Behind the scenes at THE SPEECH … by Reginald Hudlin, BET President
The DNC was one of the most intense events I ever attended. Like Comicon, E3 and Freaknik squared.
You see folks from every part of your life. I’m talking Jeff Johnson, who his hosting our news coverage, then I see Vada Manager, a buddy since high school, then Omarosa, who asks why didn’t I go to Trump’s party last week – he was looking for me.
Sometimes hard to focus on the speeches. In the skyboxes, everyone is doing business too…at least I am. Folks are pitching shows, trying to give me music demos (why?!!!) and a few real problems get solved, thank goodness.
Wed. night was the Kanye show…great to see him do a relatively stripped down show, even though is space opera is a great concert.
Among the highlights…stripped down the “Flashing Lights” groove and did an Obama freestyle….Jamie Foxx joined him onstage for “Golddigger”, then Kanye called him back up for “Good Life”…we then hopped to another party…there were so many banging parties last week in Denver it didn’t matter which one you were at. No one got more than 4 hours sleep there.
The mix of people is insane. I party a lot with investment bankers…not my usual crew, but surprisingly fun people…at least these were. They are big time supporters of Obama, and hanging with them is an education. A casual conversation can turn into something profound. They size you up pretty quickly and all of a sudden you are having a conversation involving something on a very large scale. This is a side product of politics I didn’t fully appreciate now. Obama, the unlikely candidate, brings unlikely people such as myself, into these worlds.
O Day is a mad scramble. Lotsa folks looking for credentials. Many folks (like me) ended up “credential rich”, which several tickets.
I keep getting emails from my news team saying I need to start heading over. They are at Invesco and describe the crowds as looking like a mass exodus.
We are told NOT to drive the stadium. Fine by me…since all week cars have been futile. The security stops you a mile from the convention and you have walk forever. Women keep their pumps in a handbag and wear flip flops most of the time.
There’s a a bus that supposedly gets you past one of the security checkpoints so I’m down with that.
On the bus I meet a father and son from Oklahoma. They have matching fishing hats and Pearl Harbor Memorial t-shirts. They are the salt of the earth types that you wouldn’t imagine as Obama supporters. They talk about how the local propaganda back home has shifted from Obama is a Muslim to Obama is the anti-Christ. They are fine with the fact that Obama is going to lose their state, but they are doing what they can anyway. They make me proud just to stand next to them.
We go to the BET/Viacom skybox. Kanye stops by, watches the Will.I.Am/John Legend collabo. Kanye’s sees how O’s quotes are turned into lyrics and declares “that’s dope”. While in the skybox, someone taps me on the shoulder. I look in one direction, and see Lynn Whitfield waving “hi”. Look in the other direction, and there is Cornel West and Tavis waving hi.
Later I pop down to say hi to Cornel and Tavis. As i chat with them, I realize there’s someone else in the booth. I look over. It’s Muhammad Ali.
Damn. Royalty, that’s all I can think.
He’s silent, but his eyes twinkle with intelligence and wit. I can’t help but stare. In the front entrance of my home, I have the GOAT book and every day my daughter or I turn a page to reveal a photo from a different period of his life. Now I am here with Howard Bingham (Ali’ photographer), Ali’s wife Lonnie (who seems so nice) and the Man himself.
Then Stevie starts singing. Cornel and I are rocking to the beat. Some folks seated below look up to our booth. We must be quite a sight.
I head back to the booth. It’s cooling off. My wife and I head downstairs, a friend is holding floor seats for us. But it’s too close to zero hour. The whole place, which is mad secure already (cops with straight Robocop body armor are everywhere, snipers on anything tall…this ain’t Dallas ’63) goes into lockdown. My wife says abandon the attempt to get to the floor and try to join our friends in the finance (ie, big donor) section.
We make a run for it. Even getting there is hard. “You got a red pass? You need a blue pass here.” We have to talk our way through several security checkpoints.
Still had great seats, but high up. I turn around, and see Hillary and Antonio Villagarossa (the mayor of LA) sitting in the skybox above me. And is that Sarah Silverman? What is she doing up there?
Folks around me are crying from the minute O appears on stage. I am waving a flag without irony. Obama is dropping so many hip hop quotables in his speech it’s like he’s Rakim, Jordan and JFK wrapped into one. “Enough!”…”8 is enough”….”follow him to where he’s hiding”….”specifics about change”….”own your mistakes”….
By the time he gets to “it’s about you” I turn to a high ranking political friend of mine, and she makes a sideways gesture with her hand….it’s a wrap. It’s over. He’s a genius orator.
Holding this kind of hope in your chest can hurt. Now I get the point of a political convention. it’s viral. Every one leaves feeling the need to go home and work harder. 84,000 people are fired up and ready to go. Folks are making concrete plans to take action back home, where ever that may be.
Afterwards, there is a reception and Obama is supposed to come out. Chillin’ with my crew, then all of a sudden, we are on the move. A new found friend has a pin on his lapel that gives him mad access. Secret Service folks let us pass through a variety of high security areas.
We leave the huge noise of the thousands of people and enter a long, long hallway. It’s a different level than everything else going on. It’s quiet, and empty, except for a secret service agent every ten feet.
I get what’s about to happen and we all start to speed up. As we walk, we see a small group approaching.
They are surrounded by secret service agents. Barack and Michelle. With a few friends…Oprah and Gail, Forest Whitaker and his wife, Mary J. and Kendu, few other folks. All them are crying, or about to, or just finished.
My wife and I are embraced by both. We fall into the crowd and understand why everyone is weepy. It’s a moment between moments, and it’s a pleasure and honor to walk behind them.
After watching Obama give a speech so perfect it’s superhuman, it’s amazing to watch his interaction with his wife. So normal, so human. They are truly unaffected, regular people. He’s thoughtful of her, they both have a great sense of humor.
a surprising number of my friends know Barack and his wife very well. Some went to law school with him, or know him from Chicago…and everyone says he’s just like us, but better. Anyone lucky enough to have personal interaction with them knows very quickly that’s all the attacks on him (elitist, not black enough, etc) are nonsense. He’s the real thing and we’re lucky to have him.