Oh My Oprah...I Met OPRAH!!

October 8, 2019

After making my way past two men working security at the Westin in uptown Charlotte and two Oprah wranglers to find Joan Zimmerman, I prayed I hadn’t missed my photo op with her and the billionaire media mogul I’ve admired since college.

The UNCF luncheon where Oprah would honor Joan was sold out. Joan, who founded Southern Shows, Inc. with her late husband Robert, told me many months ago that she was to receive an award at the event named after longtime UNCF supporter, Dr. Maya Angelou. Each year, women who are making a positive impact in the Charlotte community are recognized. Joan’s resume not only includes all the big and little jobs that have kept a company like Southern Shows thriving, but she's been involved with the success of numerous non-profit organizations and has already been inducted into the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame.

THIS honor would be different because it would be bestowed upon her by an international superstar!  

I couldn’t believe my eyes when Joan sent an email inviting me to sit at her table at the luncheon. She is a woman I’ve admired since moving to Charlotte and getting involved in marketing the Southern Shows for 107.9 The Link. I was overcome with excitement when Joan sent a follow-up email informing me that the she could select three people to be in her photo with Oprah and I would be one of her picks! OMGGGGG!  What would I wear?!?! What could I possibly say to let these women know how they’ve inspired me? Without gushing like a babbling idiot, how could I sum up my admiration for what they’ve built and how they give back?

As I took my place in line waiting for the photographer to take our picture I chatted with the two other women Joan picked for the portrait: Thelma, a dedicated Southern Shows employee for over 40 years, and a young woman named Desiree, who inspired Joan with how she’s overcome adversity in her life. How did Ramona Holloway get here?!?! My SHEro told me that I was included because I “give so much to so many!” That’s what she thinks….of ME?!! That is exactly how I feel about Oprah and Joan.

Our moment with Oprah was fleeting. Handlers took our purses and cell phones and we gathered around her for the picture. I uttered, “it is so nice to meet you” and she said the same. All of the other clever things I’d practiced escaped me in that instant. The hours that I’d spent contemplating the right dress and right hat seemed silly. The mental gymnastics my brain performed as I drove to the luncheon filled with anxiety melted away.  I went from not feeling successful enough to socialize with this crowd of over-achievers to feeling grateful to be in the swirl of excitement that seems to surround Oprah’s every word and movement.

After the photo experience I was left wondering how many people it takes to manage an icon. Did she travel with a team of a dozen or perhaps one hundred people? There was a WW (Weight Watchers) display in the lobby and surely she didn’t fly American Airlines like most Charlotteans.  Before making a matching fundraising donation of over $1,000,000 Oprah said it took $125,000 for her to go ANYWHERE. There’s the private jet, pilot, crew, airport fees, security, hair, makeup…

The woman who gave Oprah’s introduction made it clear that only a small fraction of her giving makes headlines. On a local level, I can say the same for Joan. When I was seeking guidance and funding sources for a non-profit earlier this year, I reached out to Joan to help identify an “angel funder.”  Everyone who planned to make a donation at the UNCF luncheon had been given a paddle for bidding. I noticed Joan didn’t have one. I knew it was because she had already given GENEROUSLY and PRIVATELY. We know just enough about these women to understand that they HAVE a legacy but we’ll never truly know the scope.

Joan was seated at a table in the center of the ballroom with Oprah while I took a seat at a table nearby with Thelma, Desiree and Joan’s family.  When her Oprahness entered the room people began standing just to get a peek at the woman who usually stares at them from the other side of a screen. It was if she was electric.

I left that gathering with a better understanding of how family ties have played a major role in the lives of these women. Oprah spoke of learning to read and learning about Jesus from her grandmother, a domestic worker, and of her complicated relationship with her mother. Her address touched me and in typical Oprah/Maya fashion. She spoke the words my soul needed to hear. Here are a few of the lessons I learned:

It doesn’t surprise me that Oprah considered Maya Angelou her “other mother.” We don’t always get what we need from our birth parents, but we can and should seek guidance from others with insight. Get a mentor.

Let go of your pain. During her address, Oprah told everyone in attendance that true forgiveness is experienced when you can sincerely thank the person who wronged you for the lesson you learned from them.

Oprah admitted that one of her shortcomings as an employer is that she gives people too many chances to show her that they aren’t good for the team. Remember your lessons so you don’t repeat your mistakes.

There's a difference between being prideful and accepting deserved praise. There is no need to try to convince people that you’re “not full of yourself.” What I think of myself is important. You absolutely should own your accomplishments.

Take time for yourself. Morning meditation and prayer sets the tone for self-care. You can’t fill the cups of your family, friends, customers and or employer if you haven’t filled your own cup first. Taking care of yourself isn’t an option, it's a necessity.

Thank you Oprah and Joan for an unforgettable Saturday afternoon. Congratulations UNCF Charlotte for surpassing your fundraising goals, and for bringing together the most amazing group of women I’ve ever seen!