, Ridley-Thomas has marked a historic achievement as the first African American man to serve on the Board of Supervisors. He took over the Second District seat held by Yvonne Burke, who retired after serving as the first African American member of the Board of Supervisors.
Ridley-Thomas noted the special significance for him to bear witness to the inauguration of a man who accomplished election history on the same night as he did — November 4th.
“I’m one who takes his call seriously,” the supervisor said. “Given the fact that we were elected on the same night, and with the significance of his election and the importance of my election, it made it very special.”
Ridley-Thomas, who first met Obama during his campaign in April 2007, said he was an early-on supporter of the candidate and worked as a co-chair for the Obama for President Campaign in California. The supervisor was extended an invitation to attend the inauguration by Senator Dianne Feinstein and was among the audience at the Capitol.
Recalling his emotions as a member of the audience, Ridley-Thomas said the frigid January temperature in Washington was no match for the atmosphere.
“It was electric, even in the cold,” the supervisor said.
After gazing out on the massive crowd, estimated at over one million, that stretched from the Capitol across the National Mall, Ridley-Thomas said simply, “It was rows and rows and rows of people.”
“Diverse and deep was the crowd,” he said. “It was a huge affirmation of the forward direction in which this new president will take us.”
The Second District supervisor was quick to acknowledge the privilege he and others felt to be able to participate in such a momentous occasion for the country.
“There was a great feeling of pride and purpose among everyone who I spoke with who was there,” Ridley-Thomas explained. “It was a lot to take in and I’m proud to have been a part of it.”
Ridley-Thomas called the new president’s path to office after serving as an Illinois state senator in the early part of the decade and not even completing his first term as a U.S. senator “meteoric.”
“The enthusiasm for his success is palpable,” he said of Obama.
When the 44th President gave his inaugural address with millions, possibly billions watching around the world, the supervisor said Obama made it clear that the presidential campaign is in the past and the time for governance is ahead.
During the speech, Obama addressed the challenges faced by Americans with the War in Iraq and the state of the economy, and laid out his vision for leading the nation into the future.
“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America,” Obama said in his address.
Referring to the address, Ridley-Thomas said, “It was a speech for the ages with respect to the seriousness of our time and how America will follow the lead of its new president.”
Prior to his election to the Board of Supervisors, Ridley-Thomas served as state senator in the 26th District, chairing the Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development. First elected to public office in 1991, Ridley-Thomas served nearly 12 years on the Los Angeles City Council and later served two terms as a member of the State Assembly.