Howard University News Service The buzz surrounding his arrival circulated the ballroom like hot gossip. The exact time of his appearance was unknown among the masses, but when the U.S. Air Force Band lined up on stage, it was a clue. The crowd of more than 2,000 18 to 35 year olds shifted their attention and positioned toward the stage, anticipation nearly boiling over. Air Force One played on. Then-the announcement at 10:31 p.m.-“Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States!” The crowd exploded when President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama stepped onto the stage beaming, with Obama dressed in a custom black tuxedo and Michelle draped in an original gown by up-and-coming designer Jason Wu. The couple waved to the adoring supporters. A sea of digital cameras and camera phones went up instantly. “I’ve been looking forward to this ball for quite some time because, when you look at the history of this campaign, what started out as an improbable journey when nobody gave us a chance was carried forward, was inspired by, was energized by, young people all across America,” said Obama, as he was met with the crowd chanting in unison, “Yes We Can!” “I can’t tell you how many people have come up to us and said, ‘I was kind of skeptical, but then my daughter-she wouldn’t budge. She just told me I needed to vote for Obama,'” said the president as the crowd cheered. “‘Suddenly, I saw my son and he was out volunteering and getting involved like never before.’ And so a new generation inspired a previous generation, and that’s how change happens in America.” Obama continued, saying it is not just the election and his campaign that young people got involved in. Young people are involved with Teach for America, AmeriCorps, Peace Corps and community organizations, he said. “As this is broadcast all around the world we know that young people everywhere are in the process of imagining something different than what has come before us,” Obama said.
“The future will be in your hands if you are able to sustain the kind of energy and focus you showed on this campaign.” His four-minute speech concluded with his promise that America will get stronger and more unified. “You are going to make it happen,” he told the crowd. Before going off to his next ball for the evening, Obama took the hand of his first lady and slow danced to an instrumental rendition of Etta James’ “At Last.” “He stamped his statement saying ‘you guys made it happen,'” said 34-year-old Larry Brooks, who admitted that Obama’s inauguration was emotional for him and his friends, causing them all to become teary-eyed. “Visualizing what he was saying basically is that us, the youth, we’re the ones that made the difference but also that he’s there with us as time goes on.” The “Be the Change: Youth Ball” kicked off when guests flooded into the ballroom of the Washington Hilton on Connecticut Avenue at approximately 9 o’clock. The ballroom was decorated in red, white and blue streamers and stars. The ball was reminiscent of a high school prom with gentlemen decked out in tuxedos and ladies in long, flowing, prom-like dresses. Three separate stages were set up for a line-up of performances from Kanye West, Kid Rock and Fall Out Boy. The diverse celebrity guest list included R&B singer Eric Benet, actor/comedian Bill Bellamy, reality show host Fonzworth Bentley, MTV host Sway and singer Usher with his wife Tameka. According to MTV news, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore and Tobey Maguire were also in the house. Kanye West was declared as the performer who brought the house down. His show included a medley of hit songs, “Touch the Sky,” “Stronger”, “American Boy,” “Good Life” and his latest release, “Heartless.” The African drums of West’s hit “Love Lockdown” prompted the crowd to pump their arms in the air and jump along in unison with the song’s addictive beat. The historic day had an emotional toll on the celebrity guests of the evening as well, with West professing during his performance that “It feels so good to be standing here right now. My momma would be so proud to see her baby boy perform the No. 1 song in the country for our new African-American president,” he said. Ellen Hunter, 27, from Atlanta, GA was one attendee at the ball. “It’s been great,” she said. “People are energized, still coming off the energy of [the inauguration].” Still reeling from the president’s appearance, Hunter shared, “I think the most important thing Barack does for black people is [he’s] a positive model, for young black men honestly,” she said. Despite the high of Tuesday’s historic inauguration, people like 32-year-old Kindra Mhoon, though proud of the moment, know there is much work to be done. “It’s not a post-racial America, not at all. I’ve heard that a lot but the world hasn’t changed that much in a day,” said the Houston native. “We have a black president; it’s going to take a long time. I don’t believe all of the racist issues in America will be resolved in the next four or eight years.”