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Obama party starts early

As more than 400 people mingled Friday night at the Marriott Griffin Gate in Lexington, one figure stood out above everyone else: Barack Obama. Of course it wasn't the president-elect himself, just a life-size cardboard cutout, but it still represented the reason everyone was there.

The event, which was organized by a group of 18 friends, was designed to be more than just a celebration of Obama's inauguration. For many, it represented progress they had thought would never happen.

"This is a history-making event," said Thomas Brown, 60, of Lexington. "I was raised in Alabama and lived through Jim Crow and segregation. Never did I think I would see an African-American president."

The program included speeches by U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, and Gerald Smith, the pastor of Farristown Baptist Church and an associate professor at the University of Kentucky.

The night was topped off by a champagne toast and a couple of hours of singing and dancing.

"We wanted to give people an opportunity to not only celebrate this historical moment but participate in it," said Urban League President P.G. Peeples, one of the co-hosts of the event.

Peeples said Obama's election should be used as an example to all young people, and especially young men, that anything is possible.

"We've done these types of things in churches before to show them that they can become anything they want to," said Peeples.

For others, the event was a chance to take in the significance of Obama's inauguration even though they won't see it in person on Jan. 20.

"I can't go to Washington because I'm working, but this is a good chance to celebrate with people I know," said Dr. Carrie Brown, 59, a dentist from Lexington.

Many said this election reaffirms their belief in the American dream. They have a renewed confidence that America provides everyone a chance for social mobility.

"I've voted ever since I was able to, and I've instilled that same kind of value in my grandchildren," said Mary Russell, 60. "It shows that we can achieve anything."