Dianne Hudson is one of those strong women. She lived during troubled times, too. As a young black woman she always knew her life was going to be special, in spite of the exclusion and harshness she experienced from racial conflict. Today she’s had many experiences that have shaped her, including her time with Oprah Winfrey as her Executive Producer. She found herself on the forefront of change for women in America.
Life is a Flow
“Get yourself aligned with the stuff that’s in the back of your mind and is calling you.”
I grew up in a pivotal time in history. I grew up seeing so many changes. I grew up during the Jim Crow laws that forced segregation. And as an African American little girl in South Carolina, I didn’t understand about racism and bigotry. We really didn’t talk about it much. It was a way of life and all I knew.
I was fortunate. I came from a family with educated parents and grandparents. They were all teachers. We lived in a family environment and it was kind of like a compound. All of our aunts, uncles, and cousins were in the same neighborhood, very nearby. I had lots of love and nurturing and wasn’t affected as a child by the turmoil outside my small world.
I went to Catholic school. And, although there was a Catholic school within walking distance, mine, the black school, was across town. We had black nuns, but the priests were white. I have a summertime memory of when I was about 7 years old watching kids in the neighborhood walk by our house in swimming suits, carrying towels. I asked my grandmother, “Where are they going?” Grandmother responded, “To the swimming pool, but you’re not allowed to go.” We just accepted that we had different rules. We were able to go to the beach, but only the “colored” beach. It wasn’t as nice as the white beach.
The bigotry DID affect me
In hindsight, the bigotry did affect me. At the time, it was the way it was. Rules were you didn’t get upset that you couldn’t go to the pool. My parents never told me why I couldn’t go; they didn’t say it was because of the color of our skin. I got lots of “no’s” without explanation.
In today’s world, white people who didn’t live during those times as an African American have an attitude of “Get over it…that is history…don’t bring up the race card…things have changed.” But experiences have chains.
We eventually moved to Baltimore where my eyes were opened to change happening in the country. Busing became a part of my childhood. I went daily to the suburbs for school. In an effort to integrate the schools, many black children were sent out of their area .The bus rides were long. Many of us felt displaced. When my classmates would have activities and get-togethers after school, I was not included.
I didn’t live in the neighborhood.
There were many critics of busing, and I understand why. But I do understand what they were trying to do. In certain ways, busing opened up a level of exposure for me that may not have happened otherwise. I went to school in a Jewish community and it was my first look at any beliefs outside the Christian religion. I learned social skills that came with meeting people other than what I had always known in my life. Some kids didn’t adapt well to the busing experience. It was too foreign. But not me: my world got bigger. I was exposed to a life developing for me.
I’m reminded of the story Oprah tells when her grandmother said, “You better watch to see how I do this clothes washing…so you can do it someday.” Oprah remembers thinking, I don’t think so.
I knew my life was going to be interesting
I always just kind of knew I was going to be someplace else. And as I grew more and more into adulthood, I felt my life was going to be interesting. I was getting more skills. Success skills, in a way.
I was fortunate to have educated parents. It was a given that I would go to college. I supposed I would get a teaching degree like the rest of my family, but my motherencouraged me to think bigger, to think of what I love and what I was good at, and make it my career. I was a natural writer, so my direction became journalism.
As a kid, we had three TV stations. It was the talk shows like Merv Griffin and Dinah Shore that I always wanted to watch. While my friends watched Mickey Mouse Club or some after-school kids’ show, I was fascinated by the talk shows. When I was asked to be a production assistant for a local talk show, I got a glimpse of what I had been preparing for all along. In a field like this, it wasn’t like other careers. There were few female mentors and teachers to help lead the way. And not for a black woman, especially.
I got my first taste of affirmative action when I was a senior in college. The Associated Press called me and was looking to hire. I was referred to them by one of my professors. They had a writing test I needed to take, so I did that. Then they gave me the job. I was confused. It was hard to understand how I could get a job simply through a test and with no interview. When I asked them about it, they explained that the reference from my professor was good enough. It dawned on me that they were fulfilling the new affirmative action requirements set forth by the government. It was a way of implementing opportunities for us after the lifelong insidious exclusion that we experienced. Many others didn’t understand…many still don’t.
8 women and Oprah
What happened for me was I spent 10 years of my career working on local talk shows in Detroit. Then I got a call. There was an African American woman hosting a new show, and she was putting together a team. She was going up against The Phil Donahue Show in Chicago. And she was launching the show in 30 days! Right then I knew this was going to be something special. And within two weeks of launch, Phil Donahue was struggling and The Oprah Winfrey Show was off and running.
We were an all-woman crew with the opportunity to communicate to women and relate in a different way. It wasn’t just news. In fact, news wasn’t layered enough for me. This was my opportunity to build depth in stories and experiences that news didn’t allow.
I was one of eight who started with Oprah. We did five live shows per week. It wasn’t long before it became clear to Oprah that we should build in the spiritual and philanthropic component. No more regular talk-show stuff.
I became Executive Producer and was in charge of ratings. My instructions were to change the show and yet stay number one. It was a challenge. At first, viewers didn’t understand the philanthropy or spirituality angles. It was the mid-’90s and there was no differentiation between spirituality and religion like there is today. Spirituality meant church then and that confused some viewers.
But we kept pushing. Oprah would tell me, “Dianne, this isn’t just a show…it’s a mission.” So we developed the Angel Network and began our quest to uplift and inform…to give a broader perspective and open up the world to one another. We developed a Christmas Kindness effort for needy children and put it on the show; we took food and toys to thousands of kids in Africa and put it on the show; we started the school in Africa and asked people to donate on the show. We got on Nelson Mandela’s radar. And the rest is history.
And right now, today, when I turn on OWN, I can’t even tell you how great it feels for me to watch it. To know that I was a part of that journey and the richness it gave the life of a little black girl from a segregated community in the South, along with the rest of the world.