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!