The inaugural address we needed

The moment was there, a beautiful moment in space and time. So many human beings gathered to celebrate their candidate’s triumph for the second time. No matter how you felt during the election, this was a momentous day. And the President delivered a speech for the times and for his presidency.

He could have done more. He could have transcended the moment, transcended the times. He could have looked deeper into our country, shed the politics of today, and led us into tomorrow.

Here is what our inaugural address should have included:


We woke up as a country today – so many of us – living in absolute freedom, with unlimited opportunity. Each of you is free to do anything your heart calls you to do. If you think you cannot live your ideals or have unchained enthusiasm, then simply close your eyes, clear your head, and open them once more. For cynicism and surrender have no place in an experiment so grand. Idealism once defined this country. If idealism has not defined you, redefine yourself. Too many people need you to do so.

If there is one thing we ought to have learned as a country, it is that this freedom – this limitless opportunity each of us has – brings fulfillment only in service.

What does it mean to be an American? Let us redefine that if we must – at this point in time – in case anyone here or around this globe does not know. It means that we use this freedom and this opportunity to serve our fellow human beings.

There will be a child born in West Virginia today. If she follows the path laid out for her – if we do not engage to help this young child, her family, and her community – this girl will drop out of high school at age 14. She will never realize the potential with which she came into this world today. Never. You can change that. That is your opportunity.

There is a young boy in Chicago who was born in 2001. He will be shot within two years. The next time elections are held here in Washington, this boy will be dead, unless we engage. This boy will be shot, and his crime will have been that he was born into poverty. And he will not be alone in that cemetery. Children from every rural, suburban, and urban community will join him, and poverty will be their undoing. Hundreds and thousands of other boys and girls will join him – from cities and towns across this country. Poverty creates a firing squad to which we too often turn a blind eye. Who will change this? You. No matter your age, you can change this.

Look into the eyes of this child born in West Virginia, this young boy living today in Chicago. You cannot just contribute to the solution, you have to commit to the solution.

If you are a mother out there, or a father out there, or a sibling who has had to take care of a younger sibling, then you understand. When one person in the family is hurting, it is all hands on deck. We all tend to that person until he or she gets to live the same life that the rest of the family gets to live. And if the issue persists, then so does the effort. We do not let this person suffer needlessly; we do everything we can do to help that child, that sibling. You do not let your child suffer, not when you can do something about it.

Leadership means that those living with the greatest need become our greatest priority. Not in a year, not in two years, and not because we will set a policy in place down the road. Right now, with all of our energy, those with the greatest need must become our greatest priority.

Each of you can ensure that every American has the opportunity to realize his or her potential. And when you do, we as a country will realize our potential.

The American dream is a dream of opportunity. It is a dream of being everything you want to be – of being who and what you want to be. And that dream can only come true for you if it can come true for every American. Our opportunity today is to ensure that it does.


The President stood strong and spoke for many. Here at A Wider Circle, where every day we meet people who are living in the most dire need you can imagine, we were ready for a speech that said more. Poverty leads to so many destructive forces in our country – takes so many lives and affects us all at a deep level. It is time to put it front and center and not take our eyes off of it until we end it. That is the opportunity before each of us; that is our charge.

  1 comment for “The inaugural address we needed

  1. Laura Elsey
    January 22, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Thank you for this heartfelt posting. It was a cold day down on the Mall yesterday, but our hearts were full of joy and warmth, most especially when our President gave voice to all of our concerns: poverty, equality for all, and the need to have better protection for all our children/young citizens. I look forward to playing a small part in the work of A Wider Circle and other organizations this year and wish you all a successful 2013. Cheers, the Elsey family

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