Falls Church residents have a big role in next Tuesday’s festivities surrounding the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, from marching to shooting aerial video, providing floral arrangements and more.
Bianca White, a Special Education teacher and Head Track and Field Coach at George Mason High School, never dreamed she’d live to see the first African-American president, nor did she foresee herself among the crowds of people walking in honor of such a man.
“I’m definitely excited,” said White.
She’s one of 150 AmeriCorps alumni chosen to march in the parade, which starts at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday in front of the U.S. Capitol steps.
White received the news about being chosen via email during her winter vacation with family, along with a lengthy list of directions. Parade participants will meet at the Pentagon Tuesday morning to go through security checks and have been instructed not to take anything out of their pockets while marching.
“It’s going to be three to four miles of walking,” said White, laughing. “But the biggest disappointment will be if I can’t bring a camera. I may get to carry a flag though, which I’m excited about.”
White’s only regret is that her late grandfather, Lutrill Payne, Sr., isn’t around to see her march. She said Payne was the first African American to get accepted into Louisiana State University’s graduate program in 1951, three years prior to the landmark civil rights case in “Brown v. Board of Education.”
“He ran for public office, and although he never won, I know he’d be so proud that I’m participating in this historic event,” said White.
She and fellow AmeriCorps alumni will spend the pre-parade weekend serving in Louisiana, where White completed a year of community service as part of “City Year” back in 2002. However, she will return to D.C. on Martin Luther King Jr. Day for parade practice. White said watching the first African American president being sworn in will be particularly poetic following the King holiday.
“In a way, I hope it means that Dr. King’s dream is coming true and that we respect what strides people made before Barack Obama and how they got us to this point,” said White.
She hopes seeing the AmeriCorps Alums marching in unity will remind parade goers how important community service is, noting her disappointment with some GOP leaders’ slap at “community organizers” during the presidential campaign.
“It definitely offended me because there are so many things society couldn’t do if there weren’t community organizers. Even before we had a president leading this country, we had community leaders and that’s how we won the Revolutionary War,” said White.
White isn’t the only service-oriented Mason High School Mustang who’ll be marching in the parade. George Mason security officer of six years, 27-year-old Joseph Martinez, was one of 100 U.S. Marines who volunteered to participate.
“I’m pretty calm right now, but the closer we get [to the parade], the more excited I’m becoming,” said Martinez, who’s been serving in the U.S. Marine Corps for nine years.
He’ll report to Washington, D.C. on Sunday to start practicing with fellow service men and women before the actual parade. Martinez and others will stay in a hotel at Bolling Air Force Base and will be bused out of the District on Tuesday following their march.
“I’m honored to be able to be there and actually seeing the new president enter the White House,” said Martinez.
Curt Westergard’s Falls Church-based Digital Design & Imaging Co. is preparing to float a balloon 600 feet above a remotely-controlled photographic balloon near the Inauguration area, just outside the invited guest perimeter, to shoot both live video for CNN and still photos for the Associated Press, as well as to provide feeds for Google Earth and Microsoft.
He told the News-Press he and four employees will be camped out 24-7 in their truck the weekend before the Inauguration, testing their equipment constantly, and will have two other employees back at the Falls Church office to receive the images and transmit them to their destinations.
Westergard said discussions with the Secret Service have been ongoing, but that as of press time he will be required to lower the balloon during a three-hour window around the actual ceremony.
Playing more of a ground-level role, owner of Falls Church-based Galleria Florist Carol Beales has been planning since the beginning of last month to deliver around 15 floral arrangements for Busboys and Poet’s Inaugural Peace Ball. The gathering will kick off Tuesday evening at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, hosted by musician and social activist Harry Belafonte and featuring entertainers like folk singer Joan Baez.
When asked how the pressure of doing an inaugural ball compared to past events she’s worked on, White said she didn’t feel the demands were there but worries about the logistics of delivery.
Used to having her arrangements picked up a few before an event, White and her assistants must be deliver the large order downtown themselves, having completely set up almost 24 hours in advance. Most streets going into Washington, D.C. will close at 2 a.m. on Inauguration Day.
“There’s a pre-inaugural ball the night before which ends at 11 p.m., so we’re going to have to wait for the site to clear out before we can even begin our own setup,” said Beales.
The temperature at which the flowers sit overnight is a potential risk, according to White, who said that freezing temperatures can cause the blossoms to turn black and wilt apart. Aside from that, unexpected road blocks and detours are of concern for deliveries.
“I’m going to be sitting downtown waiting for this event to clear out and I worry about the police coming along and telling me I have to move because even a GPS isn’t going to have all of your accurate road closures,” said White.
White noted she’s used to the security factors having already done two events for President George W. Bush, including farewell flowers to his cabinet earlier last month, in which her flowers had to be scanned by metal detectors. She also paired up with a Reston florist to provide arrangements for Grammy Award-winning actor Will Smith’s wedding in Baltimore, Md. to fellow actress Jada Pinkett.
“Security measures are expected, especially when you do anything involving the president, and I think that’s why I’m doing it. It’s presenting a lot of stress, but the historic value of this election makes it worth it and it’s an opportunity very few people get,” said White.
Another break not many people get is a one-hour gig on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, which is where Falls Church pianist Alex Hassan will find himself on Jan. 20 at 6 p.m.
“The concert isn’t associated with Inauguration Day, but just to be in Washington, D.C. on such a historic day will be an honor. They called me this time and it took about a nanosecond for me to accept,” said Hassan, who’s performed at Kennedy Center twice before, but only after he called them.
Hassan will be one of the many brave souls to take the Metro in that day and said his biggest concern is getting through with his luggage, carrying CDs of his music he plans on selling following the performance.
“By mid-afternoon, I don’t expect too many crowds. If they have to look inside my luggage, no big deal, but if they stop me then and there from continuing, then I don’t know what I’m going to do,” said Hassan.
His set will include Depression-era tunes which Hassan said he hopes will appropriately lift people’s spirits. His wife, Sara Hassan, will be attending festivities earlier in the day with their children and others.
“She’s one of the lucky one’s who won tickets,” said Hassan.
When asked if his wife would be joining him for his performance later in the afternoon, Hassan said, laughing, “She has to – someone has to help me sell CDs. We’ve been married long enough where I can get away with saying that.”