Today is my Father's birthday. He would have been 73 if that AWFUL thing called cancer had not ripped him from us so soon. He lived a life that I could only imagine living, and he turned out to be a man anyone would be lucky to be.
I am remembering our excitement about the upcoming show at the Griffin Museum in Winchester and the frustrations AND loves of my job and my desire to get back into painting and drawing.
On one occassion, I forwarded him a story a friend from my childhood sent me. It was about my first days at the prep school I was to attend mid year when I was in 4th grade. 8 yrs old and I was scared to death of ONLY would I make friends, will they like me, who are these people? I later found out (thankfully NOT at that time) that the students were being warned NOT to make fun of me, and "That black girl is starting today...".
I found the email today that was sent to me, telling me about his trials and gave me MORE reason to be proud of him. As if I NEEDED one. I thought I would share it, since I think with ALL that he accomplished, there WAS a lot he was still fighting every day of his powerfully successful life! I love him with all of my heart and soul!
|Dad and I, Winchester 1972|
"Lis, count yourself among the lucky. 1) When I was in the fourth grade, my teacher upon addressing me for not doing something I thought was disrespectful said, “Sit down, do you want me to call you nigger?” Not to mention that in the 1940s, there were a number of immigrants coming from Europe after the second world war. They were moved into places of prominence in the class, and most of us black kids were steered into shop courses while the white students, unless they were dirt poor were given options for college prep and other higher professions. 2) when I started at the Winchester Church, there was a great meeting about the possibility of my starting as their youth minister. Some of the comments were rather hurtful, and yes, there were people who put on a happy face when I started, with every hope that I would fail. What sustained me/us was my education and the fact that I was indeed smarter than most of them. Maybe not wealthy, but able to hold my own and push they far beyond where they ever expected to be. 3) when I started at the Danvers church, there were some folks, with whom I had to work in the youth group that were intentional about assuring that I failed. Indeed, when I went on a retreat with the kids, one of them went back to the church and had a meeting with the minister and a few of the deacons suggesting that I just wasn’t the right person for the job. Lois Peeler, Christian Education director at the time, heard of this and threatened to leave if they ever did anything like that again. 4) MA Conference, there were a group of pastors who had a series of meeting and sent a letter to the conference minister suggesting that I didn’t really understand the culture of the North East Area, and regretted the decision of the search committee in hiring me. 5) Conn Conference: There was a group of pastors who were a members of various of my association who conspired to make sure that I failed. Two of them had a conversation with one of my colleagues, who did not tell me about their efforts. This colleague used every opportunity to try to embarrass me, but I was always successful in knocking him out of the park. 6) two of my bosses, one at the Career Center and one at the Conn Conference, wanted me to be simply window dressing. When they found that I had a mind of my own and would not back down from what I thought were expected behavior, their support, indeed many of their efforts were directed at making life rather difficult for me. I could go on and on….but the bottom line: there were literally hundreds of people who did appreciate what I did in all of my work. Indeed, the fact that I got the job and broke open numerous barriers opened up people to a variety of new ideas, new approaches to problem solving and a unified process for dealing with multiple applications in the church and career counseling.
The reality is there are people and will always be who are more threatened by change even when they have all of the resources at their disposal. There is a sense that once in, they will be moved out of their comfort zone and have to do things differently. The fortunate part, is you, nor I, was lynched because we wouldn’t bend. I would suggest you attempt to do something that I did not too long ago. I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin written by Harriet Beecher Stowe. I gives a pretty raw accounting of the slave trade and what happened to families regardless of how hard they tried to maintain a sense of dignity. The fact that we were living in the Northern America didn’t mean that the subtle seeds of hatred would be absent. Indeed, whether Mrs. Cobb knew it or not, the implication was that every one of those kids were being invited into her inner circle of adult prejudice and told that they were superior to you/us, regardless of what the administration chose to do. This is the system that has plagued us for centuries, and continues to plague us and yes, the Obama administration.
Are we no better off than before? Of course we are. Would you have run into the form of prejudice regardless of where you went to school or lived? Yes! Even the black schools had to deal with administrations whose expectations were always lower than they should have been. Sadly, some of the kids, who heard that conversation, were made to feel superior and they acted accordingly. Others, who got a chance to know you and like and trust you, were confused because of the powerful role and influence of, otherwise gifted teachers and mentors giving them misinformation.
This is the legacy of the black family over the years. It may not be as overt as once it was, but it lives none the less in the hearts and minds of many people. Look at the republican left, and to be really honest, the millions of other, regardless of affiliation, who are hoping that every black person fails. We hold on to what sustains us and release it at our peril: The family and genuine friends who, when the chips are really down, would give their life, indeed have to assure that we get an education so that we can attempt to compete on a more even field of battle.
Try not to read too much into this not surprising revelation from (student). You are simply standing in the company of millions a folks who experienced this phenomenon on a variety of levels and continued to hold their head high. It should help to know that most, if not all of us, have made advances even with the weight of that oppression and derision on our backs. “Don’t make fun of her!” Indeed.