I once heard Oprah talk about how she deals with being a successful Black business woman in a white man’s world. She said she often walks into a meeting to find she is not just the only woman, she is the only person of color. Some of the people she meets can be intimidating or even outright hostile.
In times like these, she calls to mind all the strong Black women who came before her, like Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth. She remembers Maya Angelou’s words: “I come as one but I stand as ten thousand.” And Shirley Chisholm’s advice: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” She reflects on the hardships these women encountered and how they impacted the world in such powerful ways while remaining true to themselves. Oprah describes how she invites these powerful women to walk into the boardroom with with her, to sit next to her at the table, to help her respond to the environment and the people with courage and conviction, and to remind her to be true to herself. This helps her find her own power, especially in unfriendly environments.
Courage to be you
Who gives you strength and courage to show up and be yourself? Who do you walk with into that work meeting where you are giving an important presentation? Who sits at the negotiating table with you as you ask for that raise you know you deserve? Your ancestors, your grandmother, a teacher or mentor? Listen to the wisdom they are sharing with you as you engage with others. Take a moment to reflect on how it feels to know that they have overcome insurmountable odds and are here to help you do the same, to support you, to be your guide and witness during the interaction.
Some of my favorite people to walk into such situations with are Oprah, Wangari Maathai, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou. To me, these incredible people represent the essence of humanity, creativity, and courage. As I reflect on who they are, I remember who I am. I feel their power and empathy surge through me; it infuses me with the courage to show up authentically and deal with whatever the moment brings.