Lynwood throws its own Inauguration ball

If you can't make it to Washington, D.C. for the Obama Inauguration, you can still put on your tux and your dancing shoes and attend an inaugural ball. All you need to do is head down the 710 Freeway. KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde has this preview of the Lynwood Presidential Inaugural Celebration Ball.

Phyllis Cooper-Lyons: I'm still not sure if I'm going to put that baby grand in the center of the floor or if I'm going to put it on the stage.

Kitty Felde: Phyllis Cooper-Lyons is a recreation superintendent with the city of Lynwood. It's her job to book events for Bateman Hall, the city's community center since John Kennedy was president. Cooper-Lyons was giving a tour to a friend looking for a good place for a birthday party. But her mind was elsewhere, thinking about the upcoming inauguration of Barack Obama.

Cooper-Lyons: We were looking at the rooms and then it was like, "Jeez, I really wish, girl, that I was going to Washington," and we just talking about that. And go, "Well girl, you can't go to Washington, why don't you bring it here?"

Felde: Not the inauguration – but why not an inaugural ball? In Lynwood? It's probably true that the only time Barack Obama ever spent in Lynwood was a couple minutes on the 105 Freeway on his way to LAX. But in some ways, Lynwood is a lot like the President-elect.

It's racially-mixed and Democratic, and boasts of its working class roots. The city gave the go-ahead to a Lynwood inaugural ball – as long as it didn't cost anything. So Phyllis Cooper-Lyons put together a committee of volunteers and started looking for contributions.

Cooper-Lyons: We have gotten people to sponsor the food, to sponsor the decorations. We've gotten the live entertainment.

Felde: Mariachis and a jazz band and a belly dancer will perform at the cocktail reception on the community center patio. Inside, they've lined up a band and a DJ.

The dinner menu is still up in the air; the caterer is waiting to find out what the Obamas will be eating, and will duplicate the menu. The price for the entire evening? Just $44 in honor of the 44th President. Proceeds will benefit the city's senior center. Diane Young, the friend with the birthday party, was drafted to join the planning committee.

Diane Young: The evening will be fabulous. It'll be like a dream come true. Since you can't go to Washington, you'll be here with us.

And as you enter into the ball on the red carpet in your tux or your long dress, you'll feel in awe, as we all will. It'll be like, the only difference is Barack won't actually be here, but we'll have visions of him around.

Felde: Lynwood is an interesting choice as the place to host an inaugural ball for America's first African-American president. In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan held outdoor rallies in Lynwood. And until the 1960s, there were racial covenants that restricted who could buy a house.

Lorene Reed: Lynwood – when I first moved to Lynwood, it was all white. I remember my children couldn't walk down certain streets.

Felde: Lorene Reed serves on the city's recreation commission. Since she moved to Lynwood, her city has changed – and changed again. White families left. Black families moved in. But today, Lynwood is largely Latino. Kanichia Williams, who grew up in Lynwood and now works for the city, says the celebration can help heal old wounds.

Kanichia Williams: I believe so because there has been so much racial tension here in the city, and I think when people come together for an event like this to celebrate this historical occasion, it gives you the sense of – how can I say that? – a sense of oneness. It touches my heart. It gives me chills to be a part of it.

Felde: Lynwood's mayor – Maria Teresa Santillan – plans to fly back from Washington right after Barack Obama takes the oath of office, just to attend her city's inaugural ball. More than a hundred tickets have been sold. Planners expect to sell out before inauguration day.

Note: The ball is from 5-10 p.m. on Tuesday Jan. 20, 2009 at Bateman Hall on Ernestine Road in Lynwood.

For more information and tickets, call 310-886-0413 or e-mail batemanrental@lynwood.ca.us