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Straight No Chaser: Revisiting Experiences That Have Come Full Circle

Op/Ed By Gloria Winston Al-Sarag


gloria newRecent events have led me down memory lane, to take inventory, and to realize that change is not only coming, it’s here. For those who haven’t heard about it yet, while I was in attendance at the New York State Black and Puerto Rican Conference Scholarship Dinner recently, I was given a personal shout-out by my friend Donna Brazile during her keynote address.

The shout-out had been connected to the fact that she and I worked together on Rev. Jesse Jackson’s first presidential bid.

Now, if you don’t know who Donna Brazile is, then you should stop reading, and go do some research on this awesome, brilliant woman.

She not only worked for Shirley Chisholm and Coretta Scott King, she ran Al Gore’s presidential campaign.

At the age of 19, she also organized the second march on Washington, if history serves me correctly.

Working alongside Donna Brazile will be a chapter in itself, in my soon-to-be published book that will cover my political journey. Many people have likely not been aware that I was the only national staff person on the reverend’s campaign from Rochester.

I worked for him in a variety of capacities. I not only worked on his schedule, with his capable personal assistant Sylvia Branch, but, with her guidance, I also helped the reverend secure the release of Lt. Robert Goodman, a man who’d found himself captive at the hands of Syrians.

Under the supervision of the first office manager, Mary Bates Washington, I also answered phones and assumed reception duties. However, after helping to set up state and city offices across the U.S., I had gotten cabin fever, and sought approval to go organize GOTV(Get Out The Vote) campaigns in nine states, under the leadership of now-D.C. City Councilwoman, Anita Bonds.

There was reluctance on the part of the campaign manager, Arnold Pinkney, to let me travel, because I had no national constituency. However, due to my local relationships, and the fact that the campaign manager had known our then-City Council Member, Ruth Scott, personally (they were both from Cleveland); he gave her a call, and then allowed me to go.

The next thing I knew, I had been on a plane; the first stop had been Detroit, and I’d had the distinct honor of sharing a program with Minister Louis Farrakhan.

However, if I tell you much more, you won’t read or buy my book, so I will stop the reminiscing right about here.

Donna Brazile is someone I had not laid eyes on in 30 years.

When she wrote her book “Cooking with Grease,” she called me, and asked me to send her some anecdotes from the campaign, and promised if she used any of them, I would be credited.

Well, she didn’t, and I wasn’t.

I first saw her, prior to the dinner in the hotel we both happened to be staying at, while I was with my mayor and my sis, Constance Mitchell-Jefferson.

However, we had been dressed to the nines, and she was not, so she refused to take pics with us until she had gotten dressed.

It was a promise she kept after the dinner.

During her speech, when she gave me a shout-out, I could not stop the flow of my tears. It was amazing to think how, after 30 years, she remembered little old me. And, when I got the opportunity to thank her for the shout-out, and to tell her how honored I was she remembered me after all these years, her response was, “Who could forget you, Gloria Winston!”

It was something I consider to be the ultimate compliment, from a woman who is still in the trenches, revolutionizing politics in her own way.

Lately, when I think about the recent political actions of Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar, I can see that revolution in full bloom, culturally. I don’t expect others will see what I see, but both these young artists have more than gambled with their careers by making the statements they have recently made. They have not only sought to educate their followers, and the community, they’ve stepped to the truth with a sense of boldness, and they have been unafraid of any consequences.

And, witnessing Minister Louis Farrakhan offer the Fruit of Islam (FOI) as replacements for the police, who’d claimed they would not protect Beyoncé, was just as inspiring. If you are not aware of who the FOI are, then let me give you another glimpse into my upcoming book, and into my experience with them.

The national campaign office for Rev. Jackson was normally not open on Saturdays, but I had been asked, as a receptionist with keys, to make sure it would be open on this specific Saturday, because the reverend had scheduled some high-level meetings with folks. I  also worked closely with the Secret Service, and had arrived in time for them to do their normal “sweep,” before the reverend arrived.

After their sweep, they took their positions by the door, and awaited the arrival of the reverend, and his guests.

I’d had, next to me, the approved list of expected visitors. And, as we were waiting for the reverend, four distinguished brothers in bow ties, and suits, showed up at the door.

They announced they had been sent by Minister Farrakhan.

They walked in, and headed to the offices to conduct their own “sweep,” and two posted themselves by the front door.

Needless to say, once the lead Secret Service agent realized these brothers were not on my list, he’d become belligerent, and told them they had to leave, all the while fidgeting with his holstered gun.

However, the brothers completely ignored the agent’s request.

I have to admit it was a very scary moment for me, because I knew Secret Service agents were under much pressure, and constantly trying to prove to all concerned they had Rev. Jackson’s best interest at heart.

However, the brothers did not move.

Two had been on the outside, and two were on the inside, standing at attention, refusing to acknowledge the agent’s request.

A sense of respect, and pride came over me, and I could not stop the water from coming from my eyes.

Here were brothers who had come prepared to die for what they believed in, no doubt about it. They had, in their possession, the same spirit as the Black Panthers who’d stood strapped to the Capitol steps in Sacramento, back in the day.

After totally ignoring the agents’ request to leave, the frustrated lead agent asked them what their reason was for being there. One of the brothers responded, “We are here to protect the reverend!!”

The lead agent then proclaimed loudly, “That is what we are here for!!”

One of the brothers responded, calmly and emphatically, “We know, we are here to make sure you do your job!!”

Beyoncé,  you will be in good hands, with the Fruit of Islam as your protectors, trust me. That’s the way it should be. We shouldn’t be relying on others to look out for our own!

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