Cheryl and I had barely settled into the plush seats of the private plane when we turned and grinned at each other. “This is the way to fly!” we whispered to each other, unable to peel the smiles off our faces. Nothing had prepared us for this. The night before, we were at the United Nations, attending a special screening of “The Hurricane”. Now, Universal Studios had arranged a private plane to take us, along with Rubin Carter, Denzel Washington, and Vicellous Reon Shannon to Chicago and The Oprah Winfrey Show.
As our plane winged west, my mind raced with thoughts and feelings that left me riding an emotional roller coaster. From our 15th floor N.Y.C. hotel room, I could see lights winking in the distance—my childhood home and all its painful memories only a stone’s throw away. A short time later, I stood before an audience of United Nation delegates, an improbable moment that I never could have imagined when I lived in Bushwick and Bed-Sty. After our U.N. appearance, we attended a dazzling reception at the famed Waldorf Astoria. The sheer joy and honour of my U.N. experience, coupled with the thrill of having my sister Lori and her son in the audience left me reeling with pride, joy, and exhaustion. Both Cheryl and I felt numb with excitement, entirely overwhelmed by the evening.
In Chicago, our plane smoothly touched down, and minutes later, our group disappeared into a waiting procession of sleek, black limos. The Four Seasons Hotel had a greeter waiting for each of us, and everything had been attended to: our check-in, our bags, an escort to our room—no detail forgotten. Cheryl and I stepped into the elevator, and as the polished steel doors swooshed shut, we burst out laughing, giddy with excitement. We nearly had to pull ourselves off the ceiling, unable to believe that we were actually in Chicago to see Oprah!
Our greeter opened the door to our room–huge, sweeping, and magnificent. “There must be a mistake; this has gotta be Denzel’s room!” I told Cheryl as we stood in the elegant living room. Afraid to touch anything, we hunted around, and discovered we were in a suite, complete with separate bedrooms and bathrooms. Next to a fruit basket, we found a welcome card from the hotel and the Oprah show addressed to us. “They gave us the right room!” I told Cheryl in astonishment.
We hurriedly freshened up, then left for the studio. Whisked into make-up, then the green room, we were quickly put at ease by various producers and staff members who took the time to warmly greet us. “Do you need anything?” they frequently asked. A nearby table was laden with fruit, muffins, sandwiches, cheese, and beverages, but we couldn’t eat a bite.
By now, nervousness and total exhaustion had kicked in. “I don’t know if I can do this,” I whispered to Cheryl. She knew that I was overwhelmed and drained from the past few days. Looking worried, she gave me one of her reassuring squeezes on the wrist before she was led out to her seat in the audience.
I paced in the green room, eyeing the monitor and somehow trying to summon my second wind. The show moved incredibly fast. Both Denzel and Rubin were greeted with wild cheers from an audience who had watched “The Hurricane” before the taping. When their time came with Oprah, Denzel and Rubin were superb–personable, at ease, and entirely in their element. Now I was even more nervous. Watching them on the monitor, my mouth like cotton, I swallowed hard, wishing I could do half as well as them.
Staff “miked” me up, and minutes later, I heard the distinctive voice of Oprah. “Please welcome the real Lesra Martin!”
A jolt of energy surged through me as soon as I heard her voice. My heart racing, I stepped out into the studio, instantly bathed in the hot glare of overhead lights.
Suddenly, I hopped onto the stage with both feet, my arms spread wide as I grabbed Rubin in a huge bear hug. The audience burst into laughter at this unexpected moment, all my tension drained away, and I felt more energized than I had in days. I hugged Denzel, then stepped towards Oprah and paused in disbelief, “I’m about to hug Oprah!!!”
Everyone always asks what Oprah’s like, and this I can say: Oprah gives great hugs! She felt good–warm, loving, genuinely interested. Although my heart was still pounding, I was calmed by the warmth she radiated.
“Do you believe in miracles?” she asked me right away, and I took a big gulp, trying not to stumble over my answer, too stunned to believe that I was actually sitting next to her. I wanted to jump up and down, yelling “I’m on the Oprah Winfrey Show!” Somehow, I managed to get my answers out.
The energy and good feelings from our day with Oprah lingered for weeks and months afterward. Hardly a day goes by now that I don’t think about the experience.