In January 2009, I took a road trip down to Washington, DC to attend the “We are One” Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial. Obama’s speech and the musical performances were certainly inspirational and moving, but the most amazing moment for me actually occurred AFTER the concert—and it gave me hope that we can, in fact, change the world if we’re willing to take a stand and work together.

“Change the world?” Yeah, right… If that’s the thought that just crossed your mind, you’re not alone. In fact, I would have been right there with you before I witnessed what I’m about to relay here.

Here’s a little background on where I was at in my life at the time…For a variety of reasons, I’d been in the midst of a funk that lead me to be as jaded and cynical as anyone could possibly get. I believed this country was going down the toilet, and I also believed, despite what the media was feeding me, that there was nothing Brangolina, Bono or (especially) Bush could do to change it—let alone insignificant little me. I chose to remain snarky, cynical and pessimistic because it was much safer and more comfortable than actually stepping out of my fear and disappointment.

But something shifted for me the day of the Presidential election. Despite my sketpticism, a tiny seed of hope was planted that night, and I started opening up to the possibility of positivity.

Fast forward to the Inaugural Concert. As I mentioned, the concert, itself, was amazing—powerfully inspirational and uplifting. I genuinely felt proud of my country, and I allowed myself to start feeling a glimmer of hope that things could change for the better.

Immediately after the concert was over, the once-packed mall began to clear. I stood by the frozen reflecting pool still feeling the joy and the hope, mesmerized by the hundreds of seagulls soaring above. My partner at the time was with me, and she pointed over to the mall. I turned in awe—it was literally covered like a land fill with trash and debris…

“How is that possible?” she asked.

We shook our heads—reality sunk back in.

Obama had just spoken about taking responsibility to create change in this country. And all those people stood there cheering him on—yet, they couldn’t be bothered to clean up after themselves.

We stood there wallowing in our disappointment for a few minutes before noticing a young Indian family off to the side. They were picking up trash and putting it into the empty bags haphazardly strewn about on the lawn.

My partner turned to me again, “I think we should help out.”

I agreed, and we each grabbed a bag and started picking up what we could.

The process was slow—and it seemed like it would be endless. My body was aching from standing all day in the freezing cold, and I was miserable.

My partner noticed and spoke up. “Why don’t you let me do this—and you go do what you’re good at doing.”

I stood there for a moment, not sure what it was that I was good at doing…But then it hit me.

I immediately spotted a volunteer for the concert and asked him who I might speak to about the “trash situation.” He pointed to an older woman dressed in a hunter green uniform over by the porta potties.

I jogged up the hill toward her.

“Hi. We’ve got a huge mess to clean up here. And I bet there are people out there who are willing to help. Can you give me some trash bags, and let me see what I can do?”

The woman gladly offered about ten of the bags in her hand, and as she did that—two other women approached and asked if they could have some bags to help, as well. We all smiled at each other, and they all started picking up the trash by their feet.

I then made a beeline to the pathway where droves of people were still funneling out. I raised my hand to hold the bags up high. I had no idea what I was going to say—and I was terrified of making a fool of myself. But I somehow broke through my fear and spoke from my heart…

“Does anyone have just 5 minutes to help us clean up the mess we all made? We just heard Obama speak about taking responsibility and taking action in order to change this country. Nothing’s going to change unless we all pitch in. Please help…”

And what do you know – boom. Six people came right up to me with open hands.

“I’ll help.”

“I’d love to help.”

Within minutes I had run out of bags.

I ran back over to the parks woman and told her what happened. She nodded with a smile. She could see for herself.

“Ok, we need to act fast here. Can you get me a few rolls of bags? We can make this happen.”

She turned to her co-worker with a smile. He handed me two rolls. And back I went.

I spoke up again—boom. More people. Black, white, young, old, rich, poor; they all came over to me almost immediately and offered to help. I turned to an energetic teenager and held a roll of bags out to him.

“I need your help. Can you give these bags out to people while I go and get some more?”

He nodded with a smile and took the bags.

Back up the hill I went. More bags. More people helping.

The mall was now teeming with volunteers, and the trash seemed to literally VANISH within what seemed like minutes. My partner and I just stood there basking in the amazement of it all… It, literally, felt like magic.

Experiencing this gave me a whole new perspective on what’s possible when people take a stand and join together to accomplish a seemingly impossible—yet common goal.


Have you ever taken a stand to help a seemingly impossible situation better? Post a reply and share your story. I’d love to hear from you.