Sunday, August 1, 2010

Part 2 - I Meet the President of Liberia

In Part 1 of my adventure to give a copy of my book, Sweet Liberia, Lessons from the Coal Pot to the President of Liberia, I’m expressing the intention. What happened next was pure serendipity. The lesson for me was that when I have, what appears to be an impossible idea, but something inside urges me to move forward, MOVE FORWARD!

My first break came when I mentioned to a friend who had purchased my book that I wanted to give a copy to the President of Liberia. Instead of saying, something non-committal, she said, “She’s an AKA, and she’ll be at our AKA convention.
I replied, “You are an AKA, can you give it to her for me?” to which she replied, “Why not give it to her yourself?” She promised she would do what she could to help me. Meanwhile, another good friend, coincidentally an AKA, planned to drive to St Louis, and when she told me that, I knew that this was the Universe opening a way for me. Did I forget to mention that my younger sister Yvonne just happens to live in St. Louis!

My friend and I drove down on July 10th in plenty of time for the private book signing my sister and her husband had planned for me and in time to attend the Public Forum of the AKA sisterhood, held at the America’s Convention Center, on Sunday, July 11th.

As we sat in the nosebleed section of the Convention auditorium, I was feeling a bit discouraged. The program was exciting and as one who had never joined a sorority I was impressed by the number of women present, the level of organization, the level of their philanthropy, and the fact that many of the female movers and shakers of our country are sorority members, particularly AKA, the oldest Black sorority. Nevertheless, I hadn’t a clue how to make the leap from the nosebleed section of the Convention Center, to the President of Liberia. I had the fleeting thoughts of going back to my sister’s comfortable home and curling up on her couch with a bowl of ice cream for comfort.

Then I saw them! Women wearing the colorful lappa suits I used to wear in Liberia and I knew that they must be either with the President or with a delegation planning to see her. By now, the first floor was crowded but some women had left and there was seating on the main floor. We raced to find the lappa suits!
When we did, I began speaking in my rusty Liberian English, “Hello Yah,” I said, attempting to make the connection that I too wanted to see the president. An ordained minister from downstate Illinois served as escort for the native women. He was a warm person, listening to my story of formerly having been a long-time resident of Liberia, who had written a book that I wanted to give to Madame Sirleaf. He seemed amused and a bit of hesitant. Finally, I won him over and he invited me to stay with them and follow them when the group was called! My sister Yvonne later told me that she read disbelief on people’s faces, but I was in the ‘zone’ and didn’t feel anything but the need to connect.

Now seated on the first floor, in the VIP seating, I was on pins and needles, while watching President Sirleaf receive a check from her sorority sisters in the amount of ½ million dollars to a project that would educate the women of Liberia. When the purpose of the money was stated, the Liberian woman behind me burst into tears and, I can’t explain it, but I began crying too. I know what education can mean for Liberian women. My tears reminded me that feelings that had long been buried were being excavated.

After the check presentation and President Sirleaf’s response, I found us hurriedly ushered to a small waiting area behind the stage and as the President’s security allowed the Liberian delegation entry, I felt it necessary to explain my special mission. They were polite, told me to make sure I did not interfere with any of the official protocol planned, and accepted samples of the bookmarks and palm cards advertising Sweet Liberia, Lessons from the Coal Pot.

Then I saw a woman who looked just like president Sirleaf, only smaller, and realized that this genial looking woman was probably her sister Jennie Bernard. I greeted her and expressed my intention of presenting her sister a copy of my book. She smiled as if to say, “try.”

Then Madame President entered, escorted by her staff. There was a flurry of dignitaries taking turns to speak with her. We took a few group photos into which my sister and I squeezed ourselves and then the conversations continued. Finally, someone turned to me and said “your turn sister” and all reservation left me; this was my moment!

“President Sirleaf, I appreciate all that you are doing for Liberia and will do. I met you years ago. I was introduced to you by Anna Cooper, when I worked as Directress at the Liberian National Red Cross.” She looked at me searching her memory and said, “that was way back.” She was right, it was 1982 or 83.

Now that I had her attention, I rattled off something about my book being about my positive experiences in Liberia, and asked if she would honor me by accepting a copy. I had already autographed the book and enclosed a letter of introduction so she would know that I was not a lunatic…or maybe not. And then I pulled out my felt signing pen and my marked up copy her book, “This Child Will Be Great,” which my sister conveniently handed me, (thank God for sisters that have your back), and asked her if she would autograph my copy. As she did, cell phone cameras whizzed. The professional photographer stepped in front of my sister to get the shot, blocking out her camera, much to my sadness.

The whole event was surreal and wonderful. However, the absolute capstone moment of my day was shortly after speaking with President Sirleaf, while my sister and I reveled in the victory. I received a call from my youngest son who was deep inside the memories of our life in Liberia and wanted to tell me that he loved me and to thank me for writing the book, and for his experiences in Liberia. I have not had a perfect life but I have led an interesting life. I look forward anxiously for my next adventure!