Selling-out four days before her appearance, tickets for Soledad O’Brien were unavailable for fans who waited too long. O’Brien addressed a standing-room-only crowd at the newly renovated Ivy Tech Corporate College and Culinary Center in Indianapolis over the weekend. The award-winning journalist and CNN former morning news anchor and special correspondent captivated over 650 guests with touching personal accounts of her life and career. The school’s chancellor, Dr. Kathleen Lee, welcomed everyone and Ericka Flye, local news anchor for ABC affiliate WRTV-6, served as mistress of ceremonies.
The multi-cultural speaker demonstrated a great sense of humor as she recounted stories of her early career when she dropped out of Harvard temporarily in 1987 and once applied for a position where her name was mispronounced as “Soul Dad.” She reflected on how she quickly learned to increase her paychecks by easing some part of her body in the camera shot while doing TV news interviews. Regulations permitted an increase in pay if any part of your body was on air.
O’Brien spoke of the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s writings. She shared a deeper perspective of the I Have a Dream speech which was more about jobs and equality in the workplace. She quoted Dante and said, “There’s nothing worse than doing nothing when your voice is needed.”
As the fifth of six children born to a black Cuban mother and a white Australian father of Irish descent O’Brien shared moving stories of being bullied while attending a 99.6% white high school in New York and suffering discrimination in the early years of her career. Born Maria de la Soledad Teresa O'Brien in Long Island, New York in 1966, the wife and mother of four, two girls and twin boys, said her hardest decisions have been over her family and traveling for work. She spoke fondly of her immigrant parents who met in 1958 at Johns Hopkins University and attended the same church in Baltimore where interracial marriage was illegal. They had to travel to D.C. to marry and fought racism and cruelties to stay together and raise their family. Soledad and all her siblings graduated from Harvard.
The Emmy winner answered several questions from the audience. She stated that the most inspirational person to her is her mother whom she described as a “tough nut” who “didn’t suffer fools well” and had the courage and power to take a stand. When asked if she’d consider running for office, she stated that she is not a big fan of politicians and would “never, ever, ever, ever, ever run for political office – ever”. O’Brien said that she will now do more documentaries through her production company and would like to do a story on veterans and explore their issues of fitting back into society and their high rate of suicide.
She had planned to sell copies of her book, The Next Big Story: My Journey through the Land of Possibilities, but due to the snowstorm further west, they did not arrive in time. Matthew Steward, founder of Steward Speaker Series which produced the event, announced that both she and Barnes & Noble had committed to providing signed copies to all who made advance purchases of the book that evening. Several brought their previously purchased books which O’Brien cheerfully signed.
Tavis Smiley opened the 2012/2013 series in October, Donna Richardson Joyner appeared on February 4 and Dr. Julianne Malveaux, economist, scholar and author, will close it out on April 13 at the Walker Theatre Center.