Green Bay – The Road Trip

When you think like champions, practice like champions, and play like champions, you are champions.

If you ever go to Green Bay, Wisconsin, make sure you visit Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers. Take a guided tour of the stadium. And, for sure, you may also find it only fitting to pay homage to one of the legends of American football, Earl Louis Curly Lambeau.

In 2018, I traveled to Green Bay with my daughter, Phylicia, to check off one of her bucket lists items. Our road trip felt like we were on a pilgrimage as I watched her experience one of her happiest days at an almost empty stadium. I had bitter-sweet memories of those times she sat in a corner like Jack Horner, eating humble pie. At the same time, the rest of the family celebrated with our heroes during the Niners’ glory days. Yes, game days were challenging for the family whenever the packers were in town. But, while she was cheering for the Packers, everyone else was for the forty-niners.

That day she was all smiles as we admired the trophies and magnificence of Lambeau Field. The many Super Bowl trophies with Lombardy’s words of wisdom adorning the walls of the stadium. One that stopped me dead in my track: “There is only one way to succeed in anything, and that is to give it everything.” Still, I kept thinking, where did I go wrong as a father? But, as the tour progressed and the story of Curly unfolded, I was reminded of one of my first parenting lessons. We make our kids, but not their choices. That day, I was the one eating crumbs off my daughter’s humble pie as our tour guide spoke about the life and loves of Curly Lambeau. His coaching philosophy was simple; when you think like champions, practice like champions, and play like champions, you are champions.

Curly Lambeau was an outstanding player at Green Bay East High School, where football was like a religion. And curly was very religious. After graduating from high school, he fulfilled his childhood dream of playing college football at Notre Dame for the legendary coach, Knute Rockne. However, curly returned to Green Bay after only his first season with Notre Dame and never returned to the college. Some say it was because of injuries; others claimed it was because of his inadequate finances. But I believe it was because of his love for his girlfriend Marguerite, who became his first wife. Oh, Curly was known to be quite a lover and could sell snow to Eskimos. He even had two more wives before his sunset in June of 1965. When asked in what was his final interview if he had any regrets in life, he said: “My only regret was that I didn’t start two teams back in 1918.”

The story of the Green Bay Packers dates back to 1918n when Curly returned to Green Bay from Notre Dame. Curly took a job at the Indian Packing Company but continued his love affair with football. You see, Football was not a profession until the mid-1920s. Salaries for the top players were between 100 and 300 dollars per game. Still, in 2017, Curley jumped at the opportunity when he learned about a Community League that was about to begin in Green Bay. The fee to join was $50.00. Curly, with his smooth-talking, convinced his management at the packing company to pay the startup fee, which they did reluctantly. And, the Indian Packing Company Football Team was born to boost morale at their meatpacking facility.

Sadly, the novelty soon wore off, and in less than two years, it was curtains for the league and the team. The following year, Curley learned about the formation of a National League. However, the signup fee for that league was a whopping $150.00. Curly again approach his management, who politely told him to get lost. Who wouldn’t have loved to be a fly on the wall to hear his pitch, as he was told: “Come on, you waisted our $50.00 just a year ago!” But Curly would not be denied. Finally, his management relented when they learned about a plan, Curly and his buddy from his high school, George Whitney Calhoun, who was in the newspaper business. The Indian Packing Company Football team was restarted and admitted to this newly formed football league called – The NFL. Yes, the same NFL we know today.

The team needed Additional funds to purchase uniforms, gear, and other necessities. So together, Curly and Calhoun came up with a genius plan, selling Zero valued shares. The shared offer nothing to the buyers, only bragging rights, nothing more, nothing less. To this day, Green Bay is the only sports franchise that is of the people, for the people, and by the people. There is even an ongoing waiting list of prospective buyers today. That startup fee that was about $500.00 is also known as one of the most significant ROI – Return on Investment in the world of sport and business. The Green Bay Packers as a franchise is now worth over 2.7 billion dollars. Ironically, the name change from the Indian Packers was initiated by Margarete when she shouted – For goodness’ sake, Curly, why don’t you call the darn team the Green Bay Packers and stop this? “Indian Packing business – You are now a professional ballplayer man.” The new name stuck, and the team became – The Green Bay Packers.

