Inauguration Notebook

Nigerian immigrant would not miss inauguration

Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and their wives, Rosalyn and Hillary, greeted people on the West Front of the Capitol.
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA
Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and their wives, Rosalyn and Hillary, greeted people on the West Front of the Capitol.

Toyin Oloko-Nelson, a 39-year-old Nigerian immigrant who lives in Paterson, N.J., had planned to drive to Washington with his brother, Azeez Oloko, 33, for Monday’s inaugural celebrations. On Sunday night as he was watching coverage of President Obama’s official swearing in, Oloko-Nelson’s 6-year-old son said he wanted to come along, too.

This was the first time any of them had attended a presidential inauguration. Four years ago, Oloko-Nelson said he took the historical moment for granted.

“It shouldn’t be so special, a black man becoming president,” he said. “But this time, reality kicked in. I can go my entire lifetime before I witness this again.” He then gestured to his son. “He may not even witness this again and he’s only 6.”


Oloko-Nelson was so struck by the pageantry and meaning that he plans to make it a family tradition for them to witness every inauguration.

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“It’s the responsibility of the people to come around and support the leader, regardless of who it is,” he said. “When the leader succeeds, the country succeeds. When the leader fails, the country fails.” — TRACY JAN

Technically, a bust

Nellie Coleman and her friend Tim Sampson, of Harlem, decided Sunday night to hop on the Megabus to Washington, compelled to make the pilgrimage to witness the second inauguration of a black president.

“I have to be a part of history since I couldn’t be there the first time around,” said Coleman, a 51-year-old social worker. Their friends decided it would be more comfortable watching the event on television, from the comfort of home.

The pair arrived at Union Station at 1 a.m. and spent the night walking miles around the city until they made their way to the Washington Monument to watch the inaugural address on a giant screen.


As they struggled to see the president speak, Obama’s lips moved but no sound could be heard. Then the screen went black. The crown groaned. “Help! Please fix it,” Coleman said. After several minutes of technical difficulties, Sampson had had enough. “This is terrible. We’ve been walking all morning. Let’s go.” — TRACY JAN

Homeless and hopeless

Just one block from the White House, a group of five homeless men in their 50s ­huddled on top of a grate ­blasting heat, more focused on the task of staying warm than the second inaugural of the ­nation’s first black president.

“We’re a long way from it,” said James Owens, 55, gesturing at his friends sitting on milk crates as hundreds of Obama supporters streamed past them from the National Mall up 18th Street after the swearing-in ceremony.

Owens has been on the streets since the 1990s.

He said he wished Obama would find more ways to get people off the streets.


“To tell the truth, having a black president is the same as having a white president,” ­Owens said. “As far as me, nothing directly has changed.” — TRACY JAN

Here, a premium on sleeves

When a street vendor near the Russell Senate Office ­Building tried hawking an Obama ­T-shirt to actor Nick Cannon, the entertainer of “Drumline” fame, wearing a suit and black pea coat, didn’t have any of it.

“Are you crazy?” Cannon said, surrounded by fans snapping pictures. “It’s 30 degrees out here and you can’t even sell me sleeves?”

Among the hottest-selling items on Washington street corners on Monday — alongside Obama caps, buttons, and even dollar bills — were goods that had nothing to do with the president: hand warmers. — DAVID UBERTI

The Hollywood connection

If second inaugurations are not as exciting as the first, Hollywood apparently didn’t get the memo.

Among the stars who witnessed the swearing-in ceremony were actress Eva Longoria, musician John Legend, singer Katy Perry with her boyfriend, singer John Mayer, musician Stevie Wonder, and singer Cyndi Lauper.

Cheers went up when Beyonce, who sang the national anthem, entered with her husband, Jay-Z.

Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell was spotted on the Capitol steps wearing a Celtics cap. Actor Omar Epps was there, along with actor Marlon Wayans.

There was plenty of political royalty around as well.

Two former presidents — Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton — were there, while two others — George H.W. Bush, and his son George W. Bush — were not. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney also ­opted not to attend, being the first losing candidate not to ­appear at the inauguration since Michael Dukakis in 1989. — MATT VISER

Generation gapped

Craning their necks to glimpse the inaugural parade over a sea of onlookers, father and son Monroe and Jaquone Smith said Obama’s 2008 election helped push young, ­African-American men to work harder in school.

“His election four years ago gave a lot of people [in my generation] hope,” said Jaquone, 22, a student and Silver Spring, Md., native.

Added Monroe, a 50-year-old bus driver who emigrated from Bermuda two decades ago: “Rosa Parks had hope. Martin Luther King Jr. had hope — but not too many other people. Now those hopes are reality. . . . There are a lot of smart boys out there, and Obama is inspiring them so that maybe one day they can be in the White House, too.” — DAVID UBERTI