For most of my adolescence, I idolized Barbra Streisand. Long before the talented young actors on Glee began popularizing songs from Funny Girl and Yentl, I was the Greatest Gtar...I was Second-Hand Rose...I was singing to Papa by candlelight and Nobody, No Nobody was gonna Rain on my Parade. In this way, I was sort of a weird kid. I can't explain exactly why I felt such a kinship with Babs, except for maybe I recognized that I, too, have a nose of distinction. But that isn't all. It was her strength that I admired. Her ability to entertain and her sense of the world. Even now, I can't help but weep when I watch her sing. It's involuntary. Like love. And I realize the real reason I related to Barbara is that she gave voice to every feeling I had - even as a small girl. She made it okay to be a clown. To laugh at yourself and at the same time to be a strong woman. To say what you want and expect to get it. And most of all, to speak out against injustice. To not apologize for your convictions.
I used to say I wanted to be the first 'woman' President of the United States, and amazingly, at age 9, I believed in earnest that this was possible. Even when another girl - a friend of mine, who was ever so slightly thinner and therefore more popular announced that she also planned to one day throw her hat into the ring, I wasn't deterred. Such was the power of my fantasy that when Geraldine Ferraro ran for Vice-President, I secretly rooted against her. I saw myself at a podium. Reasoning with Gaddafi, whose bombs I spent many many hours worrying over. World War III, we were told in elementary school, would be the last War. The nuclear war from which only the cockroaches would be left to write about. But on my watch, there would be no war. On my watch, there would be peace. Peace the way Barbra described it in her 1986 ONE VOICE concert.
Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro - who started out as a school teacher in Queens - lost by a landslide to Ronald Reagan, but upon accepting her nomination, addressed a crowd of cheering, tearing supporters with these words: "I stand before you to proclaim tonight: America is the land where dreams can come true for all of us." Indeed, she went on to do great things. As the Ambassador to the United Nations Humans Rights Commission in 1993, she condemned (for the first time) anti-semitism as a human rights violation. After suffering with an extended illness, Geraldine Ferraro died last March. She was only 75, and I wonder what she would have to say about Alabama's new immigration laws. Laws which permit police to "Stop and Ask" individuals within its borders to produce their 'papers'. Legislation which gives the green light to racial profiling and feels eerily like a movie set in Nazi-occupied Europe. Except it's real, and it's happening here - in the Land of the Free.
Today, I get to stand at a podium. I get to talk about human rights and raise awareness about social issues. I get paid to read and write, and maybe I don't have the qualifications - the Ivy League education or the bank account to run for President, but ironically, I am doing exactly what I envisioned. My dream, though in disguise, came true. And I never forget, despite my outrage, that because I live in America, I am allowed to question the leaders of my country. To run my classroom on the following platform: clarity, brevity, simplicity, and humanity. A fortune cookie's description of the basic premises of writing and not too shabby a mantra for life.
Here is a video from Barbra's 1986 concert. I dare you not to cry.