In case you are wondering, who is still the Packers fan? My daughter Phylicia still is. But after that tour, I now have nothing but respect and admiration for the Green Bay Packer. Yes, I am still a Niner. On our way home, I had to ask my fabulous daughter again why – what on earth made you such a fan of the Green Bay Packers. Was it because of your favorite play Bret Favre, or was it Curly? What was the attraction? Still clutching her single share certificate offer, which added her to their waiting list, with a smile, she said: Dad, who would not like to be part of a team owned by their fans. Players will come, and players go, but the true fans will always remain. Is there any other team that is of the people, for the people, and by the people? It’s not just the players. Dad, it’s the fans and the community of Green Bay that make their team true Champions.

Do you Check-in with your audience

When you want to be heard, don’t follow the herd

Check-in if you want to be checked-out

A proven way to engage audiences in the first minute of your speech is to use a check-in. When you don’t check-in, your audience may just check-out. Many professional speakers will tell you that you may never get back that audience once you lose them in that first minute of your presentation. Checking-in with your audience is an invitation to get them involved. It’s like opening the doors to say welcome, let’s talk. That moment you take to acknowledge your audience will pay huge dividends to you, that audience, and most importantly, your judges when speaking competitively.

The best check -ins are questions, aroused curiosity, or conflict. However, you should also be aware that some check-ins can cause your audience to immediately check-out from you and your presentation. For example, overused openings like: “Have you ever….” When the second half of that question does not stimulate curiosity or excitement in your audience’s minds, that check-in may be a check-out. The next time you have the urge to open with: “have you ever,” try building the curiosity you are seeking with the word:” Imagine.

Speakers can find many excellent check-in examples in some of the Toastmasters World Champions of Public Speaking speeches. One example that immediately comes to mind is Darren LaCroix’s question while lying face down on stage. In the opening of his championship speech: Ouch, he asked: “did I stay down too long – have you ever stayed town too long.” That was one of the most memorable lines of that speech. Another excellent check-in was by Lance Miller – Do you validate.? Again, these are all questions strategically placed to open the doors to establish a connection with their audience. Notice, they all little questions that produce huge results.

Sometimes you can also connect with your audience by addressing the deliberately placed elephant in the room. David Brooks used that technique when he won the Championship in 1990. For his presentation, he wore jeans and a tuxedo. And, what did he do? He used this check-in: “in case you are wondering, some of us do dress this way down here?” His check-in was relevant to the 1990 current events and the situation in the country when the famous was becoming infamous – Sounds familiar – He did his homework, and it worked.  

It’s wise to know as much as possible about your audience’s expectations and demographics, age, background, and gender. Another technique commonly used by Toastmasters and by Jazz musicians too is the call and response technique.  At the beginning of the presentation, the speaker or performer frames questions to connect with their audience. For example, a speaker may ask questions related to the topic they are about to present. This technique is helpful when the speaker is not familiar with the audience they are facing. It can build confidence and quickly help establish parameters with that audience.  

The more you know about your audience, their likes, dislikes, and expectations, the easier it is to establish a connection. Keeping your audience engaged from start to finish begins with your opening. Then, a strong introduction sets the tone for the remainder of the speech. At every step of the way, you must know what you want your audience to think, feel or do. Speakers must also know how much is too much or how long is too long. Speakers must also listen to feedback but go with their gut feelings. “When you want to be heard, don’t follow the herd.” Instead, take the obstacle course or the proverbial road less traveled. And when you are a speaker who is known for checking in with audiences and keep them engaged, soon audiences from all over will be checking-in to just to check you out.

All Speaking is Public Speaking

You cannot unsay what was said

My first speaking coach once said to me, all speaking is public speaking. Whether you are giving a prepared speech, an Impromptu talk, a Table Topic, or even speaking with friends and family, you are public speaking. For that reason; speakers must always choose their words carefully. You can undo what was done, but you cannot unsay what was said. Good public speakers strive to speak with empathy, good tone, and vibe when speaking on or off the platform. They know what you practice, becomes permanent. They also learn and exercise the essentials of good communication. They open with short introductions, followed by the premise of their story, the story, before closing with a summary or conclusion. Their communication is always clear, concise, and engaging.

