Change Partners And Dance

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(By Deborah Parenti) I do not know, nor would I pretend to fully comprehend, the ruts in the road or the challenges others have faced over a lifetime. I can only draw on my personal experiences, and from there, try to project into the stories of others.

And so, I don’t know what it’s like to be a minority as defined by society today.

But I do know what it’s like to be in the minority. I know what it’s like to be taunted by grade school classmates over a religion unfamiliar to them. I have felt the sting that comes with being left out because my heritage didn’t find favor with some parents. And as an adult woman in an era before women increased their seats at the executive table, I know what it’s like to be a “token” and asked to leave because “the language is going to get a little rough.”

What those experiences taught me, along with tolerance and forgiveness (though the latter admittedly sometimes took more time), was that ignorance breeds myopic vision and discovery is exhilarating. There is nothing like being unshackled from ignorance, nothing like bonding and sharing with what and who sits outside one’s own backyard.

That’s how it was for a high school teenager when she and her friends discovered the magic in the music blaring out of the speakers from “Ohio’s Stereo Soul Giant,” then WDAO-FM in Dayton. Motown was cool, and who didn’t want to be cool?

Or when three young ladies on a college campus assumed freshman Deborah down the dorm hall shared their faith and might want to join them for an evening at the campus Hillel. What a cultural feast that turned out to be, and believe it or not, also some of the best dance lessons ever. Those girls had the Temptations’ moves down pat, a Coke can replacing a mic flipped in the air, landing perfectly in a hand that had spun around with the dancer, all choreographed in perfect rhythm and set to the beat coming out of the radio.

There have been other incredible learning experiences — so many tied to radio, either as a consumer or occupationally — that have broadened my world and, hopefully, helped better shape a sincere desire to contribute to its greater good.

That’s what radio and radio platforms can inspire, and on their best days represent — a uniquely personal connection that not only entertains and informs, but serves as a conduit between humans seeking to peek at the world beyond their immediate neighborhood.

But it need not be confined to what goes over the air. Stations, or for that matter any work environment, have an opportunity to be a microcosm of the world at large. Which is not to say in all cases — probably not in most, some would offer — they ideally mirror that world.

In the end, whatever the makeup, there are lessons that can be learned and others who can expand and enrich our way of thinking. And we pass them in the hall every day.

I had such an encounter one evening some years back, chatting over sales cubicles with a fellow rep, an African American woman who could cut to the chase and paint pictures that made dull numbers dance with vision. This was a time when “no Urban” and “no Hispanic” dictates were, unfortunately, accepted business practices. Initiatives like the Fair Play Charter were still years away.

I had just run up against the “no Urban” roadblock with a major agency buyer for a national oil account. We could justify the CPP. The problem was this was a “general market” buy. Adding to the frustration was the fact that the buyer was African American herself. Needless to say, that made it an even more tantalizing challenge. I was looking for a way to break through — and who better to help than my friend Cindy?

Which led to our conversation. Standing taller than her five feet would measure on a yard stick, she began, with a wave of her arms punctuating each sentence. “We all buy toothpaste. And paper towels. And hamburger.” And with a spark in her eyes, “And we darn sure buy gas.”

I couldn’t wait to get on the phone the next day, sharing words still echoing in my mind. We got the barrier lifted, and the buy. Cindy and I celebrated. And I was reminded that while we may “travel to the beat of a different drum,” finding other partners to dance with is sometimes more rewarding and ultimately, richer.

Deborah Parenti is Publisher of Radio Ink. She can be reached at [email protected]

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