“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
This short article was inspired by an email we received this morning from a new course student:
Dear Marc and Angel,
I’m a single mom to two wonderful teenagers, and I’m also a (rather passionate) domestic violence attorney. Although I’ve been told I do a great job on both fronts, I wish to make an even bigger difference. With all that’s going on in society right now, there’s so much positive change and growth I feel I could instill in both my children and the world at large if I could just find the right approach. I wish there was a way to open people’s eyes to the possibilities I see! How can someone like me—someone who has the means—make a bigger difference right now? Do you have any relevant stories or lessons to share?
A Caring Student
Our reply (an open reply to all who want to make a bigger difference right now):
Dear Caring Student,
It’s time for a quick true story about life…
In 1955, Ella Fitzgerald had a professional music career that spanned nearly two decades. She was a critically acclaimed Jazz musician, and yet she was hardly known by the general public because she was an African American doing amazing things at a time when racial segregation in the United States was still widespread.
So despite her undeniable talent and accolades, it was incredibly challenging for Ella to book shows at concert venues that appealed primarily to white audiences. She didn’t let this stop her though, and with the odds stacked heavily against her, she set her sights on performing at Mocambo in Los Angeles, which was arguably the most celebrated west coast jazz club at the time.
Predictably, the club owner, Charlie Morrison, turned Ella down, again and again. He tried to be kind, but he simply refused to suffer the potential consequences of booking an African American performer. “Not only might I forgo ticket sales for the night, but having you perform here could also damage my club’s brand over the long haul,” he told her.
Still, Ella did not give up on her goal. She strongly believed performing at Mocambo could help her crack into the mainstream music scene. But she now realized she was going to need some assistance. So she picked up the telephone and confessed her goal and frustrations to her friend and fan, Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn was one of the most adored white female film stars of the 1950’s.
Marilyn was appalled by what she heard. As soon as she hung up with Ella, she picked the telephone back up and called Charlie over at Mocambo. She asked him to book Ella at once! But he again refused, and reiterated his fearful reasons. So Marilyn persuasively sweetened the deal. “Charlie, if you make my friend Ella the headlining act at Mocambo for a full week, I will sit in the front row every single night Ella is there,” she said.
At this point Charlie had to consider the offer. He knew he would get ridiculous amounts of media attention if he announced that Marilyn Monroe was in the house every night for a full week. “The press will go nuts over this!” Marilyn assured him. Charlie was convinced, and so he agreed to make Ella the headlining act at Mocambo for a full week.
As promised, Marilyn sat front and center every night Ella performed. Despite all of the era’s widespread and obvious racism, the club was packed at maximum capacity each night. And the excited crowds of people that initially crammed into the jazz club to see Marilyn quickly fell in love with Ella’s powerful performances.
That one week of performing launched Ella Fitzgerald’s career into the stratosphere and secured her spot in Hollywood as a bona fide music star. She never again performed at a small club… and it was all thanks to her determination, her incredible talent, and some loving assistance from a friend and fan named Marilyn Monroe.
We may not have the influential fame of Marilyn Monroe or the musical talent of Ella…