I was thrilled to learn that the book I co-authored with Shoshana Johnson, “I’m Still Standing: From Captive U.S. Soldier to Free Citizen, My Journey Home,” was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. The book was one of five in a literary category for best bio/autobiography.
While I had little faith we would actually win since the competition in our category seemed insurmountable (Condoleezza Rice, Nelson Mandela, Jay-Z, Ray Charles Robinson Jr. … I mean, really?), I knew I couldn’t miss going to the star-studded, classic-Hollywood, red-carpet event.
It was an easy decision to take my brother, retired Col. Larry Doyle, as my escort, largely because the book is about Shoshana’s experience as a POW in Iraq. I credit the vividness of the Iraq sections to the convoy that Larry and I took from Kuwait to Baghdad together in 2003. Because of that trip and my own years in uniform, I was able to paint a clear picture of the sights, smells and feel of the place. Plus, Larry looks darn good in his dress blues.
We were headed for a place filled with celebrities. My brother and I were unknown nobodies from nowhere. Hollywood people would be snooty and rude. We would stand in a corner, ignored and feeling stupid.
Sometimes, it’s good to be wrong.
A woman from the NAACP Image Award committee came up to us early during the gala reception and encouraged us to just walk up to folks and say “hello.”
“Chances are, they’re nominees too,” she said, “and probably just as nervous as you are.”
We took her advice. Every person who I recognized, I approached and said I loved whatever show or movie featuring them I had seen. They were always gracious, friendly, and wanted a photo with us just as much as we wanted photos with them.
“Here, over here! Look here!”
One photographer actually shouted at me, “Own it girlfriend!”
The things I will remember the most: hearing actor Joe Morton tell my brother, “Thank you for your service”; seeing my homeboy, Prince, serve as a presenter; and when Lou Gossett Jr. saw my brother, he snapped to attention and saluted.
An unforgettable moment was when retired four-star Gen. Colin Powell walked down the aisle near our seats. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to shake his hand.
“General!” I shouted.
He stopped, took one look at Larry, then came back and shook our hands, smiling, obviously pleased to see a man in uniform.
Halle Berry (so skinny I thought she would break), Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams, Clarke Peters (from HBO’s “The Wire” and “Treme”), Samuel L. Jackson, Benjamin Bratt, Ruben Studdard … there seemed no end to the stars.
If there was anything disappointing about the experience, aside from not hearing my name called (Ray Charles’s son took the honor), was realizing the complete lack of understanding most people have for the Army uniform. After almost 30 years in the Army Reserve, Larry wears a respectable rack of awards including a Bronze Star. The silver eagles on his shoulders, one would think, are easily recognizable.
But no. One woman asked if he was in the Navy. Another asked if he was a private. Even worse, a man walked up to Larry and attempted to give my brother his parking-valet claim ticket.
But even the ignorance of the guests couldn’t dampen our fun. The show was great, we had fantastic seats, the food and drinks at both the gals the night before and the after-party were unbelievably good — and best of all — free.
My brother and I left the events exhausted, happy and filled with memories that will linger — long after that trophy would be collecting dust on a shelf somewhere.
Despite coming up a little short as an NAACP Image Award recipient, in my mind Larry and I walked away as big winners.
That’s winner with a capital “W.”