Tanya Guiliacci and Shirley Caesar
Shannon Kelley

Last Saturday I attended Oprah Winfrey’s Legends Ball and it was one of the most rewarding evenings of my life, next to the birth of my daughters Nina and Mercedes. Standing on the silver carpet a sense of calm overcame me as my eyes fell upon African-American icons including Dr. Maya Angelou, Pastor Shirley Caesar, Elizabeth Catlett, Ruby Dee, Roberta Flack, Coretta Scott King (I was speechless as she walked within touching distance of me), Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, Leontyne Price, Della Reese, Diana Ross, Naomi Sims, Tina Turner, Cicely Tyson, and Nancy Wilson. These remarkable women were touching me and holding my hands and talking to me; not once did I feel starstruck. Rather, I felt I was talking with family.

During my life, my mother has introduced me to these women, through their music, poetry, and ideals. She offered them to me as inspirations and role models. When I showed my mother the photos from the evening, I felt proud and as if I was saying, “Look mom, I finally met your friends.”

When Shirley Caesar (the first lady of gospel and 11-time Grammy winner) came down the silver carpet, she stopped in front of me. I told her that her music has seen my mother and me through many difficult times; when we felt like giving up we listened to her sing. I asked what her message would be to young kids. “Young people must begin now living as though [they] want to grow older, don’t waste their lives and learn all they can,” she said. How about single moms? I asked. “To the single mom,” she said, “all is not lost. God has not allowed a child to come into this world that he could not feed.” Her statement brought tears to my eyes; I am a single mother and Caesar’s words eased my struggle and healed me right then.

What’s Oprah Winfrey’s advice for people today? “Follow your passion,” she said. “If you don’t follow your passion you have nothing, and everyone has a calling and you can’t know what your calling is if you’re listening to what the world tells you.”

The evening was wonderful and I am forever changed by the experience. The only thing missing was my mother, my legend.


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