I consciously chose not to write this blog during February. Why bother? There is more than enough sucking up out there. Each February, everywhere you go, people are falling over themselves to acknowledge Black people, as if we don't exist for the rest of the year. OMG! Look, they're so accomplished! Fun facts about Black history abound in elementary schools, newspaper features, TV interviews, contest essays and corporate citizenry ads. Like, did you know that Garrett Morgan invented the gas mask and the first traffic signal? Or did you know a free black man, Benjamin Banneker, renowned mathematician, astronomer and publisher, was part of the team that created Washington, D.C. in 1791? And, isn't it fortuitous that we have a Black president for the first time in history? Well, I have news for you, America. Save for the amazing historical event of finally having a Black president, black people have been fabulous and talented for centuries, and it's both bothersome and hurtful for an entire segment of the population to only be appreciated for 28/29 days of the year. Don't get me wrong, as a publicist and avid marketer, I understand and appreciate the attention the black community gets each February. After all, it becomes a lot easier for someone like me to sell a story about my community during Black History Month. I'll take those press placements anyway I can get 'em.
But, the story that is not being told, the story I want to recount, is how history is made every day with black people, white people, all people through the power of friendship and making things personal. I strongly believe that nothing changes until it becomes personal.
The election of #44, President Barack Obama, is when it became personal for me and a lot of other people.
In September 2007, I was supporting Hillary Clinton. I admire HRC's brilliant brain and I just wanted a candidate who could win. But, my very dear friend and trusted advisor, Marlon Hill, kept on and on about Obama. Marlon is not a person whose opinion you dismiss. So, finally, I took his word for it and decided to support Senator Obama. I was nervous at first. I mean, really... America's gonna elect a Black man with Hussein as a middle name? I wanted to put my energy into the Democrat that could win -- HRC or Obama, which one can win, was my first priority. Then I started to drink the Obama Kool Aid. There are many reasons of policy, ideals, ideology, historical significance, style, substance, strategy and purpose that I had to make my move to Obama. But this blog is not about him, it's about the process of falling in love with a group of women I would never have met without him.
I joined Women for Obama Miami late in the game, May 2008. I was invited to the first meeting by an acquaintance. I almost didn't go. But the meeting happened to be on Sunset Island so I couldn't pass up the chance to peek into how the 1 percent lives. For those that don't know, Sunset Island is a private residential oasis just on the outskirts of South Beach, off of Alton Road and accessible only through a security gate. Fancy.
We walked in uncertain of what to expect, met with 10 perfectly coiffed soccer moms in their Lilly Pulitzer and business executives with Vuitton attachés, sitting in a sunken living room surrounded by windows and black bamboo, staring at us, equally unsure of what to expect. Here were these rich white women, more passionate about Senator Obama than I was. For real, for real. These chicks were strung out on Obama, his intellect, his platform, his ideals, his promise, and, of course, it didn't hurt that he's easy on the eyes. To say the least, we sat around that first meeting giving each other confused looks. Were we being punked? Seriously? We thought Obama was our secret dude that we were gonna push into the Oval Office with our energy and hard work. I had not occurred to us that others outside of the black community would love him as well, with such passion and armed with well-researched facts about his platform. Honestly, they knew more about the brother than I did. We were outnumbered by these chicks with great, big, well-appointed waterfront houses, assorted olives and expensive cheeses in perfect Waterford crystal bowls, wine collections and station wagon Audis in their driveways. Who knew? And, guess what?? We surprised them right back. Fierce, strong, opinionated and brilliant black women, more similar than dissimilar to them, who were ready to realize 400 years of sacrifice in the election of America's first black president. I've been asked by one of the younger members of WFO that I met in those first days, "Do you really think we white women were surprised that you black women were any of these things? I wasn't. I was just happy to make new friends with interesting, funny, life-loving women. But maybe part of it is generational?" Dear reader: what do you think? Seems silly and sad that, in the supposedly enlightened 21st century, this would be new territory for us all, asking us to question how far had we really come.
What happened over the next few months cannot be explained with any other word than magical. Maybe "surreal" could cover it. The body of us, white and black women, young and old, loud and quiet, worked together like we were being paid, like a well-oiled machine to ensure we played our part to deliver Miami Dade County for Obama/Biden. We organized Kids for Obama in Coconut Grove, partnered with the mayor, tinned "Mints for Obama" and branded kids' tees and backpacks using a Kids for Obama logo Circle of One Marketing created exclusively for WFO. We organized the hottest, sweatiest, funnest Art for Obama event in the middle of Midtown, with an A-list host committee that would make any art enthusiast write a check. We raised $16K at Shop for Barack at the Oggetti Warehouse, powered exclusively with donated WFO personal items. We met each week and learned more about each other. We made phone calls, registered voters, pounded the pavement, dialed for dollars, incurred the scorn of the un-converted and talked non-stop about our lives, our families, our experiences and ideas about how to make America a better, more tolerant place to raise our kids.
But most of all, we grew to feel as if we had always been life long friends. Even the life-long friends I already had felt new and closer. We were a tight-knit, take-no-prisoners bundle of estrogen. The connection, the time cannot be put into words, hard as I'm trying. I just know it changed me and all of WFO fundamentally as people. It was an unexpected joyous reality that we struggle to re-create. It was one of the happiest times of our lives.
Three and a half years later, I know that that experience and those women changed my life. Not Obama, but rather those women, we women. Powerful in our conviction and willing to do whatever necessary in our small part of the world to make it happen. And we did. Election night 2008 will count as one of the happiest slow-motion "OMG, I'm so blessed to be here" moments of my life, because I know I worked alongside a group of badass women who did not take no for an answer. At one point, the "matriarch" of the group, a savvy, stylish, take-no-foolishness Jewish woman said, with tears in her eyes "I never thought I'd see so many black women sitting in my home. I thank this campaign for bringing us together."
Today, my confidante and dear friend, who "sees" me, the LOUDest WFO member, has become one of my dearest friends the quietest of WFO. This would never have been possible without the whirlwind and blissful purpose of 2008. We are sisters, considering ourselves and our friendship as being a "really small gang of two." I love this woman, incredulously, because of an experience that was a microcosm of what we hope America will be one day. I will count her, as we say in Jamaica, as "my bonafide" forever, long after Obama has served his second term. We are no longer black and white; we're Women for Obama, a deep connection that cannot be duplicated, ever.
So what is Black History? It's progress, it's progress, it's PROGRESS. You see me for who I am, faults and goodness. And I'll do the same for you. For me, serving with a group of women as seemingly dissimilar as possible, changing our minds, assumptions and stereotypes, connecting for life on a single issue is progress. In the end, what we learned is that we all want the same things for our lives, families and community. Life, love and the pursuit of happiness.
That's hope and change we can all believe in.