Alexis Herman, former U.S. Secretary of Labor appointed by President Bill Clinton, was keynote speaker recently for the sisterhood of the Southern Nevada Coalition of Concerned Women. Herman’s message delivered at the Four Seasons Las Vegas ballroom on the Las Vegas Strip was inspiring, witty and memorable. Nevada State Congressional Rep. Shelley Berkley introduced the speaker, listing her credentials, which included her positions as board member of the Coca Cola corporations and diversity consultant on the board of MGM-Mirage.
At the age of 29, Herman was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve as the director of the Woman’s Bureau of Labor Relations, making her the youngest director in its history. She was also the first African-American ever to head the U.S. Department of Labor.
She addressed the annual charity luncheon for the well-established women’s community group. Her speech introduced five lessons, which she said were inspired by her grandmother’s teachings.
First lesson: Remember where you come from; concentrate on doing your best with what God has given to you, and always, do your best today.
Lesson two: Make new friends, but keep your old friends. Some are silver, and some are gold. Herman asked the audience to remember all the people in their lives who helped get them to where they are today, and she said always remember to thank them.
Lesson three was about “old clothes and old shoes.” When they get old, give them away and get new ones, she said, referring to staying fresh with your possessions, career and other aspects of life.
Lesson four introduced the concept of “have a pair and a spare.” This portion of her speech was truly comical, yet so refreshing. Aimed primarily at the predominantly female audience, it refers to women surviving and their personal relationships.
First, speaker Herman explains, there’s the “bread man,” then there’s the “honey man,” and then the “money man,” she said. Further explaining, the first reference is to the hard-working guy who puts bread on the table. The honey man, she said, makes you feel “so good,” but you never know where he is or if he’ll take care of the bills. The money man will clothe you, buy you jewels, and you won’t want for anything—except, maybe, his companionship, she cautions.
The lesson, which she was imparting from her grandmother, is for women to be realistic in their expectations in life. No one can be everything to everyone. Don’t burden your relationships expecting everything from one person.
The final lesson was centered on the question: What do you do when the FBI is calling? In the beginning of Herman’s career in labor relations, she moved from Atlanta to Washington, D.C. In her position, she had a background check by the FBI who traveled to Chicago to question her relatives.
Imagine Herman’s grandmother—a very feisty, wise lady, who was loathe to give up any information about her granddaughter. As a result, one day, when Herman wanted to go into the U.S. Labor Department, she was denied. It was only after she called her grandmother did she discover what happened previously on the visit.
Her grandmother stated, “There were these two White gentlemen dressed in plainclothes who were asking a lot of questions. I thought you were in trouble, and there’s no way I was going to give them any information on my grandchild.”
The moral of her story: step up to the plate and protect what is yours.