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Rome bishop to be present at Obama farewell

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When President Barack Obama gives his farewell address to the nation at 9 p.m. tonight, Bishop Norris K. Allen of Rome will be among the crowd.

Allen, who leads New Hope Cathedral Overcoming Church of God, flew to Chicago and stood in the 2-degree weather to snag one of the first tickets.

“I’ve been with him from the time he announced that he was running for president in Springfield, Illinois, in 2007,” Allen said Monday, noting that he also attended Obama’s inaugurations in 2009 and 2013.

“This will finish my work of supporting him at this level,” he added. “After he gets out of office — we’re already working on going out to rural areas and reaching out to people who have been lost (to the political process.)”

People began lining up well before sunrise Saturday for the 8 a.m. ticket distribution. The lines stretched for blocks and snarled traffic around McCormick Place, the sprawling convention center along Lake Michigan where Obama will speak.

Allen said he was with a group of longtime grassroots Obama supporters who got together at 4 a.m. and spent several hours networking before taking their places in line.

Today they’ll get to the convention center about noon, although the doors don’t officially open until 5 p.m.

“It will give us time to talk, to work up a dialogue on our next steps,” he said.

Allen said he hasn’t always liked everything Obama has done — legalizing same-sex marriage is one — but “there are so many things that I cherish.”

He is proud of the president he said has developed into a spiritual leader during his tenure.

“That goes beyond his presidency,” Allen said.

He also said he knows there’s disappointment among some younger black people that Obama didn’t speak out more on civil rights, but the president and his family represented them well.

“He’s a man who works hard to do what he thinks is right. One level relationship with all men — black, white, brown, yellow — human rights,” Allen said. “I feel good because I’m able to see a man who has done his best to bring … everyone to move forward together.”

Obama has described the event as “a chance to say thank you for this amazing journey,” to celebrate the ways the country has changed and “to offer some thoughts on where we all go from here.”

Allen presented the reasons for his pilgrimage to Chicago in much the same terms.

“He’s done much to change things — for my spiritual house, for my grandchildren and great grandchildren,” he said. “As he is giving his farewell speech, I want to be there to say ‘Mr. President, we thank you. We thank you and your family.’”

Organizers didn’t say how many tickets were available, but many people walked away empty-handed on Saturday. The White House says the farewell address also will be streamed live online. Obama will be joined by first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.