One post-election view from Harlem, NYC

Preston Davis, who writes for the magazine occasionally, recently moved to New York to start seminary school. His school is in Morningside Heights, near Harlem. He emailed me with this report of the scene following the election. Thought I would pass it along:


1 a.m. on November fifth. The election has been decided. Harlem was in full-tilt celebration mode. White, black and every shade of brown reveled on 125th Street over the selection of President-Elect Barack Obama. The street and all its utilities became implements of celebration. People turned bus stop shelters into drum kits and dance platforms. Cars stuck between pedestrians honked to the rhythm of hope and passengers hung out of every window and sunroof shouting praise.

A group climbed onto the flatbed of a moving 18-wheeler to the cheers of the crowd. As police climbed aboard in a half-hearted attempt to impose order cheers did not turn to boos. The cheers strengthened to the chagrin of the police. They glanced at each other with smiles while a few threw up championing fists.

Everyone smiled. Hugs were as abundant as shouts of “Thank you!” “Yes We Can!” And, of course, “BARACK OBAMA!” There was no anger, no rioting. People sang, screamed and danced—all joyfully.

The Apollo Theater’s neon sign has never glowed so bright.

Two blocks away, tucked into the lower west side of Harlem, Union Theological Seminary—the place I decided to come for religious studies, leaving the warmth of Charlotte, NC—took part in the same joy.

On November 5, after the sun rose, the walls of Union Theological Seminary shook with adulation. Each day the school gathers for worship at noon. The worship of November 5, 2008 at Union Seminary will be remembered for what it remembered: a turning tide in American History. The feeling was not centered simply on a political shift; it was for something larger: a new, unified national beginning. People greeted it each other with “Good morning… And what a Great morning it is!”

You see, in our day and age we as free-willed Americans have a tendency to believe God works outside of history—that is if we believe in God at all. We are our own gods, strong people who can handle our own burdens. But here at Union the belief is quite the opposite: that is, that God works in history, in our daily lives, in our midst. The people at the noon worship do not believe in the great “I Was.” They believe in the great “I Am.”

The noon worship encapsulated an emotion, a spirit, that no words or poetry could ever adequately describe. The worship lasted for an hour with people giving their testimonies for what this election meant to them. Union’s President, Serene Jones called it a joyous unleashing of the “tears of the spirit.” One man had us recognize this moment as a mandate, not an answer. Another young woman said, “God’s timing is always perfect even when we don’t know it.” On November 5th, there was a community that knew it.

It was more than a celebration here in New York. It was redemption.

Tears of joy fell all around campus before, during and after the service. They fell not because we were granted our 2008 presidential candidate of choice. They fell for the same reason Jesse Jackson’s tears fell. They fell for the 40 years since Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. They fell for the years of systematic and racial injustice that now has a symbol of correction. And they fell because America, with all its onerous baggage and reasons to be complacent, was anything but. America looked to the future not with fear. We looked with hope. —Preston Davis

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