I went to the White House last night. I have prayed for and dreamed about going while the Obamas are there. I had the same reaction— no greater— than when I went to the Epcot and the Magic Kingdom a couple months ago.
Fun Fact: everyone who works in (or at?) The White House has, like, Disney training... Or maybe Disney has White House training. I dunno. I do know that when I arrived, and was walking to the main entrance, everyone I passed who worked there said, "welcome to the White House!" Like, it's how they say "hello!" As in, "welcome to the White House! May I take your coat?" And everyone smiles. They act like people who love their jobs.
But I'm getting ahead of the story. Let me start at the beginning.
BET hosted a "Love & Happiness" concert at the White House, the last of its kind before POTUS leaves office. In short, they invited 750-1000 black people-- there were maybe five white people in the room, including Bradley Cooper— to come party with The Obamas.
I got an invite. Lucky-- and hard praying--me.
So I go... because, duh.
Getting into the White House ain't like getting into the club. There's no bouncers, there's Secret Service. I went thru 2 ID checks, a metal detector and THEN got hand-scanned before I was cleared to take a 3 to 4 minute walk up to the actual White House.
I took an obligatory picture with a sign outside the lobby, then was promptly greeted by a very perky gentleman who said, "welcome to the White House! Please turn over your phone before proceeding to the event." He saw the horrified look on my face and assured me it would be fine. "We're the most secure place in the country", he promised. "She'll be right here when you get back."
So. No phones to capture the magic (and scoop BET's airing). And it was for the best. There's a difference between attending an event and documenting an event. Or watching a concert and filming one (i.e., trying to get the best angle/zooming). I was present in the room(s) I was in for hours. First time in forever.
But it also means I don't have documentation and I didn't have my notepad or a pen, so no quotes. I can tell you that the Obamas walked in and I was close enough to reach out and touch FLOTUS, which I didn't because, um, Secret Service and I didn't want to be throttled or kicked out, and um, it's rude to touch strangers. I can tell you POTUS's opening address acknowledged that while there have been great performances at the White House, his are pretty much the best. Oh, and there would be "no twerking tonight". Yes. POTUS said twerking. 3x. LMAO.
It was standing room only by the time I got in, so I watched Jill Scott perform from the back of the room. She opened with three songs, including an operatic version of "He Loves Me" (I think?), then gave it some Latin flare on the end. It sounds weird, but it worked. She looked resplendent in what I believe was Byron Lars.
Common was up next. He performed "Glory" with Yolanda Adams, who likes to show out at concerts. She had a special anointing last night. (You'll see when you watch the broadcast.) Remember when she went off at a Whitney tribute at the NAACP Awards during “I Love the Lord?”
Yeah. She was that level of Yolanda last night. I mean, she was performing to the President. I'm sayin… Went. Off.
So about the back of the room. I got to the event on time, got to check-in to find my name wasn't on the list, despite having an invite and a confirmation. So I got put to the side and placed in a "holding pen" of sorts with a bunch of other people whose names you might know, including a well-known comedian and a New York Times Bestselling (black) author and two guests of Naomi Campbell's. So I didn't feel so bad.
I had to wait awhile while the Secret Service ran a background check, then I was allowed in. So by the time I got thru security, into the White House, and then on a trolley that took us to a tent on the South Lawn where the concert was actually held, the seats were all filled. So I stood in the back. And then White House staffers brought in chairs, so I sat in the back. And then, this girl passed by and goes, "OMG! I love you. You're from [the thing I do not name]" and I thought to myself, "why am I sitting in the back?"
Look. Contrary to popular belief, I'm humble AF. I’m real, “we’re all God’s children" and I'm uncomfortable with a lot of attention. And I was just happy to be there. And I would have happily sat in the back. But what's the point of having a recognizable face— or, um, hair— if you can't get any perks from it?
So I walk over to a group of ladies with walkie- talkies and thing-ys in their ear and ask if they can sit me with the actual audience. I mean, it's just me. Surely, there's a seat for one. Maybe? Please? Baby, please?
Woman: "Oh. Hey. I love you! Of course! Hold on."
And at the next commercial break, she takes me all the way to the front and sits me next to Jesse Williams, two people down from Naomi Campbell, in front of Dave Chappelle and across the row from Angela Bassett. Anika Noni Rose and Janelle Monae were behind her.
In my head: "OMG! WTF!!! WTF??!!! OMG!!
My face tho?:
I can't help it. #RBF
Random observations: Jesse is fine AF, but also just a regular ass dude. And I don't mean plain. I mean unpretentious, probably plays spades, and you could put him on the block or the head seat in a boardroom and he'd be equally comfortable in either place. Naomi Campbell is even prettier in person. It's not the make up. It's the Naomi. Janelle Monae is buttons cute. And pocket size. I doubt she's five feet tall. Annika was there with a mature woman who I assumed to be her mother. It's interesting seeing people "in context". I've met her before, around the time she was “Princess Tiana”. I was enamored by her star power (not diva-ness. She has the magnetic "it".) But seeing her with her mom, I see her as a daughter, not one of the greatest actresses of this generation. And she's beautiful. Beat face. No weave. Slayed. Dave Chappelle did a running commentary under his breath the whole night. Out of respect for his privacy-- and because I wasn't there as a journalist-- I'll only say this: he's f---ing hilarious. And his wife still laughs at his jokes. Oh. And I spent a chunk of the night trying not to stare at Angela Bassett. She doesn't wear pounds of make up. I decided last night that she looks good for her age. But not 35 like she does in pictures. I decided she looks 40 in person. A good 40. A beautiful 40. But not a baby. Then I got my phone back and googled her age, only to discover she's 58. WTF?? Oh, and she LOVES hip hop. No real surprise.
