It was a typical morning and I was on my way to deliver a keynote speech for the tremendously prestigious firm, Fidelity Investments. On the day, my Speaking Manager Champ Nichols, informed me that this keynote would be different from any I had delivered previously, as I would be speaking on a yacht. This was a first, and I was looking forward to it.
So we arrived at the pier and boarded this beautiful yacht. It was a cold and misty New York morning. As we pulled away from the dock I began to go through my normal ritual, I prayed, thanking God for the opportunity to speak to people who want to be inspired by what I have to say. I started to go over the speech I was about to deliver.
Then they introduced me, I ran upstairs, and began my keynote. The energy in the room was electric and the crowd and I were feeding off of each other.
I was rocking back and forth on this beautiful boat, enjoying myself and trying to deliver my best keynote ever. About 45 minutes into the speech, I suddenly felt the boat slowing down, and something came over me.
I turned around, and there she was; the beautiful majestic statue that we have come to know as Lady Liberty, the strongest woman I’d ever known. She has seen it all: hurricanes, harsh winters, lightning strikes, several wars come and go. And she managed to stand strong for over a century. There she was, delivering on a promise that she made to me 35 years ago.
See, you have to understand; I grew up in Hollis, Queens, a borough of New York City. As a kid, I had ambitions to be somebody special, but as the reality of my surroundings settled in, I began to lose hope. People used to tell me and my friends that we wouldn’t live to see 21, and that if we did we’d be in jail. I began to think that certain things were out of reach for me, as many kids still believe today. Then, one day we took a class trip to see the Statue of Liberty. When we got to Liberty Island, we learned the history of the statue. We learned that Lady Liberty was a gift from France, given to us on October 28th, 1886.
The President of the French Anti-Slavery Society, Édouard René de Laboulaye gave her to us when we abolished slavery after the civil war. The broken shackle on her foot symbolizes the beginning of the end of oppression and tyranny.
Our teacher went on to tell us some of the other reasons why Lady Liberty is significant. She said that from 1886-1924, over 14 million immigrants passed by the statue. It was a sign of refuge for the poor and those escaping persecution, in search of new start in the land of unlimited opportunity. Lady Liberty’s torch was a beacon of light, and a sign of hope for the disenfranchised who endured weeks at sea, dreaming of a better life in America. In the World Wars, she was the first and last thing soldiers would see as they departed and returned to America ready to sacrifice their lives reinforcing all of the freedoms that were fighting for.
When the towers would fall, she would stand tall and be a symbol of strength that as Americans we would get through these times together.
Lady Liberty made a promise to those people and to me as a child on my school trip. That promise was: if you work hard enough, you can be anybody you want to be in America, regardless of color, creed, gender etc.
So now here I am, standing there in the middle of the harbor on a magnificent yacht delivering my speech to some of the most influential people in the finance industry directly under Lady Liberty.
It hit me! The child that visited her 35 years ago has now come full circle and stands before her as a notable man. She delivered on her promise to me, as she did for millions before me. I began to tear-up, thinking of how she made good on her word to the immigrants and the soldiers and now she was doing it for me, the little brown boy from Queens. I became somebody some people look up to and respect, all on the shoulders of my hard work and the opportunities that my forefathers and this country has given me. Just like my mother, Liberty has been reliable and strong but I never got the chance to formerly thank her.
As we began to pull away, I realized that Lady Liberty has always been there for me and will always be there for anyone in need of inspiration and a reminder of what makes this country so great. I took a picture of her that day and said goodbye for now, knowing that she would always be there for me and would never leave me.
My friend Champ Nichols always tells me to “appreciate the small accomplishments”, but looking at Lady Liberty that day made me realize that there were some pretty big accomplishments for me to appreciate as well. This is not an uncommon story. It is what bonds us; a promise that we share with our children, who will share it with their kids, that with hard work will come success. What is your Lady Liberty story? How many of your ancestors were greeted by her when they arrived in this country? I would love to hear your thoughts in the Comments Section below or hit me on Facebook or Twitter. If you’ve never seen her in person, I would highly suggest you cast your eyes on her. You will never forget her!!
Despite all that she’s been through, she never looks more beautiful than when she is illuminated by lights on the day that we celebrate our independence . Thank you Lady Liberty for all that you represent!
Happy 4th of July to all!