Some Treasure Coast residents headed to Washington D.C. for Obama's second inauguration

As many as 800,000 people are expected to flock to National Mall Monday to see President Barack Obama publicly being sworn into office for the second and last time.

Among them are some Treasure Coast residents willing to brave the large crowd and low temperatures in Washington, D.C., for an opportunity to be part of history.

Some will go as families, others with their high school friends. A Gifford Middle School student will attend the inauguration as his 13th birthday gift.

This will be the first presidential inauguration for most of them. For those who were at Obama's swearing-in events in 2009, this could be the sequel to what they described as a day to celebrate the country's diversity.

Birthday with the president

Although he lives in a largely Republican county, Elliot Thomas still wore his "Vote for Obama" T-shirt to Gifford Middle School and glued a sticker about Barack Obama's support for gay rights on his school binder.

"I'm a strong supporter of gay rights and that got a few laughs," the Vero Beach resident said. "No one was mean, but people definitely didn't agree with where I was coming from."

Elliot is too young to vote. So he decided to support the president by volunteering in his campaign, going door-to-door, making phone calls and holding up signs on election day. The day Obama was declared the winner, he cut out the front page of the Press Journal and glued it on the back side of his binder.

When his mother, Joy Heath, found out Elliot's 13th birthday coincides with Obama's inauguration day, she decided his gift would be a four-day trip to Washington to watch the president's inauguration.

Elliot said he learned the difference between Democrats and Republicans after his father, Nick Thomas, unsuccessfully ran for county commission.

During the presidential election, Elliot started reading about the positions of Obama and Romney and decided he was more aligned with the president.

"I think being (at the inauguration) with all supporters gathering to support the big win is a good way to finish off a long campaign," he said.

Fort Pierce friends going together

Harriet Jenkins of Fort Pierce attended Barack Obama's first inauguration parade in 2009. After the event, she remembers standing at a tri-rail station shoulder to shoulder with people of different ethnicities.

"Everybody was just talking to each other," she said. "It was just amazing the diversity of the crowd that was there."

Jenkins, 52, is going back to Washington this year with seven longtime friends who couldn't go to the first inauguration. Some are flying while others are going on a charter bus.

She said the 2008 election was the first one she has ever followed so closely, watching all debates and taking notes. She did that again last year and voted for Obama.

"Because of the historicalness of the election, that's why I followed it as close as I did," said Jenkins, a behavior technician with the St. Lucie County School District.

Bernice Hasan grew up with Jenkins and couldn't attend the 2009 ceremony because she had to work. She hurt her back two months ago and had to stop working as a hospital business office manager. She had surgery two weeks ago and cannot walk or stand for a long period of time. But that did not stop her from booking her trip to the inauguration.

"Washington, D.C. is a place I always wanted to see because of the history," Hasan said. "I want to see Abraham Lincoln and now they have the Martin Luther King Jr. statue there. I'm excited more about that than anything."

Closest to the president

Of all Treasure Coast residents going to the inauguration, South Fork High School junior Blake Hicks might be the one sitting the closest to President Barack Obama.

Last year, the 16-year-old was nominated by his veterinary teacher to the National Society of High School Scholars, an international organization that highlights the accomplishments of high school students. His mother, Dawn, thought that just meant easier access to college scholarships — until he was invited to attend the inauguration.

Hicks lives in Hobe Sound and will be among about 200 students from all over the world — from countries like South Africa and Japan — who will go on the trip to Washington. He said they got seats close to front row.

Their schedule also includes a speech by Condoleezza Rice, a black-tie gala event and a tour of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

Hicks was nominated to the Society of High School Scholars because of his community involvement, he said. He is vice president of South Fork's Future Farmers of America chapter and is an honors student. He volunteers every Saturday at the Treasure Coast Humane Society and at the Wildlife Center on Sundays.

Hicks' mother set up a bank account to raise $3,500 for the inauguration trip. Donations came from friends, family and strangers who watched a segment about him on a local television channel recently.

"Even though it's not Obama's first inauguration, it's still very historic. He's the first African American president," Hicks said. "It's going to be a very interesting experience. I'll meet interesting people and do interesting things."

'Money well spent'

Madetric Wood and her husband, Kahari, began saving money to go to the inauguration soon after the presidential election votes were counted.

