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Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s inaugural celebration centered on diversity

Rahm Emanuel with wife Amy Rule Mayoral InauguratiMillennium Park Monday May 16 2011. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

Rahm Emanuel with wife Amy Rule at the Mayoral Inauguration at Millennium Park on Monday, May 16, 2011. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 30, 2011 12:16AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Inauguration Day was picture perfect.

The sun was shining. Millennium Park was as green as Churchill Downs. And the flowers — so stunning, I actually saw a man with a briefcase stop and smell the daffodils.

As much as inaugurations tend to set the tone for a politician’s ascension, it is worth noting that Emanuel’s celebration centered on diversity.

From the soulful sounds of the multi-cultural Chicago Children’s Choir, to the extraordinary talent of Clarissa Bevilacqua, a young violinist at the Merit School of Music, the event planners tried to put together an inclusive celebration that gave a nod to every religion except the Buddhists and the Hindus.

A Catholic priest, an Imam, a Baptist preacher and a rabbi offered up prayers.

And political strategist and presidential adviser David Axelrod’s fingerprints were visible.

Similar to President Obama, Emanuel found a way to talk about race without really talking about race.

For instance, Emanuel noted that the three top elected officials who took the oath of office come from totally different backgrounds.

“I think it is fair to say, we are not our parents’ Chicago,” he said.

He described Treasurer Stephanie Neely as “an African-American whose family came from Grenada, Mississippi, in the great migration north; City Clerk Susana Mendoza as a daughter of immigrants who came from Mexico; and himself as a son of an Israeli immigrant from Tel Aviv and grandson of immigrants from Eastern Europe.

“The three of us have achieved something our parents never imagined in their lifetimes,” Emanuel said.

“I am proud to lead a city united in common purpose and driven by a common thirst for change,” Emanuel told his supporters.

Still, if yesterday’s turnout is an indication of just how united the city has become since Emanuel’s election, we have a ways to go. There was enough space at the Pritzker Pavilion for some children to run free and for others to nap on coats that parents spread out on the grass.

That this is a historic moment wasn’t lost on everyone. Many who came brought their cameras, flags and hoopla.

And even though Emanuel delivered a speech that was too long, and stumbled over a few words, it made him look all the more like a guy who is still comfortable in his Midwestern skin.

Over the years, I’ve learned that a journalist should refrain from saying nice things about a politician. Unfortunately, the moment you say something nice, the politician will disappoint you.

But I am impressed by Emanuel’s commitment to improve the lives of young black children who are growing up in dysfunctional neighborhoods and going to dysfunctional schools.

He used the plight of Brian Reed, a 10th-grader at Ralph Ellison High School, to urge Chicagoans to roll up their sleeves and “take on the hard work.”

During Emanuel’s mayoral run, Reed gave Emanuel a tour of the high school. Reed was later attacked at his bus stop and robbed by four young men and hospitalized. Emanuel said he then reached out to the boy’s principal to check on Reed.

Emanuel received a letter back from the boy letting him know he was back in school.

“My attendance is good and I try very hard here. I just wanted to tell you thanks for checking on me,” Emanuel said Reed wrote.

I didn’t blink even though that’s the kind of story that should move every parent to tears.

But many of us have heard worse stories. And because we have heard so many terrible stories, the bad things that happen to too many black children go in one ear and out the other.

That’s one reason Chicago really did need Inauguration Day.

No one would call Emanuel — who built his D.C. persona on being a foul-mouthed tough guy — tender-hearted.

Yet he seems to have a heart for the children others have forgotten about.

Obviously, Emanuel is not a miracle worker.

All those voters who supported him for mayor, especially black voters who are disparately impacted by unsafe neighborhoods and bad schools, will have to do more than hold him accountable.

If they believe in Emanuel’s leadership, they will have to give him a chance.

That’s never easy.

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