One thing Washington, D.C., loves is an inaugural ball. They are a quadrennial reason for the city’s real politicos, armchair experts, Capitol Hill name-droppers, local socialites and average residents to amalgamate and interact, dress fancy, and, most important, find ways to make casual-but-intentional mention of their attendance in the weeks leading up to the event. They generally look like stale, alabaster occasions and Black folks—save the more elite among us—have been indifferent about spending our good money to make pretend merriment and feigned good times.
There have been two notable exceptions: first, the joy-making that ensued after Obama victory No. 1 and 2, when Black folks seized upon every hotel ballroom, nightclub dance floor and church dining hall to rejoice in dress clothes. The second was last night’s Peace Ball, presented by Busboys and Poets, a socially conscious restaurant community in the DMV, and held at the resplendent National Museum of African American History and Culture. The evening was a multiracial, multiethnic, multigenerational rainbow of celebration, honoring the eight years our country was led by a conscientious man of integrity who also happened to be the first Black president. It was also a collective war cry against the certain chaos that will ensue in the next four years (or less) to come.
“We have to say thank you to President Obama. The anthem ‘My President is Black’ was very powerful and heartfelt, but we can’t stop now. Our parents fought for equality. Now we’re fighting for existence,” said Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus. “We have to make sure we’re fighting for clean water in Flint. We’re fighting for our lives with Black Lives Matter. We’re fighting for our voting rights. We have to be more organized and energized and put our institutions in a place where they can also be key players. We’re not fighting Jim Crow. We’re fighting James F. Crow, Jr. Esq. He’s more sophisticated, but we will win.”
The theme of the evening was “voices of hope and resistance” and it was manifest everywhere, from the body politic that paid $200 a ticket to be there in a show of support to the stage where Solange and Esperanza Spalding spilled out their magnetic Black Girl Magic. Solange’s set included our favorites, “Don’t Touch My Hair” and “Cranes in the Sky.” Esperanza performed with the Howard University choir, Afro Blue. It was a much-needed moment in artistic majesty, music to feed us courage in a transitional space.
Veteran activist Angela Davis topped the list of distinguished guests and Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza mingled with party-goers. There was good food and good music, of course, and guests were invited to wander the museum, some of them experiencing its five floors of amazing for the first time. The overall spirit of the evening was unbothered about what was about to go down in a matter of hours on the steps of a national building less than a half mile away.
In fact, Trump’s inauguration is a reason to activate, said veteran actor and activist Danny Glover, who came down the event’s red carpet amped up on mobilization. “I’ve been fired up since November 9. We have to understand that we have extraordinary opportunities to bring people together. Each generation is different. I worked in community development and I saw neighborhoods and communities come together to be architects in their own rescue,” he said. “That was one period, but this is not 1971. The Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement informed the activism today. We can’t allow the Trump presidency to make us reactive. What kind of world do we envision? What kind of world do we want to make for ourselves and our children? We need to connect our young people to a new vision of democracy and redefine what that means. We’re going to take the lessons we’ve learned from the past and transform the future. I’m excited about seeing that.”
Even for the most skeptical of the American political system, there was an element of surprise inside of this particular election. It’s been a jarring past few months that’s been hard for some of us to process and recover from, with fresh new fears awaiting every press announcement, address and tweeted rant. Trump will be at three inaugural balls this evening, basking in the temporary glory of his win. But the Peace Ball fostered a spirit of pride and forward movement that’s indicative of our general attitude to come together, that this won’t be our breaking point, that even as individuals with our own agendas and causes to tout, we’re bigger together as a unit of cooperative justice seekers.
We may not have loved everything President Obama did, but we owe him a debt of gratitude to carry on the good work he did, said Sonia Sanchez, an icon you should already know so I won’t bother introducing. “I love him. He and Michelle did what they could do given the circumstances of the Republican party, but what we need now is a restructuring of us as a people, working together very carefully, and preparing to make sure that on the lower levels—on the state levels—we get Democrats elected to turn the party around. People who will go in and kick ass.”
And with that, she added what at least 98.5 percent of the rest of us feel: “Still, I’d like to have Obama for another four years.”
Janelle Harris is a writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @thatgirlcanwrite