Table topics are one to two minutes long. Prepared and impromptu speeches are five to seven minutes. Call them whatever you wish; once they have an opening, body, and conclusion with a topic and purpose, they are speeches. And they should always be delivered as such to the audiences you are addressing. When delivering any of the thirteen different types of speeches, if you practice using the same delivery style as you would in your everyday speaking experiences, over time you too will notice a tremendous improvement in your ability to communicate effectively.

Preparation is your key to success as a speaker. Dr. Ralph Smedley, the founder of Toastmasters, often said “A prepared speaker should never be nervous.” However, today speakers must stay prepared. While we should always prepare for any speaking assignment, there will be times when you didn’t get prior notice. That’s when staying prepared pays huge dividends. It is great to have one or two pocket speeches you can deliver at a moment’s notice.  However, here are a few more ideas to help you stay prepared. Keep a list of one, two or three-word topics which you can comfortably speak on, anytime, anywhere. Build and keep a story file from your life experiences. Begin with that single word that is the trigger, which always leads you to reflect on each experience. From that single word, you can build an idea, topic, and story.

Your single word can also lead you to a foundational statement. Next, add one or two related words to develop your topic title. For example: Your first word can be Love.  A related word can be Marriage. You now have your topic title from those two related words: Love and Marriage. Another approach is to use categories: Here are a few: Good Times, Rookie Mistakes, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. You can also string two related table topics into a single five-to-seven-minute speech. Have fun developing your ideas into topics and titles. Titles also make good openings for your presentations. Don’t make them too complex; make them memorable. If your topic echoes universal experiences, that will prepare your audience for what is to follow. Silently they should be saying, tell me more, tell me more.

When speakers accept that all speaking is public speaking, they will notice significant improvements in their ability to connect with audiences.  It doesn’t matter if they are on or off the platform.  With every opportunity to communicate with others, their confidence grows.  When impromptu speaking, they will feel prepared, because they have stayed prepared. Use your everyday conversations to develop your communication skills. You will notice your transformation into a speaker who can take you on a journey, and not just tell you a story about a journey. Speakers who can bring the person they are off the platform, to the platform, are the ones who speak from the heart, and truly believe that all speaking is public speaking.

Your Natural Speaking Voice

The breath must be under perfect control.

Do you know the sound of your natural speaking voice? If you listened to a short statement read by you and seven of your friends recorded weeks earlier, could you identify which voice was yours? Whenever I listen to some of the great speakers of yesterday and today, I realize how critical it is to find your natural speaking voice. Notice the pitch, range, and timbre of the speakers you admire. They understand the importance of inhalation of air when speaking and the control required in its emission.

Many of us depart from our natural breathing as infants with age and development. We use almost exclusively the upper portion of our lung capacity. To develop proper resonance, flexibility, and vocal beauty, focus on correcting how you breathe and correcting that condition called shallow breathing. How you breathe determines the quality of your natural speaking voice.

Before you can improve your speaking voice, you must recognize it. It is the tone and pitch we all use in our everyday communication. There is no need to look much further. Observe the pitch you would typically default to if you were to start humming. Notice the ease and comfort you feel instead of when trying to hum at a lower or higher pitch. William Shakespeare, the famous English poet, and playwright (1564-1616), said it best. He had this to say about finding your beautiful tone when speaking or singing.

Two factors are necessary: 1.The breath must be under perfect control. 2. You must train your vocal organs to act with unconscious ease. Without proper breath control and freedom of the vocal muscles, a speaker cannot attain a beautiful clear tone of voice.

Once you have found your natural speaking voice, the next steps are development and maintenance. Freedom of the jaw, throat, tongue, and lips are critical areas speakers must develop. It is a slow and disciplined process. Some speakers may require help from a speaking coach to break some of the bad habits perfected over time. Speakers should also notice how their tone and pitch changes when they are on the platform.  It is natural for a speaker’s voice to change if they are nervous, excited, or assertive. Understanding how to use those changes effectively can turn what may be, to some, a liability into an asset when presenting. Start with your natural hum and try changing registers. That is an excellent exercise for beginners to practice moving seamlessly between registers. With soft lips lightly touching, hum a favorite tune. Then recite or read and record a few short sentences. Listen to your recordings. If you want people to listen to you speak, you must be prepared to listen to yourself.

