When Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, somewhere in the crowd will stand Martha Young of Charlotte.
At age 46, she has beaten a 15-year addiction to crack cocaine and lived through the 1999 murder of her 21-year-old son, a killing that remains unsolved. With help from the Urban League of Central Carolinas, she has worked to recover her skills and re-enter the job market.
Young’s story so impressed a panel of judges that she was picked, along with hundreds nationwide, to attend the Obama inauguration. Her trip will be covered, in large part, by Earl W. Stafford, a 60-year-old Virginia businessman who spent more than $1 million to sponsor what he is calling “The People’s Inauguration.”
Stafford told the Washington Post he wanted to make the historic event accessible to disadvantaged people, terminally ill patients, wounded soldiers and others down on their luck.
Here is Martha Young’s story as told to Qcitymetro.com — in her own words:
I was in the car coming from the hospital. There’s been a couple of people that’s been in the hospital, and I’ve been encouraging them, just going to give them support. So I was in the car, either going or coming, and Sheila Funderburke (of the Urban League) called and said, “Martha, you’ve been chosen.”
I was overwhelmed. I was like, “Yes, Lord, your word still says eyes have not seen and ears have not heard what you have in store for us.” So I feel honored and privileged to be chosen, to be able to go and be a part of history.
Like this 97-year-old woman said, she said, “I never thought I’d see a black man being the president. But God let me see that.”
I don’t feel that Obama is for the blacks or the whites. I don’t feel he has no respect for person. But to us that work these jobs all our lives, we have no benefits, we have no dental insurance, living from paycheck to paycheck. The way he talks, we are going to be able to move up and make better lives for ourselves and be self-sufficient. Maybe it won’t be so much crime.
I went out on election day from door to door, to so many people’s houses, knocking: “Did you go to vote?”
This was my first year voting from a while back. I did not vote because I had a record. But I held my head up and I was so overjoyed that I could vote. Because when you have a record you’ve heard so many times, you can’t do this, you can’t do that because you broke the law, because you fell short, or because you did something wrong, you don’t have the opportunities that other people do.
But I have changed my life around with the help of God. And it’s good to see the good things of life, things that I could not see and do, to be able to work.
I always wanted to work, have a bank account, have a credit card, my own car, my own house and be self-sufficient.
This will be my second trip to Washington. The first trip I was riding with a friend in a rig. He was making deliveries.
This trip, I’m going to learn some things, I’m going to observe. I ‘m going to learn everything I can to be able to come back and tell my kids, my grandkids, my nieces and nephews, “We can do this.”
There’s no more excuses. If he made it, we also can make it. Yes we can.
Like I was working in Midland (N.C) in 1987 in a restaurant, and I was telling the lady that gave me the job that I (could) make good money out on the floor, and she told me, “We’re not there yet.”
In other words, they couldn’t have black people in front of the house. We had to stay in the back. They had doors back there. We could work back there, we could fix the food, but we had to stay in the back. So now I feel I have a better opportunity to work anywhere I want to.
My struggle with the drugs — I couldn’t keep a job. I would always have a job, but if I started getting high, maybe I wouldn’t go to work.
So 15 years of the addiction, I kept praying that God would deliver me. In ’98 my mother died, which was the backbone of the family. Eight months later my son got killed. Age 21. We didn’t know who did it. Ten months after that, God delivered me from drugs.
I knew that if I wasn’t on drugs I could show to people, my family, that I really loved them. I could have money in the bank. I could keep a job. I could pay my own bills. I could have a house and I could be an asset to society.
I always wanted to help people. My gift is loving and sharing with people, and giving. I like helping people. I like giving. And I haven’t been able to give like I’d like to give. I want that job so I can help somebody. If you are hungry, I can feed you. If you need clothes, I can buy you some clothes. If you need shelter, I can help with that.
I always ran from pain. I never wanted to face life on life’s terms, like if something happened, I wanted to medicate it with drugs and alcohol. I prayed to God to let me live life on life’s terms, whatever comes to me let me be able to face it, head on. There is nothing that I cannot do with the help of God.
I’m looking to move up in life. This is one of the reasons I’m at the Urban League. All the areas in computers and the typing and the reading and the language skills and the math skills. It got me back up.
You’ve heard the saying, “If you don’t use it you will lose it?”
Well, I had lost it.
But now I’ve got it back, and I’m going to keep using it.
What does it mean to have a black man in the White House?
It means I can have equal opportunity now. No one can tell me we’re not there yet.