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Taking the Pulse of Black America at Inauguration

A variety of perspectives and views emerged about the 45th Commander in Chief and what his presidency could mean to the communities of color.
Image: People watch from the National Mall the inauguration of Donald Trump
People watch from the National Mall as Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president on Friday Jan. 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Spencer Platt / Getty Images

For the past eight years, Americans have had a president that millions supported and revered, but perhaps none more so than African Americans.

Today, as the baton passed from Barack Obama to Donald Trump during an inauguration marked by pride and protests, a variety of perspectives and views emerged about the 45th Commander in Chief and what his presidency could mean to communities of color.

Jo Baylor, 65, is a black Republican who traveled to the inauguration from Austin, Texas. The Trump supporter previously worked as a HUD appointee under the George W. Bush administration.

“My Congressman gave me tickets to the inauguration, and everything has been exciting,” she said. During the week, she has attended inaugural balls, the inaugural ceremony and the parade. She even made her way to some protests.

“I hope people will stop listening to the rhetoric and see what he will do. Give this man a chance.”

Pastor Frank Collins, Jr. of Michigan voted for Trump. He had a VIP ticket to the Inauguration. Friday, January 20, 2017.Donna Owens

That sentiment was echoed by Frank Collins Jr., who lives in Michigan, just outside Detroit.

The pastor of Breath of Life Christian Church describes himself as an Independent voter who has cast his ballot for both Republicans and Democrats. “I’ve voted for the Bushes and Clinton, although never Barack Obama.”

He attended the inauguration ceremony with a VIP pass.

"I had never been to an inauguration and wanted to see the events. We will have a president who calls things as he sees it. I liked Obama as a person, but did not agree with certain liberal views.”

He said his favorite part of the inauguration ceremony was that the name of Jesus Christ was invoked. “We have hope now.”

Indeed, when Bishop Wayne T. Jackson of Great Faith Ministries International in Detroit was invited to give the benediction, he jumped at the chance to share a spiritual message. He’d previously interviewed then-candidate Trump for the Impact TV Network, which Jackson founded and called the only African American Christian television network in the country.

"We're not enemies. We're brothers and sisters. We're not adversaries, but we're allies. We're not foes, but we're friends,” Bishop Jackson prayed during the ceremony.

He asked a Higher Power for direction for the nation. “Let us be healed by the power of your love and united by the bond of your spirit.”

Related: Obama’s Legacy on Judicial Appointments, By the Numbers

Elijah Watson, 25, a writer from New York City, had a different view. He came to D.C. to register his displeasure with the incoming Administration. Asked if he had voted for Trump, he replied "absolutely not."

“I’m concerned about some of Trump’s cabinet appointees and the influence they’ll have on the direction of the country,” he said.

That said, Watson sees the Trump “movement” as an opportunity for young people like himself to raise the bar on progressive issues they care about—be it public school education or criminal justice reform.

Elijah Watson, a writer from New York City, came to D.C. to witness the inauguration and attend the Peace Ball. He is worried about the impact certain Trump appointees will have on the country.Donna Owens

“I’m looking forward to more honest discourse in this country. What is always pushing this country towards progress isn't just everyone, but the youth.”

Justice Shakur, 30, is a Philadelphia native who describes himself as a liberal who voted for Bernie Sanders.

Shakur sat in the `Silver’ section and paid $125 dollars for his ticket. Despite his political views, the Morgan State University senior who is studying American History and Sociology—was eager to attend this inauguration.

"I wanted to come and see whether or not Trump supporters are as bad as the media has framed them. I met a guy from Arkansas - he was really cool. I listened to his perspective, although I didn't agree.”

Justice Shakur, a self described liberal, came from Philadelphia to attend the inauguration. He also attended Obama's inauguration and wanted to compare the two events.Donna Owens

He adds, “I disagree with conservatives and Republicans on most issues, but I think that they have great intentions. I think they really believe they're right.”