Attention to detail as you practice is of paramount importance. Maintain good posture, proper inhalations, and hum with ease as you practice exercising your vocal muscles. Make sure the lips are soft, barely touching, and loose at the corners. The tongue should lie easily and loosely, with the tip of your tongue lightly touching your lower front teeth. Make sure your throat is free as if you are about to begin yawning. Exercises are useless when performed incorrectly. Those performed once correctly are far more valuable than an exercise done repeatedly while ignoring a single detail. Begin your humming with simple songs, even nursery rhymes.  As you become more proficient with your breathing, step it up to include classical pieces and choruses as your resonance improves. Keep practicing and humming correctly, and you, too, will find that which is native to us all, your natural speaking voice.

Understanding Your Audience

Values Beliefs and Characteristics

How well do you understand your audience?  That is a question all speakers should answer when preparing a presentation. Some may regard presenting TO an audience, rather than FOR an audience as semantics. However, both deliveries are different. When a speaker is preparing FOR an audience, they begin by researching mainly the values, beliefs, and characteristics of the group they will be facing. Speakers should also consider looking into the ages, gender, ethnicity, ability, and membership tenure. Of the group.  It’s also a good idea to start with your point of contact. Prepare a list of questions to understand the topics that will resonate best with that group. Once you have done your homework, you should have a pretty good understanding of what you should prepare FOR that audience.

Delivering TO an audience is a bit different. The speaker may choose a speech to inform, to persuade or to entertain. Similarly as when they are presenting FOR, their understanding of the audience’s makeup will help them determine how much is too much or enough.  Although the speaker’s topic usually is one with which the speaker is familiar or may even be an authority, the speaker’s goal is to connect with that audience. Speakers base their content on their experiences and knowledge. They are offering a slice of their life experiences to you. To diffuse discord, the speaker may use rhetorical questions. Speakers should also rely on their instincts and observations as they decide how to connect with the group they are addressing. A little understanding of the group will often lead to success.

Lifestyle can be an indicator of values, beliefs, and characteristics. Looks are sometimes deceiving. It’s always a good idea to compare your research with your first impressions.  Age, gender, ethnicity, and culture can influence everyone’s ability to relate to some topics. Speak to your audiences’ level of understanding. Audiences don’t like being lectured or preached to unless they planned to attend such an event. Be prepared to cite sources for the information you are presenting. Your delivery will determine how the group is receiving your message.  As you continue your delivery, read the reactions you are receiving from the group in real-time. Know what you want your listeners to think, feel or do after hearing your presentation. If your message is clear, concise, and you-focused, your audience’s understanding will keep increasing as you continue speaking.

If your delivery is all TO or all FOR your audience, that is a recipe for failure.  The goal is to make a connection while switching as you deliver. The speaker can deliver parts of their speech TO the audience and others FOR the audience. Decide where you will do your switching during your preparation. Use reminders in your script for your delivery. One approach that works well is the “speaking one to many” method when switching. The speaker focuses on one audience member. At the same time, everyone receives the messaging as if it was intended for them only. Delivery is where the rubber meets the road. Finally, whether you choose to deliver your presentation TO or FOR your audience, success or failure on the platform depends on how well you understand your audience. This talk was prepared FOR a Pathways-L3 project on Motivational Strategies.

Your One Minute Toastmaster

Be the messenger, not the message.

Ten tips to help control nervousness when you are on the Platform:

Feeling some nervousness before speaking to any audience is natural and at times, even healthy. Channel your anxiety, and you will be OK. Some nervous energy might show that you are passionate and care about what you are presenting to your audience. Too much nervousness will detract from your message and performance. Your physical preparation is also an essential P when preparing for the platform. Your other P’s are: Preparation and Practice before Presenting.

1.    Know the Room-: Become familiar with the speaking area before it is your turn to speak.  The view from the speaking area is quite different from the audience or the back of the room.

2.    Know Your Audience:  Meet and, if possible, greet some of your audience as they arrive. Meeting your audience before you speak can help you better connect as you look out into the audience as you deliver your speech.

3.    Know Your Material: In the words of Dr. Ralph C Smedley, “A prepared speaker should not be nervous.”

4.    Relax: Get on your feet, stretch a bit before taking the stage.

5.    Visualize yourself giving your speech: Harbor positive thoughts. Visualize yourself being successful, and you will be successful.

6.    Think Positive: Audiences do not want you to fail. Smile, and your audience will smile back at you.

7. Don’t apologize: Do not call attention to any of your slipups. Those slipups may very well have gone unnoticed.

8.    Focus on your message – When you focus on your message and your audience, your attention moves away from yourself. Your energy moves outwardly towards your message and your audience. Be the messenger, not the message.

