On the Speaking Circuit While Black…

After reading my Facebook post from last week that I was going to begin mitigating my risk of potentially being targeted for standing, walking or shopping in areas I don’t live in, several people I love and trust asked me if I was also going to stop speaking around the country to caregivers and families dealing with dementia.

The answer is a resounding NO!! I am definitely not giving up my work of helping others. As soon as this pandemic is over, I’ll continue to go wherever I’m invited to speak. The difference between my being on the speaking circuit and the things I do in my personal life that bring me enjoyment is the fact that I’m contracted and invited to speak, not just showing up somewhere where someone may see me as a threat. I love the fact that when organizations advertise the events where I will be speaking, most of the time there is a photo of me in the ad. So in my mind people aren’t going to be surprised to learn that I am the speaker when they arrive at the venue. But every now and there, there is surprise and shock! A few have left the event once they learned I was the speaker.

As many of you know, since 2014 I’ve given more than 330 presentations and keynote addresses to thousands of people around the country. Being on the speaking circuit isn’t something that I actually chose to do, this is 100% the work that God has called me to do, and people say that I’m pretty good at it. I’m told that I bring energy, enthusiasm and hope to topics that are difficult, challenging and devastating. I can’t even put into words how rewarding this work has been for me. I hug, laugh and cry with people who attend these events and have become lifelong friends with some of them.

For the most part, these events have been full of love and bonding with others, but there have also been many more than a few instances where the fact that I am black have created some uncomfortable situations. I share just a few of them below.

  • On multiple occasions I’ve been asked to deliver towels, fix attendees plates of food, told what they wanted in their coffee, and complained to that they didn’t receive their newspaper at their hotel door.
  • People have demanded that I pick up the room service trays outside their door because it had already been sitting there for a long period of time.
  • I’ve been the only person in the hotel breakfast area who was asked to produce their room key to prove I was a guest there before I was allowed to eat the free breakfast.
  • The only hotel guest who was questioned in an accusatory tone by the fire department if I knew who may have pulled the false fire alarm at three in the morning that resulted in an evacuation.
  • the most incredible event occurred in a huge ballroom where I was speaking about 8 minutes before I was supposed to start. I was talking to audience members as I always do when an attendee came up to me and said in a very nasty tone “instead of talking with the attendees, you need to do your job and clean up my spilled glass of iced tea before the event starts”. I took a few steps back and said I’d find someone for her. The people I was talking with looked very uncomfortable but said nothing. As I made my way toward the stage as I was being introduced I made eye contact with the woman who was slowly realizing that I was the speaker. The look on her face was Priceless! In my opinion, that day in that room of almost 800 people I gave one of the best presentations of my life! I got a rousing standing ovation. When I made eye contact with the woman who had talked to me so disrespectfully, she put her hand over her heart and nodded at me as if to apologize. I nodded back in acceptance and felt vindicated.
  • The most hateful event by far came at the end of a conference when the event host and I were reading the evaluations from the more than 100 attendees. They were all fabulous… but there is always one that gets your attention. I heard the host gasp loudly and tears came to her eyes. I asked to see the evaluation. It said “I learned a lot of information. I have to confess she’s a pretty good speaker for a N……..! But in the end she and her Mama will always be just N…….” (which of course they spelled out in big letters.) It was almost 3 years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I try to make the best of everything so I thought to myself – at least they learned something from me.. But it still hurt like Hell!!

For the record, most black people have these stories – but many don’t always share them because sometimes it’s just too heartbreaking to. I’m only sharing them now because someone asked me. Some people who know of a few of these events have asked me in the past why I continue to travel and do this work. My answer is always the same. This calling of mine is important and I am a respected leader and public speaker. I won’t quit because then they win. To me, the information and inspiration I provide in my books and presentations are much more important than the few haters out there.

So look to see me out there again when it’s safe to gather in groups, and until then you can find me and my energy on Zoom! The love and support I have experienced in countless towns and cities inspires me, so I’ll be out there at least until they find a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. Hope to see you out on the road someday and that our meeting will be one that we all will remember fondly!


Blessings All Around!

Like many of us I’ve struggled mightily through this quarantine. Aside from walking in my neighborhood almost daily, I’ve left my house in my car a total of 7 times in the 54 days since I began teleworking on March 20th. My journeys were three times to the Post Office, twice to see my Mom and twice to the grocery store resulting in a grand total of 12 miles on my car (which is less than one way to work).

