ABC Special - Taking The Stage: African American Music And Stories That Changed America

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I had already declared it was going to be a good day before leaving my house that morning. I was feeling anxious all week. If nothing else, I was going to will it into existence. Yet, I didn’t have to fake it. There was an undeniable amount of optimism in the air, so much so, everyone I encountered echoed my sentiments. There it was sprinkled in between April’s rainy forecast, the perfect Spring day, dry and comfortably warm with a chance of Oprah.

I knew I was scheduled to attend the press conference with Oprah, who was doing promotional rounds for her HBO film The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks. However, I’ve done my fair share of press conferences and, unlike one-on-one sit down’s, they lack the intimacy that leads to a long-lasting connection. So I wasn’t expecting to leave with Oprah knowing my name. Read: I fully prepared an elevator pitch, but doubted I would be in the position to use it.

Charise, the newest member of #TeamBeautiful, and I caught an Uber uptown to The London hotel, where the conference was set to convene around one. Upon arrival, we immediately noticed the informal setup. We were seated feet away from where Oprah. Feet. A feeling of joy and anxiety washed over me at the same time.

Sigh. I am a professional, I thought. Pull it together. Charise and I found a seat in the second row and began to engage in conversation with the other reporters while we waited until we simultaneously realized…we were all Black women.

Then suddenly, the room shifted and Oprah appeared in all her Oprah glory. Hair streaming straight from her scalp. A halo appeared over head. OK not really. But she commanded the room with her earthly presence. She locked arms with director George C. Wolfe and broke out into song. “Black girl magic,” she sang wile snapping her fingers in an auntie-like jig. She was eventually joined by the cast: Rose Byrne, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Courtney B. Vance, Rocky Carroll and Reg E. Cathey.

How @Oprah walks into a room of all Black female journalists #BlackGirlMagic #Oprah #HeLa #HenriettaLacks #HBO

A post shared by SBS😘 (@shamika_sanders) on

The Black girl in her saw the Black girl in us and we all basked in the unprecedented event. It was a surreal moment that sent my mind spiraling. Not only was I in the room with Oprah again in my life, I was sharing the experience with my good friend/ work wife Danielle Young, who you may know as @RhapsoDani  the big haired, funny girl with an equally big personality. Danielle and I were each other’s crutches at one of the lowest career points of our career and when we were separated, I feared our friendship would never be the same.

But we’ve been a dynamic duo since and share stories about the time we snagged a selfie with Oprah at the Selma press conference two years ago. But that was a much bigger room with even more security and mayhem. The same feeling I felt when Rihanna once told me my hair was laid, came over me. I was again, in the right place at the right time. Meaning I did something right, sonewhere along the journey. Why did God give me this life? Sometimes it’s overwhelming.” Beyonce voice.

Now I’ve met my fair share of celebrities, some nice and some not (that’s another story), but I’ve assessed, for the most part, the bigger the celebrity the nicer they are. But Oprah was on unicorn level nice. Like, she is one of the richest, most famous people (man or woman) in the world, yet her humility filled the room before she even walked in. She was gracious, kind and personable. She is every bit of how she is on TV in real life.

I snapped out of it and honed in on the moment. This is what I do and I would never forgive myself if I, despite my fears of flubbing my question or sounding stupid, didn’t seize the opportunity to ask Oprah a question. I imagined asking something so profound it would obviously lead to her offering me a show or opportunity that required me to quit my job and fly to LA to work closely with her and launch my career as the next beautiful Black and in-demand TV host. I’m a dreamer. As you can see I’m still at HB, so it didn’t exactly go down like that.

With no moderator to choose who gets a question, we began the conference in order from right to left. Oprah pulled out her red iPhone 7 (because she’s exclusive like that) and began live-streaming the conference on Facebook. I am on Oprah’s Facebook page.

We were 20 minutes into the conversation when it dawned on me the conference was almost over and I was resting too comfortably on “running out of time” a.k.a fear. People always ask me if I get starstruck or nervous when I meet celebs. Most of the time. Yes. But I have perfected jumping off the bridge wearing a blindfold and figuring it out later. So that’s what I did. Even though we were going in order, which would technically make me the last person, I leaped. I shot my shot and jumped in the old school press way. I asked my carefully calculated questioned and let loose a deep sigh when Oprah retorted with a thoughtful answer. I could just smell the ink drying on my contract with OWN.

The conference commenced after my question and Danielle, Charise and I went into “snag a selfie with Oprah mode” and everyone else did. She posed for every picture and boomerang and moment with the little Black journalist inside us all. Courtney B. Vance (who I stopped to tell that his portrayal in the The People v. OJ Simpson change my life) snapped a group photo of us. By the time Charise and I hit the FDR, I was in tears. I had been feeling stagnant in my career, questioning what was next or when is it going to be my time? If a boomerang with Oprah isn’t evidence God is precisely ordering my footsteps, I don’t know know what is. Then God showed out even more. My DMs started blowing up. Oprah had posted the group photo we took on her Instagram page.

Girl!

Then it went viral. TheShadeRoom viral. And the day wasn’t even done yet. I has scored two tickets to the exclusive screening that night, which resulted in this moment:

Blink. Blink.

The difference a day makes. One week before the conference, I was questioning if my dreams of reaching super stardom and financially providing for my parents so they never have to work again were just delusions of grandeur. If I was as special and ordained for greatness as I thought I was. I was doubting my trajectory and impatiently awaiting “my time.” Meeting Oprah reiterated that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be and doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I didn’t walk out with a TV deal, but I left feeling fulfilled in a way that reinvigorated my soul. My dreams felt reachable again. Mama gon’ get her house and daddy gon’ get his Cadillac.

So here it is kiddies, even when you’re at your lowest, a miracle is only around the corner. Nothing is too difficult for God. So don’t give up…and all that other corny ish. The secret is, it’s true.

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks airs again tonight at 9:25pm EST on HBO.

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