O. J. Acquitted

handshakeTwenty years ago October 3, 1995 O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of killing his wife by a jury in California. That evening I was guest speaker in Detroit for members of several Toastmaster clubs in that area. It was eerie. As the audience entered the room there was very little conversation going on. All of the Afro-Americans sat on one end of the room and the rest of us on the other. I quickly observed that the one end of the room was not talking with the other end of the room. Shortly after eating I was introduced. As a professional speaker I feel it is better to try to tidy up the little challenges in the room at the start so I can have an all responsive group to talk with. I noticed one Afro-American man scowling at me and I could sense his hatred coming down on me. I told a couple of jokes and there was silence in the room. (Not a good sign.)
I went ahead and said, “I guess by now everyone has heard about the Jury decision in the O.J. trial. There was some murmuring and nods. “Well isn’t it amazing how it has suddenly changed the feelings we have toward one another? When I came down here I expected to have an integrated, enthusiastic audience but instead just look at you. I can just feel the hatred pouring out of some of you right now.” Then I asked them all to think about this and get up and come back into the room like responsible, intelligent, caring people. I was surprised when they all come back in, talking with one another, there were a lot of hand shakes and even some hugs. When I got them all seated I was about to start my speech but one of the men, the one that looked like he would very much like to kill me asked if he could speak. I invited him up and he stared me in the eye and said, “I want to apologize to you. You were right. My heart was full of hatred. I didn’t realize just how polarizing that long trial had been. Please forgive me.” And I did and we shook hands and we gave each other one of those man hugs and I proceeded to give a strong but entertaining presentation and this time they laughed in all the right places and it seemed almost like it used to be.

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