Take the walk, see story of us

She looked at him, as if skeptical of what he knew of the era.

"How old are you?"

"Twenty-two. How old are you?"

"Twenty-nine."

"You look good for 29," he said, and they kept walking, changing the topic to Obama.

"I'm very for Barry," he said.

"You call him Barry?" she said.

Her name is Jennifer Smith and she runs a dance studio in Grand Rapids, Mich. His name is Eric Hoover and he lives in Fort Wayne, Ind.

They talked about how much they were learning on this walk, about where they were, and where they came from. And how cool was it that strangers could meet on a walk like this?

"I initially came for the inauguration," Smith said, "but when I got here, I realized how much history is here."

They parted at the World War II Memorial, but I kept walking with Smith toward the memorial to Martin Luther King Jr.

She'd been the day before, she said, with her dad, who is black, and she'd been struck by the absence of white people. It was true again Sunday. She wondered why.

Because, I theorized, so many white people still don't understand that we share black history.

People come to an inauguration to see a president, but they come for something bigger than that. They come for a sense of belonging, not just to a political party but to a political process, to a country and its past.

That's what people find on the national walk, even as that walk shows us what's still missing.

mschmich@tribune.com

CHICAGO

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