Monday, August 17, 2009

10 Most Memorable School Visit Moments: #3

Every school I've had the privilege of speaking at has given me a great experience. Some have given me a great story, too.

“Underdogs Over Time”

year: 2008
state: Ohio

Superman was created around a sprint.

To be precise, Superman's characteristics were created before a sprint and his appearance was created after.

All though one summer night in 1934, 19-year-old Jerry Siegel was kept up with a torrent of ideas for a new kind of hero, one with powers (and abilities) far beyond those of us mere mortals. The next morning, rather than collapse, Jerry ran 9½ blocks to ask his friend Joe Shuster to draw what he'd imagined.

I spoke at the school situated along those 9½ blocks. When I reached the sprint part of the Siegel and Shuster story, I got chills telling the students that Jerry very likely ran down the same sidewalk many of them walk every day. The sidewalk literally right through the doors of the gym we were in.

Even though we were a short distance from that sidewalk (and a long stretch of years away from what happened on it), I still felt the rush of that starry-eyed boy sprinting from his humble home straight into history.

NOTE: What follows is a companion story to the above. It is also a tweaked version of a post from September 2008. My first rerun! (But the last line is all-new.)

Two days after Election Day 2008, something happened in a small room at the Cleveland Public Library, Glenville branch, that made me more excited about politics than I think I'd ever been. Except it wasn't really about politics at all.

Glenville is the neighborhood where Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster lived when they created Superman in 1934. At the time, it was predominantly Jewish. Today it is predominantly black and poor.

Earlier that day I had spoken at the main branch, downtown. The audience was mostly young black people. I was expecting the same in Glenville. Instead I was ushered into a room where about 35 or 40 members of the adult community leadership organization were finishing up a meeting. They, too, were almost all black. Some of them were holding Obama signs—two days after the election. The purpose of the signs had switched from tool of persuasion to badge of honor.

I gave my presentation, hoping they would feel pride for the seminal event that had occurred in their neighborhood. They did seem moved by the story, which some had not known before.

Then my friend Tracey Kirksey, head of the Glenville Development Corp. and almost certainly one of the ten kindest people in the world, asked if she could say something. I said of course.

She proceeded to emphasize how Jerry and Joe were underdogs who had a vision and worked hard to see it come to pass. In succeeding, they bucked the odds and made history. Then she unexpectedly compared them to Barack Obama in spontaneous words so eloquent that I wish I had recorded them. The essence was that she felt she could tell her children that they could be president one day—only now, she finally fully believed it to be true. The others, of course, reacted with jubilation.

Of all the Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman experiences I'd had since the book came out, that was by far the most profound. I felt so lucky to be in Ohio, in Glenville, for that moment.

It is interesting to note that the two colors in competition on Election Day are also the two most dominant colors of the American flag, the flag of Ohio, and Superman's costume.

Read #2.

Read the whole countdown.

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