9.    Turn nervousness into positive energy:  Add vitality and enthusiasm to harness your nervous energy.

10.    Gain experience. Experience Builds confidence: Grasp every opportunity you get to SPEAK. Grasp every chance you get to EVALUATE – Evaluations are the key to becoming a better speaker.

Just another Icebreaker

Include the six emotions that touch all audiences

The first speech delivered by a Toastmaster is the icebreaker. However, that first speech can be the first of many great speeches if your chosen approach points you in the right direction to begin your Toastmaster’s journey. Pathways, the Toastmasters newly minted communication and leadership program, introduces each new Path with just another icebreaker. After being in Toastmasters for many years, it’s only natural for members, both new and old, to ask why someone must prepare another icebreaker to begin every new Path. How many times must you re-live that first experience when you almost fainted on the platform? Some of the main reasons are the ever-changing faces in club memberships and the development of each club’s programs. I believe we have a greater appreciation for that first experience when you take a moment to look back as you continue moving forward. With each new Path you begin, you will recognize the importance and focus on speaking about your life experiences. Telling those stories with passion will help you to continue with your development as speakers with greater confidence.

If you were to review some of the world champion speeches, both past and present, you would discover they contain many of the rudiments you will find in a well-crafted icebreaker. Over time, you may also conclude that icebreakers can set the foundation for that world championship speech you will deliver someday. However, your icebreaker will become that memorable speech only when you begin to live and share the values of the lessons learned from the stories you continue to develop and deliver. Telling your story is not enough. It would be best if you also took your audience with you to re-live those precious moments. When you speak about your successes, failures, and future aspirations, your audience will better understand who you are, which is one of the icebreaker’s primary purposes of the icebreaker. As you tell your stories, never forget to include the six emotions that touch all audiences: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust. And when you make sure your speech contains a Purpose, Point, and Message that touches the head, heart, and soul of your audiences, they will always lend you an attentive ear.

Telling your story to an audience can be challenging. Pathways provide you with worksheets that help you structure not just your icebreaker; they provide you with the foundation for your future presentations. They will also help you organize your thoughts as you decide what you should include or exclude. Once you start working with the worksheets, you will quickly realize their value. Some of the questions you should consider asking yourself are, what’s the greatest lesson you have ever learned, who taught you that lesson, and how that lesson changed your life. Your answers should resonate with the audience for which you have prepared. Remember, you are delivering a speech about yourself to that audience and not giving a speech about yourself for yourself. Telling your stories in that manner sounds self-centered and selfish when the focus is entirely on you and not on your audience.

Once you have prepared and delivered a few icebreakers, you will begin to develop your format. Keep a story file to preserve the ideas and the beautiful lines you use in your everyday conversations. You will also start recognizing and paying attention to those lines and formulas you have heard delivered by other experienced speakers. One of those that immediately come to mind, which I have borrowed many times from Patricia Fripp, a Hall of Fame, award–winning speaker, is Q1, where I was, Q2 where I am. Q3, where I am heading. Answer those three questions, with three sub-points for each of those questions, and you will have the basic structure for your icebreaker.

Another I borrowed from the great motivational speaker; Les Brown: Q1: where have you been, Q2: where are you heading. Q3 when will you get there. And my very own: Q1: I was, Q2: I am, and Q3 I will be. Practice creating your own Q’s, and over time, they will become a natural part of your preparation, not only for but also for all speeches. Icebreakers are fun. When the stories you tell make your audience think. When your life experiences touch their heart and soul, when your subtle humor makes your audience laugh and cry in those four to six minutes that they will never forget, they will be ready, willing, and able to walk a mile with you in your shoes. When you develop your four to six-minute speeches, your five to seven will follow and flow with that same style and delivery. Keep breaking the ice with each new audience you face, and the day will come when you will remember every one of the icebreakers you deliver as just another icebreaker and some of the many excellent speeches you have given as a Toastmaster

Your Amazing Grace

It is a feeling of being Unbreakable-Unshakable-Unsinkable

Your Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound – it is a song that awakens the power of the human spirit to remind us, in our hour of darkness, if we reach out to the power of the human spirit, that spirit that is deep within us all, you too will be filled, with your Amazing Grace. Are you filled with Your Amazing Grace? It is a feeling of being unbreakable, unshakable, unsinkable, even when you believe that all but hope is lost.  

