Hi Ladies. I’m going to deviate for a moment to address the significance of today.

As we all know, today is the day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. The year was 1968. But what you don’t know is that I was born exactly a year later, in 1969. I have had the pleasure (or is that misfortune, I don’t know) of sharing a birthday with the anniversary of one our country’s most renowned orators, leaders, ministers we will probably ever know. When I was little, it didn’t affect me much. Children don’t think of such things in their small microcosm of the world view. But as I got older, I had mixed feelings about it. Yes, it was a sad and pivitol point in our history, but I started to think of it like this. For every life that is taken, another life is created. I am in no way comparing myself to Dr. King. But I could never help but think I have a huge responsibility to live up to.

I was listening to Warren Ballentine this morning on the radio and snippets of Dr. King’s speeches. They touched me deeply, as always. All that he hoped for and dreamed of, some might say we have achieved. We have and then again we haven’t (case in point the Jena 6). I couldn’t help but acknowledge that if it wasn’t for Dr. King, I would not have had the opportunity to grow up as I have. I would not have been able to be a successful business woman. I would not have been able to move where I want, pursue the education I want, raise my son as I want, or be able to set the wheels in motion for the phenomenon that is Empower Me. So, yes, in many respects, we have overcome. Barack Obama is living proof of that. Who would have thought a Black Man would be a serious contender in our lifetime? My son, my mother, my sisters, brother, nephew and nieces get to see this….in our lifetime. Unfortunately my Dad never did. He passed away 6 years ago this coming July. Dr. King certainly didn’t and neither did Mrs. King.

I still remember the stories my Daddy used to tell me about Dr. King and the “struggle”. Daddy was very animated when telling stories. He had a way of drawing you into the stories as he was telling them. I remembered being so afraid and fearing that “they” were going to get me. I was very small and had not grasped the fact that we were indeed free. My mother being a product of that time, was one who was always telling us keep your mouth shut and do what you need to do. Don’t make trouble. But daddy, man he would tell us we have the right to do and go and say what we want. Yes, even in the late 70’s early 80’s we encountered racism. Not at home though (New York). We would encounter it in the south. But daddy never let us just “take it”. He always had a lesson to teach us and always was able to somehow channel Dr. King. Very early on I could never understand some of the racism. But as we got older and daddy used to tell us these stories, it became clearer. Especially after watching Roots….can I get an AMEN!

It was in my early teens that I took Dr. King’s words and thoughts and hopes to heart. I became this outspoken grown child. I was never to let anything stand in my way of what I wanted. Naive? Perhaps. But I said to myself, dammit, we have these Dr. King celebrations every year to continue the fight. In NYC I did have a mix of friends. But when I went downtown to the Wall Street, Fifth Avenue, or any other areas deemed off limits to us, I felt a bit out of place. It wasn’t until my late teens early 20’s that I began to shake that off and own a sense of entitlement. It was my right as an American, as a New Yorker, as a BLACK WOMAN to be there making money like everyone else. And when those doors did not open, I made my own way. My first adult taste of overt in your face racism was back in 1988 or 1989. I went on my first trip to California without my parents. My friend Kim and I went. And of course, I was always miss fancy so I wanted to “do Beverly Hills”. Fresh off the plane with my daddy’s American Express (don’t laugh), I walked into Beverly Hills like I had lived there. I won’t mention store names, but the minimum wage earning sales clerks had their noses up in the air and nobody wanted to give me the time of day. A few people even asked if I was “lost”. Huh? Are you kidding me? I was dressed just as nice as any of their rich customers. One asked me, are you sure you want to buy this? It costs$….. Again, huh? Don’t you see this Amex card burning a hole in my pocket? My friend said let’s go. But the stubborn rebel in me didn’t want to give THEM the satisfaction. So I bought 3 bags. Of course my daddy freaked out and demanded I pay the bill myself. I was a project girl living a princess life. LOL Or what about in 1991 when I took my infant son, mom and sisters with me back to California. I was once again on Rodeo Drive looking around and my family headed on a walk through the residential area of Beverly Hills. Within minutes, the Beverly Hills Police were called. Someone hit the panic button when they saw these “strangers”, BLACK strangers (with a damn baby stroller mind you) roaming their neighborhood. Nothing jumped off, but my mom was pissed!

Why do I tell this story? Fast forward to February 2008. Just about 6 weeks ago. I flew to California for the Women of Power Summit. I drove over to L.A. to stay for the remainder of my trip. I had a ton of emotions going on. I was no longer this kid I was so long ago. I wondered and was a little nervous of the treatment I would receive upon my return to Beverly Hills. Well I was quite surprised. I strolled Rodeo, in and out of stores. And so much has changed. I was greeted and doted on by the sales clerks in nearly all of the stores I visited. I was taken aback. Really. I saw people of different ethnicities working in these stores and also shopping! Yeah, we black folks have money too. Some even chatted with me and asked where I was from. I was amazed. The men were holding doors open for me. The women were showing me things from the cases and the back. I didn’t buy anything. This time, I could afford it, but I ain’t crazy! LOL It made me feel good to see how things had come full circle. Could Dr. King’s dream have become a reality?

Every time I see a successful black man or women open a store, business, restaurant, etc, I fill with pride. Every time I see a black man or woman achieve top rank status in a company, I fill with pride. Every time I see a black man or woman earn their degrees, be it BS, BA, MBA,MA, PhD, I fill with pride. We HAVE overcome. To an extent. But we still have a way to go. I think if Dr. King were alive today, he would be in awe of what he and others set in motion. So I come to you and ask, what is your purpose? What dream do you have that needs to be fulfilled? What’s holding you back? I, a girl from the projects of the Bronx, sits here a CEO of 2 companies, a mom, a wife, a mentor, a homeowner, a teacher (not in the school sense), a diversity expert. A black woman living Dr. King’s dream. A black woman fighting to empower and educate my sisters, and inspire them to not quit and to achieve all their hearts desire.

I am hopeful for my son’s generation and my future grandchildren’s generation. If or should I say WHEN Barack Obama wins, that will break all kinds of barriers and set precedents that Dr. King was never able to see come to fruition. So am I sad to be born on the day of Dr. King’s assassination? Hell no. I consider it a privilege and an honor. Happy Birthday to Me. Thank you Dr. King. You have touched and molded me in a very profound way.

Till next time.

Adrienne Graham

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