Wednesday, August 24, 2016

North Carolina

This was originally written for the Ben and Jerry's website. Something changed. First the story then the change.

It was a Monday in May and I found myself in the Orlando airport waiting to board my flight to Raleigh.

Why North Carolina?

I was a guest of my good friend, Sean Greenwood, who is the head of PR for Ben and Jerry's ice cream. I was heading there to watch them in action, launching a new flavor of ice cream and showing their support for minority voter registration. It was called Democracy In Your Hands. The state of North Carolina was making it more difficult for minorities to register to vote.

That sound you hear is the sound of the bugle blowing as the cavalry comes to help save the day. Who knew that cavalry would be coming from Vermont?

Can I say upfront that I love Ben and Jerry's? I do. And not just because they make the best ice cream out there, but then again, you can't easily dismiss that. It's also their want to do the right thing.

Great combo.

Let me tell you a bit about me.

I spent almost 16 years at CBS, on their national morning program, The Early Show. CBS' answer to the Today show and Good Morning America. I was the weatherman, did entertainment news, and also anchored. At CBS I was taught to be impartial, to hold your cards close to your vest, so this was my first foray into being a part of something like this.

CBS was how I met Sean. We both were much younger then but through the show, and our chance meeting, a friendship blossomed. Years later he asked me to come to North Carolina Central University to watch and help out with the campaign.

And that's how I found myself about to board a flight heading north.

Sean met me as I got off the plane. We had a great time catching up and that evening had dee-licious barbecue with his gang. Truth was, the gang were all great people. Funny and smart.

Okay, the next day, May 17th.

The reason the date was selected, it was on that day, in 1957, that Dr. Martin Luther King made his pilgrimage to Washington delivering the "Give Us the Ballot" speech to demand voting rights. It was the first major African American march on DC.

A special day.

In 2016, May 17 was a special day that rained.

But, you know what? It was fun watching the Ben & Jerry's crew set up as the rain came down harder and harder. The stage, the mics, the smiles on the faces. Rain stopped none of that.

The speakers.

First up was Jeff Furman the chair of the B & J Board of Directors. He spoke about justice, about why he was there. Why it was important to Ben and Jerry's and to him to not just let the hardship of minority voter registration go unnoticed.

That was the first but not the last time I got goose bumps.

The head of the North Carolina NAACP, Reverend Dr. William Barber, spoke. Man, he was electric. He spoke eloquently about the many struggles he had faced and how grateful he was to Ben and Jerry's to have come to Durham to help him with this one.

Goose bumps again.

There were other speakers and then Ben and Jerry spoke.
Not at the same time but each powerful in their own way. I'll say this, it was so good for me to hear their message of hope, their message of helping their fellow man. I stood there listening and watching the crowd and imagined what they were thinking.

North Carolina was making registering to vote a rat maze for minorities and these guys, this company, said enough is enough. That's why they were there. I imagined people eating Ben and Jerry's for, like, forever.

Which leads to the launch.

The new flavor was called Empower Mint. Great play on words. After the speeches, after the rain, there was a crowd, me included, enjoying top notch ice cream. The folks I met were top notch folks. The cause was a great one and Empower Mint was the cherry on the...well you get the idea.

Freddy Greene Street Genie, a local NC based jazz band performed. There was a Ben and Jerry's ice cream truck which doubled as a place you could get cream and a place where the main players could conduct interviews and also stay dry.

What might have sounded solemn on paper turned out to be a festive occasion. There I was, in the middle of things, watching how the good hearts worked.

After it was over I had a thought.

For the guys from Ben and Jerry's, it's what they do.

Doing the right thing.

For me?

A day I would never forget.

Update.

A Federal Court of Appeals ruling struck down voting restrictions in North Carolina. The unanimous decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit was seen as an overwhelming victory for the Justice Department and civil rights groups.




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