On Christmas Eve, some two hundred and forty years ago, Pastor John Newton, the man who coined that phrase Amazing Grace and wrote those beautiful words that became the song Amazing Grace, delivered a sermon in which he recalled a time in his life when he was lost, and how he came to be found. When he was too blind to see the beauty of humanity and when he came face to face with what he was sure was going to be his destiny, a watery grave at sea.

Newton, a self-proclaimed wretch – a vagabond of the sea, who broke every one of the golden rules of life, was sailing across the Atlantic with his crew and human cargo – Yes, he was a slave trader, a vocation many believed could only be reserved for the worst of humankind. As they sailed off the coast of Ireland on a bright sunny day, suddenly they ran into the eye of a storm. The seas were angry; the sky grew darker and darker. The winds were howling like mad dogs. Newton, an experienced seaman, realizing he was no match for the fury of mother nature that day, fell to his knees, begging for mercy, promising to change from his wicked ways if given a second chance at life. 

Newton got that second chance. Miraculously, they made it to Donegal – a little port of the Northern Coast of Ireland with his ship almost a complete wreck. It was there, while his boat was being repaired, he wrote those beautiful words that would become the song, Amazing Grace, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I am found-was blind, but now I see” – And I am sure if we had more than five to seven minutes here today, we all would still be singing that song of song, that hymns of hymns, that gives us all hope in our hours of darkness.

It is sung more the 10 Million times each year, recorder over 11,000 times in more than 100 different languages. But the true miracle of that song is the melody – which was inspired by the moaning and growing of shackled slaves in the hole of that ship, as they too struggled to survive that voyage, wondering if their destiny would also be a watery grave at sea. Haunted by those memories, Newton kept every word of that covenant he made at sea. He transformed his life from being one of the worst of humankind to become an advocate for the abolition of the slave trade. 

I truly believe, everyone will someday have at least one John Newton moment in their lifetime – a moment when their entire life flashes before their eyes like a bad movie. Do you remember your Newton moment? Did you too make promises? And were those promises made promises kept. I still remember mine as if it were yesterday. To this day, I could still remember seeing those two words we all dread in bold letters – “The End” – as the credits of my life journey scrolled amid a deafening silence. But in that moment of darkness, I too reached out and was blessed with an experience I will never forget. It was a feeling I can only describe as being simply Amazing.  

Today, whenever I hear someone cry in word or song with those – Amazing Grace! seeking comfort from their grief and suffering, I am reminded that second chances don’t come easy. And not every bend in the road is the end of the road. But what I do know for sure, is in your hour of darkness, if you reach out to the power of the human spirit, that spirit which is unshakable, unbreakable, unsinkable, you too will be filled with your Amazing Grace. 

The Game of Life

Robinson soon realized he was invited but not welcomed

Baseball is America’s favorite pastime, but to me, it is more than just a game – as it has taught me this valuable lesson – that when we refuse to remain silent in the face of injustice, there will come a day when people of all races will be invited and welcomed to follow their dreams regardless of race, color or creed.

In the game of life, are you a player or an observer? My Papa, Big George, once asked me that question before he told me the stories about the heroes who made baseball the game of life. Papa would always say before you move forward in life, take a moment to look back. So, come with me as I take you back to those dark days of summer when America was segregated, and so too was the game of baseball. Back then, there were the major leagues. Then there were the leagues for people of color only, the Negro leagues, with all-stars like Satchel Page, Gosh Gibson, and James Cool Papa Bell; the fastest man who ever ran the bases. A man who could flick a light switch and get into bed before the room got dark. Still, most Americans never saw those great players in their prime because of their skin color.

It was also a time in History when the good people from the better side of the tracks did not attend the same schools, worship at the same churches, or drink from the same water fountains. The Jim Crow laws of the day even made that illegal.  And while many felt in their hearts that segregation was wrong, they remained silent.   Everyone knew the owners of both leagues had ties to the vigilante groups like the Ku Klux Klan, who didn’t care if the rat was black or white. Mess with their revenues, and it could cost you your life. To protect themselves, even the Negro League players also remained silent, playing for the love of the game. Simultaneously, the Major Leaguers enjoyed the royal treatment with their pictures on these beautiful baseball trading cards.

