I SHOOK HIS HAND! No, really, I did! Who would think a small business owner living in Jackson, Mississippi, would be shaking the hands of so many African-American legends that gave me the option to even be a small business owner in Jackson, Mississippi? Well, it happened while I was witnessing history with my very own eyes on the National Mall with Tom Joyner, who I call Uncle Happenin’.
Our adventure actually started last year. Days before the passing of my father, Albert, my Uncle Happenin’ (and yes, I do call him that) interviewed Dr. Lonnie Bunch, Director of the new National Museum of African-American History and Culture. I was commenting on the amazing feature that premiered on 60 Minutes the night before. I enjoyed hearing the passionate Bunch telling the story of how he brought the history of my ancestors front and center for the entire world to see.
After the show, Uncle Happenin’ flew back to Jackson to check on my Dad at the hospital, and we had a family dinner at my parent’s house. While at the dinner table, I told him how much I enjoyed his interview with Bunch on 60 Minutes. While we discussed what we learned, I saw and heard that same passion in my uncle. Inspired, I made a pact with him, proposing that I go as his date when the museum opened. Without hesitation, Uncle Happenin’ said “Deal” and we shook on it.
After persistent reminders, he kept his promise, and I was off to Washington D.C. The day before the dedication ceremony, Uncle Happenin’ was invited to a reception at the White House and he wanted me to come with him! Never would I ever think I would be attending anything at the White House, especially while our first Black President, Barack Obama, was still in office. As we were making our way there, I was freaking out in excitement.
After going through the rigorous security checkpoint, finally exhaling after we made it, I walked into the East Wing of the White House which looked exactly as I have seen it in the movies and on television. Waiting for the address from the President, I shook hands with people from all over the country who looked just like me. After meeting so many people, I wandered away from Uncle Happenin’ and ended up in front of a guard that said a section of the hallway was closed for a few moments.
Not long after that, the President and First Lady, Michelle Obama, walked through a nearby door. Feverishly taking pictures on my iPhone, I saw the President moving down the line of people, heading in my direction. I waved at him and he extended his right hand, signaling me to connect it with my right hand. That moment felt like both exhilaration and disbelief! It was quickly interrupted by the woman beside me who said “I shook his hand!”
I said, “Yes, I did too!”
Once the First Couple cleared the hallway, I scurried down the hall to find my uncle to tell him the good news.
As we made our way to the next event, I noticed a lot of people stopping us to get Uncle Happenin’s attention. People – some famous faces I recognized – some not – gravitated to him to take selfies, shake his hand and get hugs. He made sure that anyone who wanted to get a picture, got one.
Most of them thanked him for bringing awareness and support to historically Black colleges and universities. This is something I’ve experienced every time I’m with him, but now it means something different. I could truly feel their sense of gratitude and joy as they finally met the voice that wakes them up 6 days a week. I even volunteered to take pictures for them so they would have the memento they deserved.
The next day was even more exciting, because it was the day of the dedication ceremony. The two of us made it to the National Mall expecting to witness an event that would one day be documented in my future children’s history books. I was grinning through the entire program. Both of us were on the edge of our seats, hanging on the profound words spoken by the likes of Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts of Abyssinian Baptist Church, Linda Johnson Rice of Johnson Publications, President George W. Bush, President Obama and Congressman John Lewis, who wrote the bill to get the museum built in 2005.
Then the moment came to open the doors of the museum to the public, which was commemorated by the ringing of the bell from the First Baptist Church in Virginia. Each peal of the ringing bell was so clear and meaningful to me. When I then heard the sounds of additional church bells from nearby churches and cathedrals, I felt so much more gratitude than ever before.
Once inside, the museum was like a time capsule I wanted to thoroughly explore. Uncle Happenin’ and I went through the journey together, learning things about our culture that we never knew. We soaked in artifacts like the Pullman train car that my great-grandfather once worked on and the plane flown by my grandfather, Hercules, and the other Tuskegee Airmen.
I knew Uncle Happenin’ and I had to fly back home, but the two days we spent together made me feel even more proud to be an African-American. I truly appreciated why he’s considered the “Hardest Working Man In Radio!” This trip definitely brought us closer together and I will be forever grateful for it. And as a fan myself, I did take selfies with him, get great hugs, and of course, I got to shake his hand!
PHOTO: Smithsonian Museum of African-American History And Culture