It was an Inauguration, not a coronation. In offices, church auditoriums, schools, and transitional shelters, President Obama's swearing in today drew attention from people across the social and political spectrum. KPCC's Frank Stoltze begins our survey of the way people throughout the Southland responded to the 44th President of the United States.
Frank Stoltze: Along Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, hope can be scarce. Michael Wilkins says he's been off drugs for two years. But he still struggles to find work and stable housing. The 38-year-old said it helps to see a fellow African American in the Oval Office.
Michael Wilkins: And it's not only because of him being a president. But just because I seen somebody else reach for something they wanted to do, and they were able to get to that. That just inspires me.
James Farrar: Well, I got goose bumps. I got chills. I mean, it's a new day for America.
Stoltze: As he prepared to turn 60 years old this year, James Farrar surveyed the many African American faces on Skid Row.
Farrar: We don't have any more excuses. We can't blame it on the white man. We can't blame it on institutions any longer. Because even though racism is alive and well, he's demonstrated we can transcend racism, or we can transcend any obstacle that presents itself before us.
Stoltze: Farrar doesn't talk much about his personal life. But he said the nation has changed since he suffered discrimination as a younger man.
Farrar: We have a black president. But we largely owe it to white America. And I want to say thank you!
Stoltze: Farrar wore a fresh new t-shirt his brother sent him. It features what looks like the presidential seal of the United States, with Obama's picture in the middle.
Not all were upbeat. One man, who declined to be interviewed, shouted he'd wait and see if Obama really brought change to places like Skid Row.
[Sound of music, kids making noise]
Kitty Felde: I'm Kitty Felde at Jordan New Technology High School in Watts, where about a thousand students packed the auditorium to watch the inauguration on a giant torn screen.
There was a lot of texting going on. The video feed kept cutting out, and only one student in Mr. Murphy and Mr. Allala's combined English and History class could remember anything Barack Obama said. Junior Jimmy Lopez's critique was harsh.
Jimmy Lopez: I fell asleep. That's how boring it was.
Felde: Janeth Flores sat in the back where it was noisy. And she was distracted by a nagging thought.
Janeth Flores: When he was giving the speech, I thought they were going to shoot him. I was just really nervous about that.
Felde: Martin Diaz agreed.
Martin Diaz: I think they were going to shoot him because he was black.
Felde: But Ruben Garcia thought Barack Obama might be a target because he wants to shake things up.
Ruben Garcia: Well, if you notice Martin Luther King got taken down, John F. Kennedy got taken down, and they all wanted to change things for the greater good. Not just for themselves or for their own people, but for everyone. I feel that sometimes people are afraid of change because they're so adapted to how things are now. They get so settled in that they're afraid of change. They might think that things might not work out the way they want them to.
Felde: Change is precisely why Jeffrey Arrington pestered his mom to vote for Obama.
Jeffrey Arrington: I feel like if we got a got a black president, it's like – if we got a black president that means I can become a doctor or anything. If we got a black president, my chance to go higher, that's how I feel. Now that he became president, I want to be, be the mayor. I want to be anything. I'll probably be the next president. But really though, I want to be a doctor. Or... I don't know. I got dreams high now.
[Sound of applause during Obama's speech]
Susan Valot: I'm Susan Valot at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda. Nearly 40 people filled short rows of green chairs to watch the presidential Inauguration on a big screen TV. David Lopez of Placentia brought his 9- and 11-year-old sons to witness the historical moment.
David Lopez: This has never happened in this country. It – I mean, this is the first minority president in the United States history. Not only are we, in our great nation, seeing this, but the entire world is seeing this. And it's, you know, it's history in the making.
Valot: At times, Marcia Tilchin of Tustin hugged her 11-year-old son during the Inauguration. Tears welled up in her eyes.
Marcia Tilchin: I was trying to explain to him how eight years ago, really half the country felt wounded by the fact that this Inauguration for George W. Bush was taking place, because they didn't believe that it was legitimate even.
Valot: That was the year of the hanging chads in Florida that may have cost Al Gore the election. Tilchin says this year, there's much more excitement and fervor.
Nearby, Candice Katayama of Orange staked out a front-row seat. She's an "Obama Republican" – a lifelong Republican who switched sides this one time to vote for Obama.
Candice Katayama: One man can't do it. But the reason why I voted for him – because I thought McCain was very capable of running the country – was because it's going to take the whole country to turn their attitudes and get out despair and to focus on hope.
Valot: Katayama says President Barack Obama symbolizes that shift.