Initially, I collected baseball cards for the bubble gum in each packet. Then I began collecting by teams regardless of the color and discovered a card, which seemed out of place. The player was Jackie Robinson, the team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. I even scratched the surface of the card to see if his complexion would change. It “didn’t” – who knew, I might have started scratchers.  It was then I asked my Pap, Big George, how did Robinson become a Dodger. And Papa replied: “Son, in 1947 a retired Baptist Minister, Mr. Branch Rickey, managed the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was adamant that if all men are created equal, they should compete equally on a level playing field regardless of color.  When he invited Jackie Robinson to join his team, the Dodgers, everyone turned against him. Mr. Rickie refused to remain silent. Robinson soon realized he was invited but not welcomed.  And although he was able to silence his critics on the playing field, he still was not accepted as a teammate.  In the face of that injustice, Again, Mr. Rickey refused to remain silent, and Robinson became a Brooklyn Dodger.

From that moment, I was inspired!  I wanted to grow up to be just like Jackie Robinson and was even more committed when I learned that Robinson’s greatest fear was not the death threats he received, but was how he would perform at his first game in the south. When that day came, the good people of the Cincinnati Reds did not fail to disappoint; however, not once did Robinson say anything to disgrace himself or his team. When the umpire: the blue shouted – Play Ball! – Pee Wee Reese, a white player beloved by all, did the unthinkable.  Reese walked over to first base with tears in his eyes to recognize Robinson as his teammate in the presence of fans, friends and family – and in that one triumphant moment, baseball became America’s Game. 

And so today my friends, as we proudly stand on the shoulders of Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, and Blanche Rickie, all heroes of the game of baseball, I urge you too, to be players and to not just be observers in the game of life. Always remember, when we refuse to remain silent in the face of injustice, the day will come when we all will be invited and welcomed to live our dreams on a level playing field, regardless of race, color or creed in the biggest game of them all, the game of life.

In Honor of Black History Month – February 1st – March 1st – First Delivered 2012 : Henry O. Miller DTM/PDG

Table Topics Questions Continued:

Ready to go for a wild ride?

You can have lots of family fun with Table Topics. Here are 40 questions I have selected just for you. On President’s Day, my wife held court with some of the grandchildren and the adults in the room. We had a fun fill Q & A session with these Questions. Many of the answers were quite impressive. Try comparing the responses of Kids and Adults to some of these questions and brace yourself for surprises. Ready to go for a wild ride?

  1. What is one fear you would like to conquer
  2. If you could rename yourself, what name would you choose
  3. What was your most embarrassing moment
  4. Are there any redeeming qualities to the person you most dislike
  5. What moment from your life would you like to relive if you could
  6. What is your biggest pet peeve
  7. What remains undone that you have wanted to get done for years
  8. Would you live your life any differently if you didn’t care what people thought
  9. If you could give all human beings one virtue, which would it be
  10. Who has inspired you as a mentor, and why
  11. What does your perfect day look like
  12. What makes a house a home
  13. Who’s the most unusual member of your family
  14. Would you rather be smarter, more athletic, or better-looking
  15. Do you live more in the past, present, or future
  16. What quality do you think is most important in marriage
  17. How do you define integrity, and do you have it
  18. What’s the most significant problem facing the world
  19. What are the most important qualities your look for in friends
  20. What is the one goal you hope to accomplish this year
  21. If you could do something dangerous just once with no risk, what would you do
  22. Who are your role models
  23. Which do we need more of justice or forgiveness
  24. What was your most memorable meal ever
  25. What son evokes the strongest memories for you
  26. Which of your ancestors would you most like to meet
  27. When you’re down, what do you do to feel better
  28. Is there only one soul mate for each person
  29. What’s your proudest accomplishment
  30. What would you most like to do for someone if you had the money and time
  31. What do you think is the ideal age
  32. What is the most challenging thing you’ve ever done
  33. Where would you most like to travel to
  34. What’s your dream job
  35. Is science or art more essential to humanity
  36. Is the male or female body more beautiful
  37. Would you rather live by the beach or in the mountains
  38. What’s your favorite quotation
  39. What do you wish you were better at saying “No” to
  40. Would you prefer to be the worst player on a winning team or the best player on a losing team