Rochester, N.Y., Barbers Energized By Obama

Among the scores of buses that streamed toward Washington this week was a bus chartered by a group of African-American barbers and beauticians from Rochester, N.Y. The group went with high hopes and left feeling inspired by President Barack Obama's call to serve the country.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel. Sold out trains and buses have departed Washington, D.C. heading home after the inauguration, and NPR's Margot Adler said farewell to one busload of people whom she got to know. It was a group from Rochester, New York made up of barbers, preachers, sanitation workers, and nurses. Margot has the story of their inaugural visit.

MARGOT ADLER: The bus trip was organized by Willy Joe Lightfoot(ph), father of four, local district leader, preacher, firefighter, barber and for all I know, more.

(Soundbite of bus ride)

Mr. WILLY JOE LIGHTFOOT (Preacher; Barber): How does everybody feel?

(Soundbite of people chatting)

Unidentified man #1: Good.

Mr. LIGHTFOOT: You feel all right? Did anybody get any sleep? You been watching this stuff on TV?

(Soundbite of people chatting)

Unidentified woman #1: OK.

Mr. LIGHTFOOT: It's incredible, ain't it?

ADLER: He got the idea to organize a bus of barbers and beauticians after a conversation he had getting his haircut. In the end, the bus was a real mixed group - people aged to 10 to 71.

(Soundbite of bus ride)

Unidentified man #2: We're out of here.

Unidentified man #3: Hallelujah.

ADLER: The bus was about 80 percent African-American and many like Byron Smith(ph), pastor of Crossroads Church of God By Faith, wanted to be part of history.

Pastor BYRON SMITH (Crossroads Church of God By Faith): I just wanted to be in the place. I wanted to be in the house.

ADLER: For the older people, President Obama's election and inauguration still seems impossible. As one civil rights veteran told me on the Mall, I marched and sang, we shall overcome, but I never thought, in my lifetime, we would overcome. But many on the bus were younger like Willy Davis(ph), a sanitation worker, and Rebecca Washington(ph), who works at local community college. And they said they had a sense this was going to happen.

Mr. WILLY DAVIS: When President Obama said that he was going to run for president of the United States, at that moment. I knew that he was going to be president of the United States.

Ms. REBECCA WASHINGTON: When I saw him speak at the Democratic Convention, I think it was four years ago, for the first time, I really sensed and felt like I had seen the first black man who could be president of our country. And I just knew he was going to be it.

ADLER: And you knew that at that time?

Ms. WASHINGTON: At that time, I knew it. I knew it.

ADLER: On the Mall, they dispersed in all directions. Ten, 12 cold hours later, Rebecca Washington climbed back on the bus.

Ms. WASHINGTON: This is it. It's real.

ADLER: She's taking back history, a story for her grandchildren, and something else.

Ms. WASHINGTON: When I look at what King did, and I look at it today, it's like full circle. We're finally here. We're in that place that he saw.

ADLER: The other thing that people took away is a renewed sense of service and responsibility. Amy Goldberg(ph) said she's of mixed black and white heritage. She's a nurse at what she calls a troubled inner-city school in Rochester. It's already starting, she says, the day after the election.

Ms. AMY GOLDBERG: The one thing I noticed was driving to work, the boys, young African-American men, were at the bus stop. They showed up in droves, and that was the first time I'd seen them in weeks and weeks and weeks.

ADLER: You mean the bus stop to go to school?

Ms. GOLDBERG: Yeah, to come to school.

ADLER: Inaugural bus trip organizer Willy Lighfoot said the president in his speech was not trying to be a great orator like Martin Luther King. He was trying to say enough is enough. We're moving on. It's going to take all of us to do the work.

Mr. LIGHTFOOT: When I went away, that's what people were saying. It's going to take all of us. And I thought that really was great that that message was actually captured by the American people, that it's going to take each and every one of us to make America the great country that it is.

ADLER: And in fact, if you listen to people on the Mall, at that moment when Barack Obama finished taking the oath of office, that's exactly what you heard.

(Soundbite of people shouting)

ADLER: Here's retired San Francisco police officer Billy Smith(ph).

Mr. BILLY SMITH (Retired Peace Officer, San Francisco): It is done. Complete. Now, let's get to work.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ADLER: Margot Adler, NPR News, Washington.

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