On October 3rd, 1995, I worked for a television service company on the south side of Orlando. That afternoon while in a meeting with other managers, we paused to follow the announcement of the OJ Simpson verdict on national television. 100% of the persons in the meeting were white, while Just outside our door was the customer service floor with a staff that was about 75% black. When the first “not guilty” verdict was announced, the employees outside our meeting room erupted in whoops and cheers and hollers. Inside the room, barely a word was exchanged, and I had a chill run down my spine as I sensed in a most profound way the depth of the racial divide in our society, in my city, and in the company I worked for. Later that week when I attended a networking technology class at Seminole Community College, my African-American instructor felt compelled to devote half the class time to expressing his personal feelings and opinions about the verdict. I considered complaining to the department chair, but did not.
This morning, 13 years later, I was walking across the UCF campus on my way to a meeting and nearby me, going in the same direction, was an African-American student. She was talking on her cellphone about last night’s election results, and how exciting the Obama victory was. She recounted that she called her family, and her father literally could not speak on the phone because he was choked up. She also said she talked to her blubbering grandmother, who had personal experience of being denied the right to vote as a young woman.
I exchanged smiles and head nods with the student as she acknowledged my eavesdropping. And I got chills again. This time, its about narrowing that divide in our society and culture.
A local columnist this morning countered the “Bradley effect” speculation with his original “Oprah effect” thesis. He said that some people such as Oprah can be so successful at connecting with others across racial lines, that they truly transcend that gap. And Barack Obama has clearly done that. I’m proud to be an Obama supporter, and like he said last night, I’m feeling more hopeful today than ever before.