We Celebrate Diversity: Stories

Photo by Xegxef @ Pixabay

Tokyo, Japan 2008

by Andrea Michaels

I was fascinated with the many speeches at the recent awards ceremonies (Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and more). In addition to concentrating on race, they focused on women.

Being a woman who faced leaping into a man’s world many years ago, this intrigued me. Even in the mid- to late 1970s, being a woman in a man’s world was never much of a problem in Los Angeles. Venturing into Wall Street and financial clients or the Midwest with automotive customers, for instance, was an entirely different story. Slowly I got comfortable dealing with the “good old boys’ network” in the USA, but it took some patience. I was young, so I dressed carefully, drank or partied not at all, and as I didn’t play golf and knew nothing about sports was not immediately embraced. It took time and trust, and of course many more women started entering the events world over the next few years, sometimes even owning their own companies. (Not like today, is it?)

I started my own business in 1988 for producing special events and meetings, and was having success as a woman in business in the USA, and I wanted to expand my marketplace. In about 2008 I ventured out to Tokyo where at first I was treated like I didn’t exist.

My company was invited by a major construction company in Tokyo (representing one of the largest builders in Asia) to work with them as consultants.  They wanted us to advise them on increasing traffic at their center and developing new attractions. I took two men with me, one a designer, one a production associate. Me? I was the creative director. Better yet, I owned the company. Yet when we sat down with our client the six men at the table only talked to my male associates. (Perhaps the initial inquiry addressed to “Mr. Andrea” should have clued me?)

I quietly told my gents to smile and say nothing, absolutely nothing. I informed the six clients that I deserved respect since I was senior to all of them as the owner and president of my company, which gave me status over them, and that I was also “senior” to them in age, and therefore worthy of respect. I also informed them that the two men with me were my employees and would not speak unless I allowed them to do so. Therefore, they could talk to me, or we could all go home, having experienced a nice few days in Japan at their expense. I did this softly and politely with a smile. But I was firm. They responded by treating me with the utmost respect from that moment on.

So why tell those stories? Because I fully understand what was said at the awards ceremonies and how far we women all have to go to make a place for ourselves in the business or entertainment world.  We have so many fabulous role models out there; women in power; heads of companies, leaders… young, old, beautiful or not… just wonderful women. But rarely was the welcome mat laid at our feet. We earned our place.

So, ladies of entertainment and media, thank you for calling out that there is still work to be done. You were inspiring.

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Image by Marek Studzinski from Pixabay

Durham, North Carolina, 1964 and later in 1967

by Susan Jackson

When I was 13, my father, Rev. Richard Jackson (a Caucasian minister) faced opposition to his performing a baptism on a black baby (Adam) in his Durham, North Carolina church - United Church of Christ (formerly Congregational). There were meetings where several white members of the congregation voiced objections (using Bible verses), but my father was determined to continue with the ceremony. On that particular Sunday, during the baptism, an old man stood up from the back of the congregation and said, "Rev. Jackson, I object to this happening! It goes against all that I believe in!" At which point my father said he would continue with the service, and he did. Approximately three years later, my father announced that that same man wished to address the congregation after the Sunday service. That same man stood up and said "I apologize for my actions regarding the baptism of that black baby in this church. I was wrong." And he sat down.  My father thanked him for his words.

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Image by Meli1670 from Pixabay

Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1972

by Jim Skiba

I had just graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in May 1971. During that summer and the next one, I was making some guitar music record albums with some friends. There were eight of us, four men and four women who had been hand-picked for having great voices and being able to harmonize with each other. We had been working together for over a year at this point. We covered all of the voice levels; I was first tenor or sometimes contra tenor when needed.

We took a break during a recording session for our second album and one of the tech guys came up to me and seemed pretty upset. I did not know the guy very well, just as one of the tech people who helped during the recording. I still remember his voice very clearly as he snarled: “How can you be in the same group with Joni?” I thought and then quickly said: “Wow, what do you mean? She has a great voice. We need her.” Then he said even louder: “Maybe, but how can you be singing with her.”

I then explained slowly that we needed at least 8 of us to sound good and that she was much better than any of us, including me. Finally, this guy said: “She is different and you do not belong with her.” I then proudly said: “Of course she is different, she’s a Soprano, and is great for us as a group. We all bring a new and vibrant energy – that’s why we are successful. She can sing spirituals, I can sing Polish Christmas songs and John can sing Irish pub songs. She’s just Joni and I’m just Jim.” Now the guy was clearly irritated and yelled at me “Yah, but she’s a Negro!” I moved back from him and stated firmly: “Absolutely, and Joni will always be part of this group.”

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