David Neville (right) and Gloria Chambers (center), both of Gary, and pastor Gloria Dawson of Chicago watch President Barack Obama's Inaugaration on a giant screen during the 44th ecumenical service in Gary. | Jeff Addison~For Sun-Times Media
First-place winner of a $700 scholarship was New Tech Innovative High School sophomore Kerri Rouser, 15. Second place and $300 scholarship winner was West Side senior and program co-emcee David L. King, and third place and $200 winner was Wirt-Emerson junior Breanna Bernacki, 17. Rouser’s essay paid tribute to the teachers, administrators and students who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Updated: March 1, 2013 6:41AM
As the swearing-in of President Barack Obama played for hundreds on a big screen inside West Side Leadership Academy’s auditorium Jan. 21, it was evident through standing ovations on and off screen that the crowds were overwhelmed with pride.
The live streaming of the ceremony was part of the Northwest Indiana Ecumenical Committee’s 44th annual ecumenical service, which also honored the national holiday for the late civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
This year’s theme for the service was “The Ultimate Measure of a Man.”
Eighteen-year-old James Wells, sharing emcee duties with friend David L. King, also 18, was overwhelmed listening to Obama’s Inaugural Address.
“I thank God that I can stand up and hope that one day I will be president,” he said. “I thank God that I don’t have to worry about being chased by dogs, drowned with water hoses or being told I cannot sit here or eat at a restaurant.
“Because of my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, I don’t have to struggle,” Wells said to a cheering crowd.
Wells is president of the Gary Intra-City Student Council and president of the Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts High Ability Student Council.
King is president of the Indiana State Student Council. He said that in 20 years, he and Wells will be on the screen being sworn in as leaders of the nation.
“I’ve already claimed it through God,” he said to rousing applause.
The service revolved around the inauguration. The audience enjoyed performances from the Ecumenical Choir and Wirt-Emerson’s Middle School Choir as the ceremony aired in a muted background until the oath of office was administered.
Northwest Indiana Ecumenical Committee chairman the Rev. Dwight Gardner of Trinity Missionary Baptist Church called it a “great day in history.”
“It’s the 44th ecumenical service, Obama is our 44th president and on Jan. 1, we marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation,” he said.
The committee also paid tribute to three members who died in 2012: Gary Teachers Union president Sandra Irons, the Rev. Dolton Hall and longtime committee president the Rev. Raymond McDonald.
After Obama’s speech, the service resumed with additional lively performances. Educator and student essay contest coordinator Gloria Griffin introduced the 2013 essay winners.