So it was the Summer Olympics of 1996 in Atlanta, GA. My wife and I were down there as guests of CNN and Time Inc. (I think). It’s hard to remember cause back around then print and “traditional” media was still flying high and it would be a couple of years before the “world wide web” would clip their wings. Being in a decision making capacity from a major advertiser meant you got to go to a lot of neat places where you spent your company’s money. Ahh the good old days!
Anyway, during the day the media hosts would shuttle you from event to event and lead you with their little signs like school kids on tour. It was cool because you got to go in ahead of all the folks that paid for their own ticket. Then at night they would host a fabulous dinner at a fabulous restaurant and you would be surrounded by fabulous people. Often, they would have a prominent guest join your table, which of course introduced a whole other level of anxiety.
One evening, our prominent guest was the Reverend Jesse Jackson. We all had our circles within circles over cocktails and I noticed several of the media big wigs commanding his attention. Being one who likes to look more than listen, I had a hard time focusing on the blabber in my circle and instead kept looking over at the Jackson Circle. They had a very predictable and professional conversation underway with backs stiff, cocktails held firmly, and an occasional audible “ahaha!”
Before we sat down I saw him excuse himself and go down the corridor and go behind partitions that were there to separate us from the food prep. I wondered what was going on in there? Who is he meeting with? What are they doing? So I feigned a men’s room break and walked over and peeked in. I thought maybe I would get a glimpse of some other big power figures he needed to chat with secretly or something. Or maybe it was his escape hatch from us.
What I witnessed I’ll never forget. He walked in and greeted all the cooks and the servers. At first they were shocked and held in disbelief. Then every face lit up as they realized who was in the room and that he made a point to come in and speak with them! Keep in mind it was a high pressure moment with lots of food being prepared and about to be served. But then there was more. He asked them to all bow their heads in prayer and he asked for God’s blessing on them. And just like that it was over – time to get back to work.
I walked back to my table where the blabbering was still going strong, providing a certain din that is common in events like this. Reverend Jackson came back, and then the servers all came out in military precision serving one of the finest meals ever. No one else in the room knew what just went down.
My wife sat near Rev. Jackson and at the time she served on our board of education. Soon thereafter Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition came and marched though our town center. My wife joined him in that march and I’m proud of her for it. I don’t remember where I was that day – too busy I guess.
But, getting back to what I saw behind that partition. It really sunk in much later that I was the only one from that corporate group that got to see Jesse Jackson pray and bless the folks that were “behind the partition.” There were no cameras there. No reporters. No selfies. No sound bites. No memes produced. No social postings. Nothing was posed or planned. It was a genuine moment that impacted the life of every person in that back room. And me, whose need to be nosey for once paid off.
I can’t remember any of the events that we saw, and I can’t remember any of the conversations from the cocktail blabber. But I think about the people and the prayer I witnessed quite often and how it asked me to listen better with my eyes, and see better with my ears.