I had just been elected as a staff person that was responsible to organize several workshops for the district. I knew of another staff member that was getting her BA in psychology, so I thought a workshop on “Getting Along with Difficult People” might be just up her alley.
The problem was… I was this punk white guy, and she wore dashikis everyday. I mean she owned that style. She projected black power, no nonsense, and much more. She had this regal bearing that also bordered on terrifying. I tried to go over to talk to her. She was leaving her office as I was entering the building. I was planning to meet her half-way, and then make my proposal. We marched closer and closer. I could tell that she was averting my gaze.
I had never spoken to her before, so why should I start now? I stared straight ahead as well. We passed each other as cold ships of the night, barely disturbed by the wake.
I gave up on the workshop, terrified by the idea of asking her to speak with me.
About six months later there was another opportunity to make a suggestion. It was a much safer situation, a committee where there were dozens of my friends. I asked for volunteers but no one said anything.
I made the invitation to her specifically, and she accepted without saying much. I gave her a general outline and two weeks later the workshop went off fine.
In fact, it became a big deal, and was presented at other campuses, and even other districts. It was a massive hit at statewide conventions. We had gotten to be friends, and the former stiffness of our relationship disappeared. I had broken through!
One day I felt comfortable enough to ask if she remembered that day where we passed so close without speaking. She laughed and she that she had remembered. She saw the “union president” enter her building, and possibly heading to her office. She was very concerned that her job was threatened, or that I was the bearer of bad news, so she just continued walking in fear.
I told her that she had terrified me with her aura and that I chickened out, even if the proposed workshop was a natural for her. I just couldn’t bring myself to speak and suffer her distain. Then she told me that she was getting a BA in political science, and not psychology. Everything I asked was brand new to her, but she said yes, because I had asked.
Now we both laughed, and considered what the future might have looked like if we had remained strangers.