A series of tremendously pent up, therapeutic and near simultaneous sighs of relief escaped the lungs of Chicagoans Wednesday as they watched the inaugurations of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
“I closed my eyes, took a sigh of relief and just wiped my temple and thought, ‘He is gone. It’s over. It’s ended,’” said Baron Rush, 55, who watched from his home just south of Bronzeville.
“As long as he’s not sitting at the helm, I swear on my mothers’ grave it’s a blessing, because it was just too much, too much,” he said.
“I’ve never really had to think about how racial tensions might affect me or my family as much as I thought about it over the last four years. A lot of people don’t understand the subliminal weight of that, and from my perspective as a Black person it was very heavy for a long time,” said Rush, a technology manager at Chicago High School for the Arts who previously served 22 years in the Army.
Rush found himself wondering at grocery stores and other public spaces if he might be confronted by someone with racist convictions who felt emboldened under the administration of former President Donald Trump.
“I’m aware it’s not going to be resolved overnight, but I’m hoping for some change,” he said.
A new day
Manya Gupta, a doctor at Rush University Medical Center who’s worked with COVID patients during much of the pandemic, cried tears of joy as she watched the inauguration from her Logan Square home with her newborn son in her arms.
She wore pearls — a Harris signature — and drank Guinness beer with her husband, Sam, in honor of Joe Biden’s Irish heritage.
“Before the election we wondered about what kind of world would our son be coming into, what kind of country, what kind of leadership? It was very difficult thinking about creating a life during the previous administration, to be honest.”
Gupta, 39, said the inaugurations represented a new chapter, a new day and hope.
One of those hopes: Harris’s ascension to vice president will help normalize multiracial couples and children.
Harris is the daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father.
“And Harris herself married a white guy. I did, too,” said Gupta. “So many people can see themselves when they look at her.”
Gupta beamed with pride as she exchanged texts with family in India.
“I just felt so proud when Harris walked out in that amazing purple outfit and she looked so stoic and powerful. It’s very common for women in India to wear bright colors, I would like to think it was a nod to her Indian heritage.”
Gupta is also excited for an administration that will be guided by science in its pandemic response.
‘Empowering and encouraging’
On the city’s far North Side, in Rogers Park, 12-year-old Layla Orellana wore her Kamala Harris T-shirt and shed a tear as she watched the “surreal” event with her mother.
“I usually don’t see people that reflect me in those kinds of positions, so it’s empowering and encouraging,” said Layla, whose mother has Indian roots and whose father is of South American descent.
“As her mom, I am really happy for her to see it and have this example,” said Arjumund Orellana, a registered nurse.
Michelle Harrington, 39, watched the inaugurations excitedly from her Streeterville home with her husband and three kids.
She baked a peach cake in honor of two things: her home state, Georgia, and impeachment.
“The tone and language we heard today was strikingly different than what we’ve heard over the last four years and it was refreshing,” said Harrington, who has an advanced degree in religious ethics.
“I’ve been watching these last four years in horror, really,” said Harrington.
She took her kids to the Women’s March and rallies against family separation and “lost a good amount of sleep during Trump’s presidency.”
She thought she’d sleep peacefully Wednesday night.
‘A beautiful thing’
From her desk at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where she works as an administrative assistant, Kelli Rockwell clapped, smiled and wiped away tears up as she watched a livestream of the event.
“I never thought I would see the day when there would be a Black woman standing up to be sworn in as vice president, it gave me chills, a beautiful thing, truly beautiful,” said Rockwell, 44, who lives in University Park.
“I kind of feel like there’s light at the end of the tunnel now, like the new administration seems to genuinely care and want to do what’s necessary to beat this pandemic and get people back on their feet, not just blow a bunch of hot air,” she said.