I'm mixing up the order of events now. Bear with me. This is all from memory and it was all surreal. At some point, Samuel L. Jackson comes out to address the audience and POTUS/FLOTUS and almost drops a "MF" bomb. LOL. He caught himself. I don't know if he was acting or not.
Janelle Monae was the first performance I caught from the front row. She did "Smile" (how appropriate for me), then "Tight Rope". Her energy is insane. So is her singing voice. I need to get her album(s?)
BBD performed. They still got it. All of it. Like energy on 10. I don't even have that level. Or maybe I do, and I haven't tried to dance like it’s the 90s in a while. Dancing was a work out back then. I'm taller than Ricky and Mike Biv. Ronnie still looking like something. And though I haven't heard "Poison" in years, amazingly, I still know all the words. There was a camera man all up in my grill while I was singing (and dancing), so maybe you'll see evidence of that on the broadcast.
I can't give the whole concert away. BET will shoot me. What else can I tell you? Jesse Williams gave a great speech (duh!) full of quotables. Jill Scott came back out to perform "You Got Me" with The Roots. Remember Dave Chappelle's block party? That version.
Then Usher came out and duet-ed on the hook with Jill. Crazy.
And THEN, Usher closed the show with a ten minute set that included, "Yeah". He was... Usher. He has his own lane, and he was fully and gloriously in it.
At the end of the concert, POTUS took the stage and joked that the night was "Obama's Block Party". Dave Chapelle was so pleased. He said loud of enough for everyone around him to hear, "I got a shout out from the President!" It's like he couldn't believe it. And I'm like, "my dude, you're Dave Chappelle!!!!" Random Thought: I'm not sure Dave Chappelle realizes he's a major celebrity. Like to us, he made one of the greatest shows in TV history. To himself? He might as well be just another guy happy to be playing spades with Jesse Williams.
So. The after party.
It's at the actual White House, and we have to take a trolley to get back. I'm waiting to board and staring at the White House, which is lit up so much it looks like it's glowing. It's like neon, cocaine white.
When I get off the trolley, I look up at the White House back balcony -- or er, one of them-- and I think "ha! Mellie and Fitz stood there!" And I wonder if the Obamas ever go out there on a nice night and look out at the clear view of the Washington Monument. I walk inside, across the red carpets and think of Forest Whitaker in The Butler, then I think it's weird what details stand out from films.
And then I go up a set of wide marble steps (like at The Met, but shorter, and more narrow) and I'm on the main floor. There are ballrooms on either side. Between them, there's the green room and the famous red room. I'm told that the walls aren't painted for color (which gives the room their names). In fact, the "wall paper" is actually stretched silk. Ha!
One ballroom holds "dinner". I can't remember everything served, but I recall fried chicken, deep dish sausage pizza, and crab salad (the only thing I ate). There was some sort of pumpkin (?) cinnamon roll that was divine. DEE-MF-VINE. Samuel L. Jackson voice.
I found an open seat at a table that included Bevy Smith (Muvva!), EJ (!!), and "Dayanara". Then EJ left and Jasmine Guy sat down. Again, because I wasn't in working capacity and the lack of phones/recorders gave the expectation of privacy, I won't quote her, but she's HILARIOUS. Very dry sense of humor.
I wandered around for a bit after I finished eating. In a previous "life", I worked for BET and I'm also from The DMV, so there were lots of familiar faces. I caught up with many, many friends in the other ballroom where D-Nice was spinning.
*June Ambrose dropping down low and dusting the floor with it. LMAO (There's video on IG).
*D-Nice spinning "Ante Up" and "All About the Benjamins" and a Snoop song I can't remember.
*My former boss's husband hearing stirrings of Baltimore house, then percolating down the hallway, into the ballroom
*Miss Lawrence vogue-ing thru the ballroom....
*And then being overshadowed by POTUS entering the room and dancing with Janelle Monae. I can't remember what the first song was. But D-Nice spun "Hotline Bling" and POTUS kept dancing and Common and Usher popped up out of nowhere to dance with him. Everyone was screaming because no one could believe THIS was happening. POTUS danced like a man who was familiar with the song. And is accustomed to dancing.
*POTUS hung out for a sec and gave some dap, then disappeared.
That was around 1AM. I was exhausted. But I just refused to leave. I mean, do you know how long I prayed/wished/hoped for this invite? This moment? And when would I ever make it back here?
My feet hurt, so I copped a seat in hallway and people watched (Lynn Whitfield wandered by looking and being divine), chit chatted and networked. Met some good folk. I’m about that party with a purpose life and I’m pretty sure I landed another contract. We’ll see.
Oh. And I "stole" a (disposable) hand towel from the bathroom because it's the White House and had the Presidential seal. Judge me. Fight me.