At home I’ve kept a journal of of my days since the lockdown. I’ve read the Bible daily, put up shelves and built a bookcase and a table, made all my presentations virtual and organized every part of my living space, including the carport and my shed and sent Kendal homework assignments.

While that was all great for ME, I hadn’t really done anything for anyone else and that fact added to the guilt I was feeling about how much I have in my life when others have so little (which I posted about on Facebook).

A couple of weeks ago when my order of the 2nd edition of Refreshment for the Caregiver’s Spirit arrived I decided to put 100 copies of them aside to give to caregivers to cheer them up during this pandemic. I signed them and sent them to folks I’ve met over the last six years I’ve been giving presentations across the country and to a a few nursing homes I’ve interacted with in the past. The reaction to the books has been overwhelming from the folks on the front lines of this disease. They’ve all called it a Blessing!!

One of those Blessings turned into even more Blessings. One of the books I mailed was to Karen Seay, one of my blog followers I met through fellow blogger Paul Roberts Abernathy. Last year when Karen learned I was coming to Minneapolis she volunteered to pick me up at the airport, took me on a tour and for a wonderful lunch, sat through my presentation and took me back to the airport that night. I had added a photo of the restaurant Karen took me to in the new edition of the book and she was so surprised when she received her book and saw that photo that will always remind us of our time together.

Karen sent me a note sharing that she wanted to in turn buy ten copies of my book to give to the staff at the nursing home where her Mom spent 14 years! Talk about spreading the Blessing!

Having only seen my Mom twice has been by far the hardest part of this crisis, given that I typically see my Mom almost daily after work. I just wanted to give her a hug! My sister Kris sent me two gorgeous photo pillows, one for me and one for Mom and hugging that pillow has helped me so much! After crying a lot I took Mom’s pillow to her and got to see her enthusiastic reaction to it. Several others saw the pillows in my Facebook post and ordered them for their loved ones! More Blessings!

Mom’s dedicated caregivers have worked tirelessly juggling all of their required tasks AND the new task of video calling loved ones a few times a week so they can speak with the residents. I needed to do something for them…. but what??? The answer came when Mom’s Stimulus check arrived, which I had not been expecting. I split the check between her caregivers. There was joyful screaming and crying when they received their gifts as if they’d hit the lottery!! No one deserves that gift more than they do.

On Mother’s Day I sent gift cards to 50 mothers who have been influential in my life over the last 50 years some of them from way back in my life. One of those women was Colette who has Blessed me mightily over the last four years. I met Colette when I spoke to the members of the Virgin Island Caregivers Program in St Croix six weeks after Tim died in 2016. She asked me what I missed most about Tim. I told her I missed his daily text messages. From that day forward, including today, Colette has sent me an inspirational text message! She was so shocked to receive her gift card, as she didn’t realize how much her texts have Blessed me! It occurs to me that we often forget to Bless those who have Blessed us!

Until at least September I’ve lowered my fees for my presentations and books so I can reach even more people and my calendar is filling quickly. Earlier today I gave my Joy of Caregiving (even during a pandemic) for Johns Hopkins Medicine. The hosts, moderator and Chaplain all raved about the presentation and the audience was joyful and participatory! Hopefully we can all hang in there as caregivers til this is over and right now I feel the Blessings of my many caregiver networks!

This Friday is the last day of my current grad school security management course which started right as the world was shutting down. I wondered how focused my students and I would be during this term given that like me many of them work in some facet of homeland security or are in the military. The course evaluations opened yesterday and students usually always wait until the last minute to complete them if they do so at all. The evaluations I’ve received thus far are stunning. The students mentioned what an amazing professor I am and how I’ve given them such a great outlet from the virus and taught them so much with my energy, enthusiasm and knowledge. I didn’t feel very focused at times but I’m glad to know I’ve done my job well.

I’ll be glad when this is over like everyone else but I don’t want to go back to “normal” either. I want to continue to send anonymous lunches to the nursing homes and the hospital near my house or some other gesture that shows others how much their work means to us, just as Kim and Kendal surprised me with a bag of homemade meals last week!! So many people have inspired me with how they’ve helped others during the crisis and I hope we don’t forget how awesome it is to spread the Blessings around without spreading COVID-19.