“…but people never forget how you make them feel.”
When Maya Angelou passed earlier in year, Oprah re-aired her 2006 celebration of women entitled ‘Oprah’s Legends Ball’. It was a 2 hour documentary that followed the creation of a 3 day weekend of events put together in effort to recognize and honor 25 women she considered to be Legends in her life. Although I had seen the original showing of the ball, this time while watching, I had a viciously intoxicating hunger to put together my own version of this same event. My motivation: I wanted to publicly honor one of my best friends who had passed of stroke just a few months prior and also recognize some of the living legendary women I know. I inboxed one of my good friends and planning partners about the idea and her response: Do it!
Cut to September 27, 2014.
After about fifty something days worth of incessant planning and a 12-tab spreadsheet to keep me focused, I embarked on the creation of my own Legend’s Ball. I put a spin on the title and named it after my sister-friend, Blanche Jackson, who was affectionately known to many as ‘Queen B’. I called it “The Queen B. Legendary Ladies Ball” and quickly mailed out the Save the Date cards. The invitees were directed to a formal website to key in their RSVP information but were given only basic details about what they were being invited to.
The ball was modeled directly after Oprah’s ball but on a much smaller budget. I spent a couple of days reading interviews, articles, watching videos and taking notes. Oprah’s celebration was a three day event that began with a mixer at her mansion, a formal black-tie ball the next day and ended with a Sunday Gospel extravaganza. I reworked that into two days: Tea & Testimony (at my house) on the first day and a formal ball the next. I was really excited about having an opportunity for women to get dressed up and pampered and then get ‘honored’ for being exactly who they are.
The informal Tea & Testimony was heavy in attendance and mind blowing in emotions. The women arrived to a sea of porcelain teapots, glass teacups, small plates, a mini-food bar (with meatless options), as well as a photographer on hand. Each legend nervously took a seat and probably wondered what exactly she signed up for. I spoke first, sharing some of the highlights of my life’s testimony in order to break the ice. One by one we girls talked our way through our individual experiences and found commonalities that helped make the next woman more comfortable with sharing HER story. Where one woman spoke, another one chimed in to say she too had gone through similar situations. It proved to be liberating. We became vulnerable with each other. There was something distinctive about the collection of our energies within the open space of the house. We didn’t fear each other OR ourselves. We were literally building a healing house together, using our voices as the tools.
We spoke and cried and laughed and sipped more tea and took lots of pictures. We spent five minutes writing a list of things we needed to let go of, as well as love letters to ourselves. Outside, the fire pit was lit and we formed a ground-halo around it as we took turns dropping our Let-It-Go notes in the fire. Together, we each saw our phoenix rise from the ashes that began to form.
After the prayer that followed, there were hugs; lots and lots of hugs. We returned inside and each signed our name to a Vow of Silence and continued to share away our truths. To call this day church would be an understatement. This was boots to the ground! This was Operation: Save Each Other’s Lives.
And there was still one more day to go.
September 28, 2014.
The ball was magical. Held on the near corner of 34th & Clifton in a small black-owned poetry venue, the invitees arrived looking stunning and eager! The photographer was on hand again, this time with a beautifully hand-made backdrop that we finished only minutes before the start. Mini foods kept the guests occupied as they congregated outside while taking selfies and giving hugs. In true Oprah fashion, the guest list was never revealed, so no one really knew who to expect, which made for even more anticipation.
We gathered for a few quick recreations of Oprah’s classic Legends Ball picture and even managed to stop ALL oncoming traffic as we posed in our evening gowns for several photo-ops. Afterwards, the Legends filed along the purple carpet and walked atop rose petals into the ballroom. A feather pen and a guestbook greeted their entry and the chairs were decorated with name cards and gift boxes.
Every detail of the ball had been combed over up until the final seconds prior to it. The room was filled with many connectors to my sister-friend’s memory, including her favorite color (purple) and postcards that were passed out with stroke awareness information. Two well-dressed gentlemen with matching purple cufflinks were known as the ‘Floor Legend Chiefs’ tended to each Legendary Lady’s need, helping to reiterate their legendary status.
The evening unfolded with compelling speeches by two dynamic public speakers/preachers, who were also honorees, as well as a couple of song selections that moved everyone to tears by the legendary soul-singer, Bashiri Asad.
