By Mensimah Shabazz
I cannot start this conversation without mentioning Ms. Aretha Franklin. I was extremely lucky to be invited to President Clinton’s Second Inaugural Ball on January 20, 1997, at the Kennedy Center. If you have attended one of these events, you would know it is a long night, a lot of standing in anticipation of the arrival of the President and First Lady. They perform a dance and then they leave to the next destination. Then the real party begins. I am not attempting to throw shade at the President and First Lady. After all, they were the reason for the evening. I was an ardent FOB (friend of Bill’s) and I was with Her in 2016! But when you have Ms. Franklin step on stage and sing, you know you are in for a real treat! If I could call this a concert, it was one of the best I have experienced, and I have been to a few–Beyonce, Janet Jackson, Usher, Ms Tina Turner, Lionel Ritchie, Fela, and Hugh Masekela, to name a few.
But back to Ms. Franklin.
When Aretha Franklin sang any of her [famous] songs, you had no doubt that she meant every word, every note, and the heart she puts in it. It seemed effortless. As a woman, she was very successful in her chosen field. She was a mother and also faced real challenges like the rest of us.
Oftentimes, we assume that people with that level of success may have an easier life than we do. That could not be further from the truth. She endured the challenges most women go through—heartbreak, raising children, betrayals, taking care of an aging parent, and also being socially responsible. All these changing dynamics played out publicly. There were also competitors, critics, managers, and agents to deal with. You find other stars who choose careers in similar fields end up feeling burdened by it, and so they choose a way to blunt those feelings, which takes them on a downward spiral.
Most of us are fortunate to live our lives quietly. Our life experiences, circumstances or situations may be very similar, but our advantage lie in the privilege of privacy and space we have to discern our best approach to resolving these problems. We, like Aretha, must rely on our innermost strengths to enable us stand tall. Our lives may not be easy by any means but the pressures are much less for those who don’t live in the spotlight.
Whoever we are, when we falter in the belief that we are strong enough to hold our own, the journey becomes harder, long and more arduous. But it is imperative for each of us to hold it all together, oftentimes not only for our own sake but for our children, and others who will follow our example. Our power lies in our ability to nurture our own spirits first, and then extend to our families, friends, and community.
What Aretha Franklin taught us first and foremost was to recognize the gifts we bring to this world and to step into it with our full might. If you are good at making coffee, or cooking, or writing, or dancing, just do each with open, clear, strong, and full heart. It does not mean that what makes us vulnerable will disappear. It means that we can overcome our vulnerabilities and still shine and experience joy.
I tell most of my clients, family, and friends that sometimes we try too hard. Our efforts to be “successful” have been ingrained to the levels that our outside activities or yearnings override what is within us. But the latter is more important. Feeling empty inside does not yield external success.
And we often forget: none of us have been promised tomorrow. It is the moment to moment living that we find joy, and we find the tools we need to move forward the next day. I believe it is our heartfelt efforts in our engagements that trigger our external success and recognition.
When we give everything we do our all, I believe we touch the hearts of many more people in our world by default, and we all become better off for it. I believe what makes walking the path of authenticity the platform for salvation is that we are blessed with the ability to nurture everything within and outside of us. If we found ourselves carrying the load, but at the same time finding grace in our everyday opportunities, carrying ourselves with dignity, and sharing our stories to uplift others, we in concert with Aretha, would become iconic in our parts of the world and earn the ultimate R-E-S-P-E-C-T.