Breakfast in the Student Union was not any ordinary breakfast for the University of Central Florida community. Yes there were bagels, fruit and coffee, but the National Diversity Council had something extra to wake us up—Donna Brazile. Yes, American author, professor and political analyst Donna Brazile was the keynote speaker at the Most Powerful Awards Breakfast and I was front row center. Women from all walks of life: sheriffs, attorneys, board members, and educators were being honored for their dedication and selflessness to their careers as well as their communities. UCF’s very own Dr. Valerie King, Director of the Office of Diversity Initiatives was also among the honorees.
Themed “Winds of Change,” the 2nd Annual Florida Diversity Leadership Conference had representatives from many companies like Ford and Harrison LLP, Disney, AT&T, Orlando Magic, and Tektronix all there to learn how to promote diversity in their workplace and in their communities. I had the opportunity to talk with several attendees not only eager to hear Brazile speak but for the conference itself. “As a future attorney, this is the perfect event to attend,” said Stephanie Dominguez, a student at Stetson University School of Law. Frederick Douglas, engineer for Northrop Gruman and member of the Melbourne African American Task Group says, “I’m open. I am here to learn what I can learn.” When asked if she was excited to hear Donna Brazile speak, Angela Ward, Advisory Board member of the South Florida Chapter simply replied, “Yes I am!”
The only person more excited than me to hear the best-selling author speak was Mr. Dennis Kennedy, founder of the National Diversity Council. Right before he introduces her he says, “Put your seatbelts on, because it’s gonna get bumpy.” And boy was we in for a trip. Ms. Brazile was every bit of the bull fighter we see weekly on CNN. Her speech was warm and witty, poking fun at her family and colleagues in the field. She caringly began her speech with a moment of silence for the victims of the shooting in Arizona, especially U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who Brazile believes is strong enough to get through this tragedy. In light of the Most Powerful Awards Breakfast, Brazile spoke a lot about family, more specifically sisterhood. “Sometimes you have to turn down the ‘noise’ and come together.”
Although we see her go head-to-head, or “mud-slinging” as she calls it, with big time conservatives like George Will, Brazile urged that once the diversity of voices come together, we will be able to engage our public in a more respectful way. “I’m hoping that this is not just a moment, but an opportunity for our leaders to set an example for civil discourse.” She called for the attendees to stand up and lead, take the opportunity to bring more people in the workforce. “You put one foot in the door long enough to let someone else slide through.” With the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday approaching, Brazile ended her speech with what she thought King would say about the state of diversity today. She believed King taught us that God put us here for a purpose and if we do not understand that purpose, the country will never grow.
With the help of Mrs. Edwanna Andrews, Assistant Director of Lead Scholars, I had the once in a lifetime chance to speak with Donna Brazile one-on-one. Racing with her to the car, I was able to ask her one question: what is one piece of advice can you give to students who aspire to have a career as extensive as yours? She indeed replied, “Hone your skills. Hone them now because no one is going to want to teach you later.” That was the best breakfast I’ve ever had.