I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the 88th Annual Dinner Meeting of the Urban League of Metro St. Louis last night. I had a really great time.
There were thousands of people there, probably the biggest dinner-type event I'd ever attended. The food was good (NJ loves good food), and the awards were quick and painless. The highlight of the evening, though, was the keynote speaker, whose name I can't remember now. He was a big black guy whose voice went on for miles and miles. He spoke into a mic, but certainly didn't need it. I'm sure the entire room could have heard every word. Unfortunately, the speakers were at most ten feet from my head. My ears are still ringing.
Anyway, he spoke about the three major problems with society, in his opinion. Those are the government, culture, and religion. He was a veteran whose three children were (or are) in the military, but was staunchly opposed to the war in Iraq. He felt there was no call to go there after 9/11, as it had nothing to do with it at all. He basically said that our great nation, once the 'superpower' of the world, should be spreading peace and harmony as opposed to war and forced ideals. His words were amazing. He was very careful to say he wasn't opposed to war, just to what's happening now.
Next he beat up our culture, more specifically, 'gangsta rap'. He began by saying he is a huge fan and supporter of hip hop, but that he just doesn't get 'gangsta rap's' treatment of women, calling them bitches and whores. He fears what our children might be learning, and basically scolded anyone who supported this type of music. He isn't supporting censorship per se, but supports common sense, saying we shouldn't enable our citizens to publicly treat our women like dirt. Pretty cool.
Last, he tore up the current state of religion. He said religion used to be about brotherhood, about community, and finding common ground in a higher power. Now though, it's about money and power. He said he feels the average Joe out there thinks that success and money are going to get him into heaven, and that he must have these things to be 'religious'. He feels that folks who are down on their luck are much more in need of a helping hand than anyone else, but that's forgotten in today's religious culture.
You could tell this guy believed every ounce that came out of his mouth, which was very empowering. The crowd was really getting into it, and totally seemed to respond. I found it so refreshing to hear such honest and genuine words at a 'business' function. No schmoozing, no slobbery ass-kissing - I'm just not used to that. What business nowadays (or even non-profits) are able to be this honest and open? None. I'm just so sick of everyone tiptoeing around issues.
There were at least 100 special guests - the mayor of St. Louis, East St. Louis, chief of police, and tons of community and business leaders. It was humbling to be in the presence of some of these people, especially knowing they are obviously supporters of the community.
I also found it interesting that St. Louis' Urban League is the best in the nation. In a community so racially divided as St. Louis, it's great to know that we have such advocacy and such community support.