Condoleezza Rice, once a child deemed unworthy to sit on Santa’s knee, is now in the owners’ box at Broncos games

A 5-year-old girl went to visit Santa Claus, but found bigotry with a white beard and a red suit. The year was 1959. The place was Alabama. The young girl was Condoleezza Rice.

“I’ll tell you an interesting story,” Rice said last Sunday as we stood in a hallway outside Empower Field’s locker room at Mile High prior to the Denver Broncos’ home game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

This is a story of how hope triumphs over hate.

“I am 5 years old and I am going to see Santa Claus. Santa takes all the little white kids and puts them on his knee while holding the black kids at arm’s length.

Her parents watched this scene unfold in disbelief and anger, with John Wesley Rice telling his wife, Angelena, that if the bigot treated Condoleezza the same way, he could rip the stuffing out of merry old St. Nick.

“I remember thinking years later, ‘What a strange way to experience racism. From Santa,” said Rice, who discovered as a child that prejudice pervaded the Deep South, from the schoolyard to the local diner. “Racism has permeated everything in life. But it didn’t stop you from succeeding either. It made you very tough. You learned to deal with difficult circumstances.”

A racist idiot in a Santa suit could have been the Grinch who stole a little girl’s belief that America was a good place. However, Rice was taught from an early age never to blink at prejudice. As the daughter of a former semi-professional offensive lineman, standing up after a hard blow to her DNA.

“The essence of America — that which really unites us — is not ethnicity or nationality or religion,” Rice said during a speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention. “It’s an idea, and what an idea it is: that you can come from humble circumstances and do great things, that it matters not where you come from, but where you go.”

In the early 21st century, Rice went to the White House and made history as the first woman to serve as U.S. National Security Advisor. In 2005, President George W. Bush entrusted her with responsibilities as Secretary of State, fourth in line of succession to the presidency.

More than six decades after being deemed unworthy to sit on Santa’s lap in the segregated South, the Birmingham of her childhood, Rice took her seat in the owner’s box of an NFL stadium in Mile High City on Sunday as a shareholder with a small interest in the Broncos.

“My father was a football coach when I was born. I would be his all-American linebacker. When he had a girl, he decided to teach her about the sport instead,” Rice said in August when members of the new ownership group were introduced following Rob Walton’s record-breaking $4.65 billion purchase of the Broncos. “Even though my dad has gone to the Lord, I have to think today he’s thinking, ‘She finally has a very important job.'”

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