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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

He was sure we hadn't

[risa] As a member of NAACP that often misses meetings and begs off from committees with the excuse of being overcommitted, I have formed the habit of trying to make up for my absences by spending the entire MLK holiday volunteering at events.

Our march began at ten in the morning with ambient temps low enough that ice spots were a concern along the route; and it was a very long route, at least compared to others we've tried here. Some four hundred people formed up, behind a couple of fabulous lions from the lion/dragon dancer's group, and the university's varsity teams and cheerleaders.

I carried our chapter banner with several excited young people, and we followed a lady with her Spaniel, which kept getting its leash wrapped around my legs, so that the banner was not always readable. A long two miles under the circumstances!

Performances and speeches ensued in the lobby of the performing arts center. Our chapter president being away at the inauguration, it fell to our vice president to organize the day, and she, being a Latina intensely interested in bringing all cultures together, arranged for a variety of presentations that included Mexican and Colombian dancing, along with the more usual fare such as excerpts from Dr. King's speeches and the singing of the Black National Anthem. The elementary school girls in their costumes, each dancing with a pineapple, were very affecting, and if they did not know all their steps it did not seem to matter to the patient and kindly crowd of, by now, some five hundred people, seated, standing, sitting on staircases and leaning over balcony railings.

Having her as a leader in the chapter is a treat. Sometimes, when a notice of employment discrimination is filed with us (and it happens a lot -- even here), she sweeps into some sullen manager's office, having been announced as the V.P. of NAACP, and they do a double take.

She's ready for that. "Yeah, we talk to each other now."

A blow to divide-and-conquer. Really seems to help.

My job, at the even bigger MLK event that evening, was to table for NAACP in the lobby during the reception and silent auction. One couple that came in, and stopped by the table, caught my attention. The impeccably dressed, gray-bearded gentleman took me up on my offer of a registration form for the Freedom Fund dinner, and as he leaned across the table, I said, "Haven't we met?"

He was sure we hadn't. He told me his name; I told him mine, and offered my hand, lady-fashion, to shake, which he did, and they left the table and moved on to the auditorium.

I could tell he hadn't "read" me. As well as didn't remember me, even when I told him my name, which I know he has heard.

Yet I remember, in searing verbal and visual detail, each of the eight times I sat in his office for fifty-five expensive minutes, only to be eventually told, with dismissive finality, that I was only kidding myself. It was his professional judgment that I was not and would never be a woman.

Stole a year from my life.

Interesting encounter!

Tabling done, I boxed up my flyers, rolled up the banner, and went toward the auditorium, where the middle-school taiko drummers were rocking the house.

Another gentleman, one who does know me, stood by the door, and I smiled and thanked him as he held it for me, and we both stepped in.


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