The couple and their three children — ages 3, 9 and 12 — will attend the inaugural parade and also tour museums in the capital. The cost of the trip will be about $2,500; Wood said it is money well spent.

Despite their young age, her children know about the historic significance of the inauguration of the first African American president, Wood said. The two oldest ones also know President Barack Obama appointed the nation's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor, and believe the Affordable Care Act will give millions of people access to health care.

Wood lives in Port St. Lucie and works as a geriatric nurse practitioner. She was invited to the trip to the capital by the Treasure Coast Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, a national organization that provides social, cultural and educational youth programs.

This is the family's first inauguration.

"It's an honor to be able to bring an African American into office for the second time and be there to witness it," Wood said.

'Historic no matter what'

The Martin County High School students going to the inauguration are into debating and learning about what is happening in U.S. politics. There are 14 of them taking the trip organized by teacher Kristin Carbone, who invited students in her debate and leadership classes to go to Washington, D.C.

Sophomore Spencer Sigalow has been to the capital before but this will be his first inauguration.

"Being so close to the president is going to be amazing," Sigalow said. He is on the school's debate team and is president of its youth in government group."I just enjoy knowing about the country and being informed about what's going on in the U.S."

The students are going to the inauguration through an educational student travel agency called World Strides and have raised some of the money to cover the $1,700 per student cost. They will pay for the rest out of pocket.

They found out they were going to the inauguration before election day. Senior Emily Kazdin, 17, is too young to vote but said she favored Barack Obama.

Sarah Ciampi, a junior, is the daughter of former Martin County Commissioner Ed Ciampi, a Republican. She met former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife during a campaign rally and said she preferred him over Obama. But she doesn't care who the president being sworn in is.

"It's historic no matter what," she said. "Just being able to be in Washington for the inauguration is a once in a lifetime opportunity we are not going to miss."

'Right in the midst'

The Rev. Kenneth Mills Sr. had tickets to attend Barack Obama's first inauguration but spent most of the time standing in line waiting to get to his designated area. He ended up going to a relative's home in the Washington, D.C., area and watching the rest of the event on television.

This time, when Mills goes back to the capitol with his daughter and sister, he wants to the get to the National Mall earlier.

"I want my grandkids to know that their grandfather was there for the inauguration of the president," he said.

Mills is an associate pastor at Miracle Prayer Temple worship center in Fort Pierce and his wife is St. Lucie County Schools board member Donna Mills. His daughter is an attorney at the federal court in Fort Pierce. She might watch the inauguration from a law firm where she used to work on Pennsylvania Avenue.

But Mills said he prefers to be among the crowd.

"I want to be right in the midst of the inauguration," he said.

Tickets from her congressman

Rozeta Mahboubi is an example that contacting your congressman might turn out results. She got tickets to a seated area at the National Mall for the president's inauguration by calling Rep. Patrick Murphy.

"I called his office and told them I was a resident in Martin County and I wanted to go," she said.

She later got a call back from Murphy's aides telling her she received two tickets she will pick up in person in Washington, D.C.

Mahboubi became interested in attending the ceremony after she heard Barack Obama invited four living ex-presidents to be on his inaugural committee. She works at the Martin County Convention and Visitors Bureau and, although she is not going through her job, she also will attend a reception for people in the tourism industry while in Washington.

She gave her second ticket to a friend from Broward County.

Mahboubi voted for Obama and has never seen a presidential inauguration live.

"I thought since he was re-elected and this is his last term it would just be a good opportunity

to be there and witness it," Mahboubi said.

Family affair

For Sharon Flagg, the inauguration will be a family trip. She is going with her 75-year-old mother and sister, who attended the 2009 ceremony.

This will be the first inauguration Flagg and her mother, Fannie Henderson, watch live. They drove to meet up with Flagg's sister, Jackie Barron, in Fort Myers and then flew to Washington, D.C. They plan on visiting the White House the day before the swearing-in ceremony.

Despite the cost of the trip — they are spending $385 to stay at a hotel for one night — Flagg said this is the last opportunity to see the first African American president be inaugurated.

"I'm most excited to go to Washington, D.C., and trying to see the president up close, even though we probably won't be able to do it."

 

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