Homeless women say “Yes, We Can!” on Inauguration Day

Jessica, a mother of seven, forfeited her lunch yesterday to stay by a television as noon marked the start of President Obama’s first term. While Yo-yo Ma’s rising cello melody evoked the words to “Simple Gifts” Jessica covered her wet face with two wiry hands. “Those were tears of joy,” the 49 year-old said.

Until the lunch buzzer sounded at The Drop Inn Center, a shelter working “to empower people to move from homelessness to housing” in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, the windowless TV lounge for female residents rang out with responses to the inauguration. About eight women–most of them African American mothers and grandmothers–followed the ceremony with curiosity, wonder, shouts of agreement, and an attentiveness that bespoke ownership. Each of their votes helped Obama win Ohio.

Ethel, 51, watches the post-inaugural coverage

Ethel, 51, watches post-inaugural television coverage

Roberta, 37, along with Jessica, not only voted for Obama but also helped fellow shelter residents find rides to polls on Election Day. Their voices rose while describing the empowerment they carried away from the election. Obama had moved Roberta to vote for the first time in many years, and she understood his victory in the same way he often represents it: “It’s not about him, it’s about what we’re going to do.” What will that be?

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