My friends know I’m pretty much obsessed with Bruce Springsteen. Lindi and I fell in love dancing to his music, went to Asbury Park, New Jersey on our honeymoon, and have been to more than two dozen live shows from the west coast to east, and from California to Canada. When I learned Bruce would be playing live at the Lincoln Memorial as part of the “We Are One” show that kicked off the Obama inauguration celebration—along with Pete Seeger, Bono, Mary J. Blige, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce, and others—I was ecstatic… for about 3 seconds. It was then I realized I had a previous obligation the same afternoon 30 miles away in Baltimore.

Juanita Brown, Katrina Browne and I joined with Maryland Public Television and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History for a screening of Traces of the Trade followed by a panel discussion and reception. On a very cold Sunday afternoon in Baltimore when the NFL playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers was about to commence I was impressed that we had a full house for the screening. The panel discussion and conversations during the reception were deep and powerful.

Though I’ve never been so close to Bruce without seeing him play, I didn’t actually miss the concert. I was right where I wanted to be: with people interested in addressing the legacy of slavery that continues to haunt our nation today. A long, bumpy, curvy road lies ahead on the road to ending racism. That people seem more interested and engaged in traveling that road together these days is inspiring.

Today is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and I’m spending it with friends in Virginia (resting up for the inauguration tomorrow). More than 45 years after Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech from the same location where Bruce, Pete, et al kicked off the inauguration celebration, I’m not sure what to think about the pressure being thrust upon Barack Obama as a symbol of change and hope. The expectations many people have are quite high. It isn’t realistic or fair to expect Obama to end racism—let alone solve global warming, bring peace to the Middle East, cure the economy within his first 100 days, or walk on water. But it is realistic and fair to take on these challenges ourselves—as a global community. That’s what I hope the election of Barack Obama comes to symbolize.

As I walked from the State Center Metro Station to Penn Station in downtown Baltimore to catch the train to Virginia this morning I saw a man of African descent walking toward me from up the street. Several years ago my “caution antennae” would likely have engaged. I would have avoided eye contact. Perhaps he may have as well. Not today. Today we smiled at each other. He raised his hand and said, “Happy New Year, my brother” and we shared a fist bump while passing each other. There is something in the air.

Is it the election of Obama? Absolutely it is. There is a giddy, hopeful, joyfulness in the air everywhere I’ve been this week. Here in the Baltimore/DC area there are Obama hats, buttons, shirts, and jackets everywhere. And what I feel more than anything is that this election is about more than the election of a black man to our nation’s highest office. It’s about more than Barack Obama. It’s about the fact that enough of “we the people” voted for him. “We the people” want to change. We want something different even if we don’t all agree what it is we’re hoping for. Part of it is that we want to do something about the horrific aspects of our nation’s history that continue to plague us.

Obama spoke of “change” and “hope” and inspired a nation. At one point–with all the sniping taking place in the media–it felt to me like “change” and “hope” became campaign slogans for awhile. Now that we are about to witness Obama’s inauguration it feels like “change” and “hope” once again take their proper place as real, palpable aspirations.

Bruce and Pete and others stood in front of Abraham Lincoln yesterday singing “This Land is Your Land” to hundreds of thousands who gathered in the mall while Juanita, Katrina, and I met with a far smaller crowd in Baltimore. And we all share a belief in the words Barack spoke,

“…as I stand here today, what gives me the greatest hope of all is not the stone and marble that surrounds us today, but what fills the spaces in between. It is you — Americans of every race and region and station who came here because you believe in what this country can be and because you want to help us get there.”

Tomorrow Barack will become President Obama at the opposite end of the mall. He will face Abraham Lincoln as he places his hand on our 16th president’s bible and swears to uphold the constitution that was written by men who enslaved people of color.

My, oh my, what we have just done…