Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Reflection: Getting Invited To The White House

During the afternoon of Sunday July 19 I received an email with an invitation inside it. The email indicated that I was invited by President Barack Obama to the White House to attend a reception celebrating the signing of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) on June 22, 2015 with an RSVP needed by July 21. I was reading this email and sharing it with Jamie and a couple of our friends, and they were all telling me, “Wow Billy! You have to go!”  I was a little in shock by the whole thing. I have never been invited to the White House, and never received an invitation from the President, and I wasn’t even sure how to respond. I was honored, but I was also half-way across the country about to share Nuru at an incredible conference in Denver Colorado.

The folks at the conference heard my dilemma and went out of their way to let me know how excited they were for me, and that they would move around my keynote to make sure I was able to make the trip to the White House. They encouraged and affirmed me and celebrated this amazing opportunity for Nuru to be represented at our nation’s capital, and helped me begin thinking through an action plan.

To be honest, I was filled with gratitude for the opportunity but wasn’t sure what to expect or how this would all come together. I didn’t have a suit, tie, shoes, or anything I could wear that would be remotely appropriate for the occasion. I would have to book a flight roughly 24 hours before I needed to leave. I would need to figure out where to stay and how I was going to get around during this whirlwind event. And every step of the way, my friends rallied around me to help make this trip possible. I booked my flight, and my friends JR and Christy Pittman told me that they would pick me up and take me wherever I needed to go once I arrived in DC. They allowed me the privilege of sleeping under their roof (which also gave me a great opportunity to catch up with them too!).

Additionally, one of my old roommates, former coworkers, and dear friends, Derek Roberts lives in Denver. He told me that he would take care of getting me to and from the airport in Denver and would support in whatever capacity I needed. He and my friend and coworker Alex Martin provided some tips and ideas on purchasing appropriate clothing, but I still needed to find said clothing. That’s where Kris Woyna came in and he came in big!!! Kris is a software architect and good friend who I have gotten to know at ÜberConf over the last four years, and I’ve always respected his counsel. He adamantly exhorted me that I needed to make this trip, and I needed to make sure I looked sharp for the sake of Nuru as well as for the sobering truth that I would likely meet the President of the United States.
Kris took me and Jamie on a fashion emergency trip Monday night in what is probably the coolest car I’ve ever had the privilege of riding in. An old school Land Rover that was legitimately ready to be taken off-road, and which Kris has frequently taken on outdoor excursions into remote areas of the US. We visited several places, and finally landed at Nordstrom where they were having a very timely anniversary sale. As I tried on a couple of suits, Kris was telling everyone who was helping me about the occasion and about the work I have been part of at Nuru. Kris gave me very wise counsel with regard to suits, styles, fits, and the like. He went out of his way and gave up his entire evening to help me look presentable. To be honest, I’ve only worn a suit on a few occasions during my life, and I just didn’t know that much about them. Kris enlisted help and additional counsel from Sandy Ross, one of the incredible staff at Nordstrom and she went to work to find me shoes, socks, a shirt, and a tie to complete the ensemble. Because of Kris, she knew the kind of work we do at Nuru, and that I wanted to look my best, but do so on a budget.

In addition, the tailor, whose name was Nam, began working with me to make sure my suit fit properly. Although I’ve worn a suit on a handful of occasions, I have never had one tailor fit to my body. Nam said he wasn’t sure how quickly they would be able to turn around all of the fitting, but Kris passionately implored him to help me get ready for a possible meeting with the President. This was Monday night and the store was about to close. I would need to have clothes ready by Tuesday at 1PM at the latest to be able to make my flight. Nam made a quick phone call, and announced that he would have the suit ready by noon (he actually had it ready by 11AM!).  AND, they didn’t charge me for any of the alterations (many places charge $10-50 per alteration); these folks really came through in a BIG way!!!

Because Kris took the time to guide me along this process, and because of the incredible help of the people at Nordstrom, I was ready to look my best as I entered the White House. Because of friends like JR, Christy, and Derek, I was able to worry about one less thing as I traveled. And as I sat in the Denver airport waiting to board the plane, I was incredibly emotionally overwhelmed and filled with gratitude. This opportunity was an incredible win for Nuru, but it was also an incredible win for every person who has believed in Nuru and supported our mission from the beginning. It was also an opportunity I could have never imagined for me personally. In my wildest imaginations, I would never have fathomed such an incredible opportunity would present itself. I had an opportunity to represent not only Nuru, but also my home state of West Virginia. And more than that, all of the important lessons I have learned from friends and family from childhood to the present that have helped me become a better version of myself, those lessons and memories came flooding back to my mind as I thought about the weight of what I was about to experience.

I’m incredibly grateful for both friends and family, and we all should be. We each get the opportunity to become better by listening to the counsel of others and enjoying and savoring every moment, every nugget of wisdom, every experience that shapes us. May you and I always be filled with gratitude for the gifts that friends and family give us that shape us and help us contribute to bettering our communities and the world around us.

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