A dedication ceremony, of which we all shared rose petals, sand and purple water beads to the sweet sounds of Use Somebody (covered by Elle Roberts & Theon Lee Jones), ushered in Queen’s spirit in such a resounding way that you could almost see her spirit rocking back and forth on the side of the stage. Her daughter, Godmother and few close friends sat in the front row with teary eyes. After I took to the stage to share my speech, we began the final portion of the night: The reading of “We Speak Your Name” (Pearl Cleage).
This poem was written specifically for Oprah’s ball and I was convinced that we could pull it off the same way she did. The women each had personalized programs with the poem in it, as well as their specific highlighted portion. About 25 women took turns reading aloud a short stanza from this influential poetic work that honed in on the true walk, the spirit and the Light within a Legendary Woman. At Oprah’s ball, each of the honoree’s names was added within the poem and when spoken, they had been instructed to stand. Oprah likened the moment to ‘standing monuments’. I took note of that and switched out their names for ours [within the poem] and requested the same participation. By the end of the poem, we were all standing in what we had created.
We became the ‘standing monuments’.
We had taken our rightful place as Legendary Women.
We not only paid homage to Blanche ‘Queen B.’ Jackson, but we conjured her into the room in high enough magnitudes that it should have moved all of Earth’s plates.
The Legends were all asked to reserve a portion of the rose petals, sand and water beads used for the dedication and at night’s end, it was suggested that they trade with others in the room so that they may take the energy of this night with them and it shall live forever.
This experience was more than I could have ever dreamed it would be. Indianapolis is FULL of women who are legends in their own right, but I didn’t have the power or resources to make this a public event. However, no one needs to TELL you that you are Legend. You only need to believe you have a legacy worth creating and guess what???
YOU GO CREATE IT!
You ARE legendary, not because I said so or someone else said it; rather, because you KNOW so.
I thank God for that initial relentless feeling that said ‘DO IT” and the means to be able to pull it off. I also thank Him (or she) for the support system that helped make it all possible.
And to the Legendary Oprah Winfrey, I owe TONS of thank you’s. Her wisdom and her heart made THIS possible. I thank her for filming such a paramount commemoration and sharing it with the world, for what if I had never seen the Legend’s Ball?
Finally, I salute Queen.
My sister. My friend. My soul mate.
From the eternal living rooms of heaven, she reached back to Earth and in her own true fashion, did something she had always been marvelous at doing: brought people together.
She created a poetic melody so palpable that I could hear the smooth breeze of her voice at the tips of my ears saying ‘keep your head up, never give up.’’
In her name, in her honor, we were all challenged to face our legacies and hers as well. A Queen was not lost. Instead, a Legend was remembered in a room full of Legends.
I would LOVE to have this become an annual event that is open to the public, while honoring local women that are chosen via nominations. I’ve toggled with a lot of recurring events in the past, but this one is one that would honestly serve the women in my community greater and better than anything I’ve ever tried to do. Also, it could generate monies for local business’ and boutiques. Imagine a city full of women getting ready for that day by way of massages, makeovers, evening gown shopping, etc…. If anyone who is reading this blog knows of a way to assist with finding sponsorship for something of this nature (or Oprah if you would donate a startup-fund), please reach out to me via email: email@example.com.
Moving forward, may we ALL continue each day, no matter how hard or how triumphant, remembering that we are not just women out here trying to make it…..
We are Legendary Ladies, out here creating it: the ‘it’ being our individual legacies.
Let us all ‘take off our shoes’ and ‘watch our wands.’
About Januarie York:
Januarie York is from Indianapolis, In and has been writing since she was a young girl. She started performing her poetry in 2003 and hasn’t looked back. Her colorful and descriptive poetry have allowed her to share the stage with some of her mentors and favorites, as well as create her own shows. She has released two spoken word CDs, one chapbook, produced two spoken word shows and is currently writing her first full length book. In addition to poetry, she has done freelance work for several local magazines and websites and is now the City Editor of Insight2Incite Magazine Indy. She also is a contributing writer for several blogs. januarie is well on her way to becoming a premiere and sought out writer of her time and has her performance eyes set on debuting a theatrical poetry show on Broadway, in the footsteps of For Colored Girls. Now is the time to tune in to this self-proclaimed “WomanOfTheArts” is.