Political News

Fayetteville sergeant plays Obama at inaugural test run

Posted January 11, 2009 10:36 a.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— Derrick Brooks puts his left hand on the book and raises his right, ready to take the oath of office. Dozens of cameras capture this moment in history, even though Brooks is wearing a name card reading "Pres.-elect Obama."

He's a slender, 6 foot 2 inches tall. He was born to a mixed-race couple. He has a daughter named Maliyah.

All those descriptions apply to Barack Obama, but Staff Sgt. Derrick Brooks, 26, grew up in Fayetteville and Robeson County. In November 2007, though, he was stationed at Fort Meade, Md., as part of the Armed Forces Inauguration Committee.

"Before Barack Obama was even elected, they had been teasing him (Brooks) about looking like Barack Obama," said Brooks' mother, Donna, who lives in St. Pauls.

Organizers noticed and picked Brooks to stand-in for the president-elect during a dress rehearsal Sunday.

"It felt great to be famous for one day," Brooks said.

Brooks resembles Obama in height, weight and skin color. But he's not an exact match.

"They look the same, except my dad has got smaller ears," 6-year-old Maliyah said. Obama noticed that, too, when they met last Thursday, Brooks said, and talked about playing basketball.

"(Obama) said Derrick was more handsome, because his ears weren't as big, so Derrick was pulling his out, so he could be a little bit like Barack Obama," Donna Brooks said.

But the president-elect has a half-inch on Brooks. And when asked who she thought was more handsome, Maliyah said, "Barack Obama."

On Sunday, other military personnel played Obama's wife, Michelle, Vice President-elect Joe Biden and others expected on the inaugural stage. Even a faux President George W. Bush showed up.

As the sky over the Capitol grew light, cannons boomed, military bands played marching music, and stand-ins took their places. Brooks and Michelle Obama's stand-in processed to applause from onlookers.

"They said people were asking him for autographs," Donna Brooks said.

Brooks stood stock still as several handlers moved the man facing him, a stand-in for Chief Justice John Roberts, to the right – then left, then right again, before marking the spot with brightly colored tape. Small shifts and fixes were all part of a long day.

For an inauguration speech, Brooks uttered six words: "'My fellow Americans, God bless America,'" his mother said.

"They all applauded for him like they would do for the inauguration," Donna Brooks said.

But Brooks, who attended Westover High School in Fayetteville and graduated from St. Pauls in 2001, won't be in D.C. during the inauguration. Despite his role in the rehearsal, he wasn't able to get tickets for himself or his family, so they will be watching it all on TV.

It'll be some welcome time with his daughter for the single dad, who had to entrust Maliyah to her grandmother's care while he worked long hours preparing for the event.

Wearing a grin even wider than Obama's, Brooks told reporters he was honored to participate in the dry run.

"I know it's a change in history," he said, "and it's a historical moment that's only going to happen one time."