A month ago, I walked into a local public library and asked for information on how I could deliver a talk there. In the speaking industry, everyone seems to be obsessed with packing out auditoriums and speaking to thousands of people. Why would I want to spend my time doing something so small? I knew that my voice had a place anywhere that someone could be reached, large or small. However, a small piece of me wondered deep inside if I was facing a block with my confidence. Then, this video appeared this morning as confirmation that big dreams have small beginnings.
That’s right, this is President Barack Obama–at that time, a lecturer at Harvard Law school–addressing an audience in the Cambridge Public Library in 1995. At the time, he was a lecturer at Harvard Law school, a position I recently held at UCLA. Here, he spoke about his experiences with race in adolescence, and read passages from his recently published book, “Dreams from my Father”. The speech lasts for 25 minutes, and is followed by Q&A.
There are many important points for discussion on this video, where he passionately speaks from his own personal truth. Some of these have generated controversy. In this blog, however, I will focus on what immediately touched me. In a time where few knew of the potential of this future President, Barack Obama spoke with the same passion, eloquence, confidence, and composure that he exudes today.
I am amazed that a speech like this has been archived to encourage so many who need to watch it now. In a world that is fraught with complexity in regards to race, it is still extraordinary to some when they encounter a minority or someone from an underprivileged background who is bold, intelligent, or articulate. It is almost as if they are watching a rose bloom from a sidewalk. How can it persist, so bold and beautiful, in such a barren place?
I grew up being told that I was an oreo (black on the outside and white on the inside) because I dared to be smart, because I dared to want so much for my life. It seemed that playing “small” would increase my popularity with others, but in doing so, I would have to betray myself. I pursued my dreams with dogged determination, and endured the teasing from those who did not understand. Although one could argue that they threatened my dreams with complacency, I do believe that I prevailed. Many of them matured into an understanding that there was no need to continue to put me down once they had dreams for themselves and dared to believe they were possible. Ultimately, their resistance conditioned me into the decision that no one else’s opinion would keep me from achieving my dreams.
I am grateful that he used his voice to express his experience with authenticity long before his accolades. You don’t have to “make it” in order to use your voice. Start using your voice now. You never know who needs your wisdom, your encouragement, your perspective, or your presence.