You have probably heard about the exhibiton by now “Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture”. The exhibit honoring the Talkshow Host’s legacy opened last week at the National Museum of African American History but have you heard her speech?
I used to watch this woman almost religiously. One of the shows that will always stay in my mind was the one where she went to South Africa to open a school. Also one of her last shows where she choose this African woman to be one of her most was it important guests? Not sure about that but I was impressed with 99% of Oprah’s guests and I must have missed the show when this humble woman was interviewed yet I couldn’t agree with Oprah more.
Like many of her million fans, I wasn’t at the opening of her exhibit but I am glad I heard this speech. A speech I like to share, read listen and you’ll understand why.
In my living room right now, is a painting that I’ve owned now for 30 years. You can google it. It’s called “To the Highest Bidder” and it’s at the center of my house. And it’s at the center of my house because it actually is symbolic of, not the house, but the foundation for my life. The painting is by Harry Roseland, who was a genre painter in the early 20th, late 19th century. And the painting is over 6ft tall, and it shows a slave woman on the auction lock, holding her daughter’s hand. And I can not come in the door, my front door, or I can not leave without passing that painting. I am reminded of where I come from every day of my life, and I am reminded because I never wanna forget it.
And in my library, I have a frame list of enslaved African-American people – remember I showed you – who were held in bondage on various plantations, listed in the ledgers alongside the cows, and the horses, and the buggies, and the other property. And I pass this list every day. And often, I stop in front of it and just speak their names, out loud, and their ages… Jonas, 11 years old, $500. Sarah, 41 years old, $900. Elizabeth, 57, $800…
And I force myself to consider the absurdity and the obscenity of prices being affixed to each one, should they be placed up for sale. And I sometimes just pause before there with a prayer, particularly before I have to make a big decision about one of my companies, or whether I move forward or whether I stay still. It reminds me, speaking those names out loud, not only of where I’ve come from, but how far I have to go because of them. And it reminds me that I am never alone. It reminds me of what I’ve come through to get through. And even when I find myself in settings where I am the only black woman, still, that kind of singularity, it doesn’t make me uncomfortable. And I gotta tell you, it never has made me uncomfortable.
I walk into a room just as cool as you please – nd to amend the fellow [incomprehensible] fall down on their knees – because I’ve always know I was never anywhere god didn’t want me to be. And I’ve had no issues accepting the success, or being worthy of what I know I’ve worked for.
But these days, it simply makes me wonder though, when I’m still the only woman or person of color sitting at the table, “Where my sisters are?”. It makes me wonder “who has constructed, what obstacles aimed, at keeping them out? Because, without artificial barriers, we would be represented in every room, where the criteria are excellence, and discipline, and determination, and vision. We would be there at that table. So these moments, when I walk into the room just as cool as you please and I am the only person of color, I’m the only woman, these are the moments I call upon the ancestors to surround me, to sustain me, to strengthen me. And I call upon them here, today. I call up on them and I offer myself to them. I say “I am here! I am ready! And okay, y’all, here we go.”. Because, when I walk into any room, when and where I enter, I am already more than I was. I already embody the truth of Maya Angelou’s wise words, when she said “I come as one, but I stand as 10 thousand”. “I come as one, but I stand as 10 thousand”. I stand not only as 10 thousand. I stand as 10 thousand to the 10th power! I stand on solid rock, I stand. I stand because I am the dream and the hope of the slave, and I am more than the seed of the free that Langston Hughes talked about in the poem “The Negro Mother”. I am the fruit, I am the flower, I am the blossoming tree, and I shall not be moved. Ain’t I a woman?
And when I walk with them, when I walk with that 10 thousand, this is how I am carried through life. I am carried through life, standing with the 10 thousands. And when I walk with them, I remember Maya taught me, that Jimmy Baldwin taught her. She used to say to me “Baby, you’re crown has been paid for, all you got to do is put it on your head and wear it”. So when we come into this museum, we get to see how the crowns were laid out for us. That’s what you did for us, Lonnie Bunch.
You laid the crowns out so we can see in plain view. We get to see and feel that sense of connection to the past, that allows us to step out of our history and step into a future that is brighter than any of them could have ever imagined.