A little over a month ago I was listening to public radio when I came across my now favorite quote of all time. It was spoken by the leader of the wildly successful all female brass band, the Pinettes, who have recently been named “Street Queens” by beating out all of the male dominated bands in the Street Kings brass band competition. Members of the group collaboratively spoke of their journey to build and keep the group together. At one point, they got to a part about when the group almost fell apart. Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath had struck the group hard, and many members were forced to move away, including band leaders. Those who remained were determined to keep their band going, so with new leadership, they recruited, rehearsed, and rebuilt.
The reporter asked members about that leader, Christey Jourdain, how she led and why it worked. They all had great things to say about their respect for her and gratitude for her stepping in. They said she knew the delicate balance of when to be a friend and when to step in and be an authority. The reporter asked Jourdain why she took on this role and how she liked it. She said earnestly that prior to Katrina, she had been perfectly happy taking a back seat and letting others organize. She was a quiet member of the band (relatively speaking…she does play snare drum), and she wasn’t comfortable being in charge. Then she said with conviction, “But when you have 9 people depending on you, you have to be a tiger. You can’t be a little kitty.”
I scribbled her words down, but I really didn’t need to because they stuck with me so like glue. That night I told my sister. I told my coworkers the next day. I told my clients, who latched onto it through their squat jumps and step ups. I tweeted it. I told my 9-year old soccer team, who now answer the question, “when you have your whole team depending on you, can you be a little kitty?” with “NO!!!!” and the follow up,”what do you have to be?” with “a TIGER!!!” I quote that line at a drop of a hat, and the more I share it, the more strength I get from it. I tell it to myself all the time.
We all have times when we feel like being a kitty or like we are a kitty, just small, scared, and quiet. Sometimes it seems like there’s not enough strength inside to do what has to be done. But like Jourdain realized, we all have a choice to be powerful and brave and strong. We can always be a tiger, and it’s a mandate, a responsibility to call on that strength when others are depending on us.
Today I was reminded of this choice and it’s power when listening again to a radio interview. I caught the tail end of a man talking about his fight for justice in the judicial system. He spoke about a time when he met with two old ladies who had been intimately involved with the civil rights movement in the MLK camp. They asked him what he was working on and he passionately spoke about what he was fighting for- a long list of criminal rights, prison reforms, and movements in and out of politics. One of the ladies looked at him and said, “Sounds like you’re gonna be tired, tired, tiiiiiired.” The other grabbed his hand and said, “That’s why you have to be brave, brave, brave.”