“Victoria, have you finished your speech?” I hear this question almost daily from my mom. The answer is usually the same, “no”. Recently, I showed her my speech for the radio segment I do on Saturdays, and she totally lost it. Everything about it was wrong. I stood there feeling like I never wanted to write another speech in my life. When I first started doing speeches, it was fun. I loved writing, and public speaking was taking it to another level. In the beginning, I was very blunt in my speeches. My mom showed me how to get my point across without hurting someone’s feelings. I would write, “You should stop having children. Get off drugs, and go to a rehab.” Mom would rewrite it like this, “Our men need to start being responsible when it comes to having children. Young people need their fathers, drug and alcohol free.” See the difference. According to my mom, if you make the audience you are trying to reach angry, then they will not get the message. When I was writing that particular speech, I really didn’t care about the drug dealers, the drug users and the dead beat dads’ feelings. I was thinking about all of the little children that had been suffering from the day they were born. I liked my speech better, but I changed it.
Now almost a year later and mom is still correcting some of my speeches. I felt like such a failure when she was pointing out the mistakes. I was also angry. She’s worried about being tactful when it comes to other people’s feelings but not mine. While she was still fussing, I interrupted loudly and said, “Don’t you think I want to be able to write like you? Don’t you think I want to do this all on my own? Do you know how this make me feels. I hate asking for help.” My mom did something she hardly ever does. She stopped talking. She looked at me with a shocked expression. I’m praying please God don’t let her kill me for screaming and raising my voice at her. In an unusually calm voice, she says, “Victoria why didn’t you tell me this before? I would love to give you writing lessons. I will get you professional help, but I would love to do it until I find a good class for you.” It took a few minutes for me to understand what she was saying, because I was expecting the “if you raise your voice at me again you will be a homeless 12 year old”, speech. Because I admitted that I needed help and really wanted to learn, my mom was excited.
The first step to being better at anything is the desire to want to be better. I want to be an investigative reporter so being a good writer is critical. I’m really looking forward to having classes with my mom. I hope she has patience with me. A teacher needs patience. She has already given me my first lesson. When I watch television, I block out everything. I’m like a zombie when watching a Disney movie. That is the reason my mother does not let me watch much television. First lesson was to concentrate on writing with the same intensity I have when watching television. Block everything out except the subject you are writing about. I hated my first lesson.
The second lesson was to get back the passion that I use to have for writing and speaking. Go back to what made me want to do public speaking in the first place and recapture that moment. That moment was when I was 10, and I gave a speech at Denny Moe’s Superstar Barbershop in Harlem. I cried when I told the audience that I didn’t have a father to take me to the Father/Daughter Dance. When I finished the speech, a man came to me with shades on because he didn’t want anyone to know he was crying. He said if he had heard me speak earlier in his life, he would have made better decisions. That’s when I knew I could use my voice to make a difference. I love talking about that day because it was such a powerful moment in my life.
People always ask me how I got started at the National Action Network. I had been going to the National Action Network all my life. Nobody knew I was alive except four women from the women’s auxiliary committee. May, 2011, the youth director asked me to play Rev Al Sharpton in a mock protest. She gave me a short speech. I had 15 minutes to become familiar with it. My mother didn’t think I could do it and offered another boy $20 to play Rev. Sharpton. He told her no, and I took the stage. I knocked it out the ball park. The NAN staff members noticed me for the first time. About three weeks after that, I became Dominique Sharpton’s intern for the summer. July, 2011, I started speaking on Rev Sharpton’s Saturday morning rally. The first week I was so nervous, I couldn’t eat breakfast. By the 3rd week I had no fear, and doing the radio segment was something I looked forward to every week. People congratulated me and told me that they listen to me every Saturday.
What I have learned is that people will build you up and then pull you down. I don’t know why. Sometimes people think if a friend or love one starts to do well in life they will not be the same toward them or they will not have time for them.
People that don’t want other people to be happy are usually unhappy themselves. That’s a shame. Misery loves company is not just a saying. Unfortunately, it is a true statement. We really have to start being nicer to each other. Anyway, back to writing and me questioning myself if I want to be an investigative reporter after all.
When people ask me if I write my own material, I hate that I can’t say I do it all on my own. That is the first question most people ask me. It makes me feel like they don’t think I’m smart enough to do it on my own. My mother made me feel a lot better when I told her how I felt. Her response, “My job is to help you and guide you. I know what you are going to say before you say it. I know you better than you know yourself. You know what you want to write and say, but sometimes you need help in putting it out there. That is where I come in. The President has a speech writer. Your auntie is one of the best legal secretaries in NYC, but she ask me for a advice when it comes to writing a letter to school or to a company about bad customer service. Most parents come to me when they need a reference for their children. People that have been speaking for years still ask me to go over their speeches. I can write, but I’m a horrible speller, so I go to your auntie when it comes to that. As long as you try to do it on your own first, I will be here for you. I will be there for you when you need help on your college essays. I will help you, but I can’t do it for you.”
My third lesson, instead of trying to remember a long response, get a tape recorder and record the person. Also a tip from mom, put the recorder under your pillow. Listen to speeches while you are sleeping so it will go into your conscience. I have not tried that yet. I will let you know if it works. My homework assignment is to read The Speeches of Malcolm X. The reason, to be the best, study the best. Nobody was better at speeches than Malcolm X. “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us.” What a line!
When it came to my June blog, I didn’t know what I wanted to write about. So many times when I’m walking down the street or at school I can think of a thousand things I want to blog about. When I get home in front of the computer I go blank. I call it, “blog block”. Mom told me to blog about what had just happened with us, word for word, thought for thought. Let everyone know that it is okay to ask for help.
I’m going to make sure I’m never again short on material. The next time I’m walking down the street and I see something I want to write about or speak on, I will jot it down right then and there. I have a lot of future material like, the negative effect legalizing marijuana will have on the black community, the stupidity of Adidas slave sneakers, my campaign against child sex trafficking, and writing letters to bring back Family Matter reruns. Writing is going to be fun again. See you in July.
- Victoria Pannell