Below is a short story inspired by a conversation I had with my father

He stood at the platform ready to deliver his address. Weeks of intense rehearsal had prepared him for this very moment. As he stood attentively in his grey seersucker suit with his crisp white shirt, and wing tip shoes, he looked like a man destined for success. Although he wasn’t too keen on going to the nail parlor, his advisors insisted that he get a manicure. Their motto was and still is “appearance is perception, and perception is reality.”  Although he didn’t necessarily agree with this statement, subconsciously he knew there was remnant of truth to it.  His résumé suggested that he had been destined to perform on this grand stage.  Although he knew his pedigree was extraordinary, most of the time he felt limited by it.  Was it people’s expectations or he himself that put him there?

As he cleared his throat to get the audience’s attention, time froze. As he peered out and saw the sea of people, his mind left his body and began floating through the crowd. It first stopped on a single mother who finally saw a chance for her two boys to look up to a respectable man of color they could model their behavior after. As she began to weep with happiness, his mind stopped on elderly women from Jamaica who saw an opportunity to be proud of a nation that treated her like a second-class citizen because of her race, nationality, and gender. As tears formed in the wells of her eyes, his mind stopped on a middle-aged Wall Street executive who saw a chance to not be seen as an anomaly in the realm of Black success.  As his mind surfed the crowd he could feel thousands of people laying their hands on his legacy. His success or failure was there success or failure. Although he knew this moment would be nerve wrecking, he couldn’t even fathom that the knots in his stomach would be this painful.

He stood at the platform as man of courage, a man of valor, a man of intellect, and a man of insecurities. His whole life people told him he was special, he was the chosen one, he was God’s gift. But what was he really? A man composed of other people’s perceptions. How could a man who seemed to be the paradigm for success be so unsuccessful in knowing himself?

As he opened his mouth to deliver his first line he heard his mother, the next line he heard his third grade teacher, by the middle of the speech he had heard close to 30 different voices. The voices he heard were of people who impacted his life at some point in time. Soon he realized that his voice was the synthesis of the very people who helped him become him. By the closing line he had loosened up and let the voices of his life takeover. And when he finally stepped away from the podium the crowed erupted in cheer as a thousand people walked off the stage. His voice was the voice of the people.