One Year After Election, Louisville Voters Reflect

One year ago, on the eve of President Obama's inauguration, NPR's Ina Jaffe traveled to Louisville, Ky., to ride a D.C.-bound bus with supporters of the nation's first African-American president. Now, she's returned to Louisville to hear how folks reflect on their journey and that of the nation.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

One year ago this week, people poured into Washington, D.C., to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama. James Linton organized a caravan of four buses from Louisville, Kentucky. As he told NPR then, the group was very excited.

Mr. JAMES LINTON (Owner, Expressions of You Coffeehouse & Gallery): We're going to be riding into history and we can't wait to get there.

SIEGEL: NPR's Ina Jaffe traveled to Washington with Linton and his group, most of whom were African-American. Recently, she got together with him and some of his friends and family to find out how this past year has matched up to their expectations.

INA JAFFE: The departure point for last year's bus convoy was James Linton's coffee shop called Expressions of You. It's a neighborhood hangout where you can find a poetry slam on Saturday night and the perfect BLT on a frosty afternoon. And it's where we met again to talk about the past year.

Linton says there was so much excitement in the African-American community about Barack Obama's candidacy that he started setting up the bus trip nine months before the election, before Barack Obama had even nailed down the nomination.

Mr. LINTON: I had to max out my credit cards. And when I ran out of credit cards, I called my parents and said, hey, guess what? I need to use your credit cards.

JAFFE: Don't worry, the buses were filled and Linton's credit cards were paid off. One of the passengers was Christopher 2X. He says the scene on the National Mall that day was beyond anything he could have imagined.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER 2X: Something you've never seen before: People from all different walks of life felt a level of calm and peace, like I don't think they've ever could have felt before with those many individuals concentrated in one area.

JAFFE: 2X says he returned to Louisville with renewed energy that he's applied to his work with young people. A strong sense of connection to Barack Obama's message that day also inspired James Linton to start some new programs when he got home.

Mr. LINTON: We have a men's meeting. About 50 to 60 guys would meet here, you know, every Tuesday night, to be better fathers, better husbands, more involved in the community. We went back and grabbed some of the kids who had dropped out of high school and got those kids now going back to school. And we're creating now an after-school program.

JAFFE: Which starts February 1st. But not everyone has been able to maintain that post-inauguration spirit, says 2X.

Mr. 2X: I host two different radio shows and the feedback we've been getting is that there has been a lack of enthusiasm amongst young black voters who participated in the '08 election.

JAFFE: It's not just young people who are disillusioned, says James Linton's mother, Joyce Porter(ph). She sees widespread impatience with the president throughout the African-American community.

Ms. JOYCE PORTER: They want to see change. And in their minds, they don't see it. They want it to come soon. They want it right now. And he can't do it right now. It's too big for that.

JAFFE: For this group, there's a long list of unrealized hopes: better race relations, less dysfunction in Washington and an improved economy. James Linton applauds the president's fight for health care reform, but he says in this community, there are other things equally, if not more important.

Mr. LINTON: We need to place that same state of emergency on jobs. There's so many people unemployed who can't take care of themselves, can't take care of their families and their loved ones. People need the work.

JAFFE: But it's not all Barack Obama's fault, added Joyce's husband, Cordon Porter(ph), the Republicans have to take a lot of the blame.

Mr. CORDON PORTER: They said they were the party who'd just say no, and they've raised some success in stopping what he's trying to do with just saying no.

JAFFE: So, here's a little friendly advice for the president from Joyce Porter.

Ms. PORTER: Now, he needs to stop doing this bipartisan stuff because it's -they're not going to work with him. He might as well face it. They're not going to work with him.

JAFFE: None of this means she isn't still thrilled that an African-American is now president of the United States. For Cordon Porter, that rises above any disappointments.

Mr. PORTER: One thing that I can always say, just like I told you, we can be anything we want to be. And that means a lot to me.

JAFFE: Porter thinks there's still plenty of time for Barack Obama to turn into a great president, but if he doesn't...

Mr. PORTER: I'm still going to be proud of him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: Hell of a ride.

Mr. PORTER: That's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: Hell of a ride.

JAFFE: Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Louisville, Kentucky.

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