If seeing is believing, many a skeptic was converted on Jan. 20, 2009, as the nation's 44th president, an African-American man, was sworn into office. The country watched with excitement, calling the moment "unbelievable," but believing - reinforcing the revival of idealism and the strength of the democratic process.
"On this day we gather because we have chosen hope over fear," Barack Obama told a crowd gathered at the nation's capitol and the millions watching the live broadcast around the world.
The citizens who gathered numbered in the millions - some counts as high at 4 million. Many residents from our own communities, made the trek to Washington, D.C. Next week we'll publish their stories: How they were touched by the speech and witnessing the country get together in the spirit of believing.
For many, particularly young people, the election leading up to this moment was the first time they'd felt engaged in the democratic process. Many watched their own veil of isolation lifted with their involvement in one of the more impressive grassroots campaigns in presidential history - aided by the expanded reach of the Internet and the mounting anger and disappointment with the outgoing administration.
The crowd, young and old, of every race and background, cheered at every turn of the procession.
And while many of us watching did not want to see Obama elected as president, the spirit of the message seemed to transcend: Now is a time for collective responsibility. We're all in this together. Let's put our differences behind us and stand as one behind a new leader who wants to breathe new life into the political landscape.
With the eloquence that was expected, Obama's speech was familiar for those who paid attention to his primary and national campaigns.
He did not mince words when he said: "We reject the choice between our safety and our ideals." His message to the country and the world was clear. To those who intend to do harm to innocents, Obama had this message: "Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us and we will defeat you," he said.
He called on the nation to embrace the tradition of service that made the U.S. strong. And this was the most unifying element of his historic speech.
After the newly declared "Day of Service" on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and with the world's captive attention, he challenged us to redefine the political discourse which has dominated government for too long, a language of fear.
Instead, he said we must come out of our individual and collective attitude of isolation and remember: "there is nothing so satisfying to our spirit than giving." He called on the nation to embrace our "patchwork heritage" as a strength, not a weakness.
With a new year upon us and a thirst for change, let's look toward the future with a spirit of giving. Many challenges are behind us now, but there are still hard times to come. The work that is needed to come out on top depends on our ability to make decisions with the collective good in mind.
But, for many a skeptical mind the challenge is easier said than done. We can only hope that the disillusionment plaguing the democratic process has been damaged and debilitated. Because, no matter how grand Obama's intentions may be, he cannot make progress without the public behind him. It starts with how we handle our responsibility to our communities at home.