Kamal Akanni, 24, came to the U.S. about six years ago to study Chemical Engineering. He now lives in Maryland and works as an engineer.

He describes coming to his first inauguration as "great.” “In my country, I have only watched American inaugurations on TV. Now I'm here."

He called the American electoral process "fascinating, crazy. There's a lot of debate. There's much to learn."

Related: #ThanksObama: America Shows Love for Former President Online, on Street

While attending the ceremony on the Mall, Akanni met Justino Cupenala, 25, a fellow African brother from Angola. He also came to the United States a few years ago as a student.

People watch on the National Mall the inauguration of President Donald Trump on Jan. 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.Spencer Platt / Getty Images

He was excited to attend his first inauguration of the United States. "It was a feeling of being part of history. And mostly, it was peaceful," he said, noting that he stood near the center of the Mall. “There were only a few boos.”

"This is a great country,” he added. “There is great healthcare, education, financial institutions and convenience. In that sense, it is first world."

However, he’s been disappointed by some of the racism he has experienced and witnessed here in America.

"It wasn't too easy to digest and it happens so frequently," he said, referring to killings of black men by police. Those problems and injustices were exposed for the world to see by social media."

To that end, a diverse coalition of protesters led by Black Lives Matter DC gathered this morning around 7 a.m. in Judiciary Square, next to the Metropolitan Police Department.

The protestors chanted "We have nothing to lose but our chains," and locked arms and chained themselves to fences, blocking one of the inauguration security check points. Secret Service temporarily closed it.

It started as a peaceful protest, but the crowd grew and tensions rose as Trump supporters taunted and confronted protestors. "Go vote," and "’Stop being a crybaby',” some said. "ISIS should kill all these protesters," shouted a Trump supporter who walked by the scene.

"There are people that live here that are not going anywhere. No matter what or who is in the White House this will always be chocolate city," said April Goggans of Black Lives Matter DC to the group of protesters.

"We can't be comfortable anymore," said Goggans. "This is not a time to be paralyzed by fear, this is a time to dig your feet in and not be moved, not be pushed."

Justino Cupenala (l) and Kamal Akanni (r) are from the African countries of Angola and Benin, respectively. Both men were excited to attend their first American presidential inauguration.Donna Owens

Charles Baronette, a 25-year-old tech consultant came into the district from Hyattsville, Maryland with a friend. He wanted to witness the different protests.

“I've been hearing a lot of different perspectives from my friends but wanted to see for myself.”

His views about Trump? “I don't completely bash Trump because a lot of Americans voted for him. And I thought Hillary would have done a better job."

Regarding the various protests taking place, he said that Trump shares the blame. "He cultivated the far right politically and encouraged some of the harsh rhetoric."

That’s one reason why Congressman John Conyers of Michigan was one of more than 60 Democratic lawmakers who stayed home. Many were disappointed that Trump blasted Georgia Congressman John Lewis after the civil rights icon called his presidency "illegitimate."

"I am not attending this year’s Inauguration due to my concern over a number of divisive and inflammatory statements made by the president-elect,” said Rep. Conyers.

“I will do everything in my power to ensure that accountability is brought to bear on the Administration and that the Constitution and our nation’s laws are adhered to, as no one is above the law."

The crowd on the National Mall reacts as U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his inaugural address in Washington, on Jan. 20, 2017.James Lawler Duggan / Reuters

But elected officials such as Mayor Catherine Pugh of Baltimore and Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) attended the inauguration.

“Like many of my colleagues, I have been fighting my entire life to create a more equal society for all Americans, so I certainly understand why some of them have come to the conclusion that they cannot attend,” said Cummings.

Yet he added, “There are so many people who came before me who struggled so that African Americans could be full participants in our democracy. I believe that I honor their sacrifice by asserting my democratic right to attend an inauguration. The inauguration is bigger than President-Elect Trump. It is a chance for the world to witness our nation’s greatest ritual: the peaceful transfer of power.”

Chandelis R. Duster contributed.