Margaret and I went to our grandson’s birthday party last year (he turned the big 1 year old!). After the excitement of cake and opening gifts he went down for a nap and left his father, big sister, my brother-in-law, and his wife to watch television with Margaret and me. I’m not much of a TV kind of guy so
I wasn’t particularly paying attention to much attention to the television – that is, until a commercial came on for Black History Month. That’s when I heard my brother-in-law ask out loud, “Why don’t they have a White History Month?”
My stepson chimed in, “Yep, my daughter and I have had several discussions about that. They don’t honor us with a month. What’s up with that?”
“Why do they have a special month for Black people?” my granddaughter asked. About the same time, I heard my sister-in-law mutter something about tearing down all our Confederate monuments. I was steaming mad and extremely hurt.
I love and appreciate my in-laws (most of them anyway, but I digress…). Where our children are concerned, both Margaret and I decided when we married that we didn’t have “step” kids, just “our” kids. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised by my brother-laws response nor by his wife’s opinion. But… when it comes to the kids that’s a different story. I can accept political differences – they’re extremely conservative and I’m not – but to remain silent in the face of blatant racism is, as Dr. King aptly said, is complicity and acceptance. I cannot be quiet.
I stepped outside, taking a moment to breathe, and be as loving as possible with my response. They were, after all, family. I wanted them to hear why it is important to have a month dedicated to Black History and to see people of color through a lens unclouded by white supremacy and stereotypes. By the time I had calmed down enough to speak with some degree of respect, my in-laws were leaving. My stepson came out on the porch to see them off and remained there with Margaret and me. I spoke up.
“You know the reason we have Black History Month and not a White History Month is because every day is white history day. White people wrote the history. They were able to include or omit anything they wanted to. They only tell of the history they want to tell, and everything is subject to a White view of the world.”
“But…” he started.
I cut him off. “Let me finish. Take Juneteenth for instance. I never learned about it in school. It wasn’t until I was an adult and heard somebody say ‘there was going to be trouble in Como (an old African-American neighborhood here in Fort Worth) since it’s Juneteenth. They trash it every year.’ All I could say is what’s Juneteenth?” I’d never heard of it.”
“Pick your word – the master, the victor, the oppressor – writes the history. It’s no wonder everything else gets left out. That’s really sad. The more I learn of Black history, the more I feel robbed in my youth of a vibrant story, particularly right here in Texas.”
“Over the years, and particularly the last three and a half years with Ms. Opal, I’ve learned how much Black men and women contributed to the community and the world I live in. We need to take more than just a month to recognize those things”. I won’t bore you with the details of the rest of our conversation and honestly, I don’t know if it made any difference with him, but I hope it did – especially because it influences my granddaughter’s attitudes and behavior in matters of race.
One of my favorite quotes is from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
The important thing is for those of us who want to see a more just, equitable world is to speak up. Some folks are never openminded and a conversation may never be possible, but you never know unless you speak up. Maybe, just maybe a seed will be planted; a way to see old thinking as it is – white supremacy. If that brings about an open mind and more discussion (not argument) on issues of racial justice, then I’m thrilled to have been the “Sower of seed…”. As Ms. Opal always reminds me, “If a person can be taught to love, then they can be taught to hate”.
Look for and celebrate the contributions of African-Americans in your own community and share those with others. For instance, here in Fort Worth there are many organizations, libraries, and monuments that are frequently overlooked or unknown by the White populace. Try taking a walk around Evans Plaza, where each block of pavement has a story of Black history in Texas and in Fort Worth. There’s the Lenora Rolla Heritage Center Museum in the historic Boone House (1020 East Humboldt Street – open by appointment) run by the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society. The Transform 1012 organization is working to transform what is thought to be the last standing building actually built by and for the KKK – later known as the Ellis Pecan building on North Main – into a multicultural meeting place and performance venue. There is also the Fort Worth Lynching Tour – a bicycle tour beginning in the Stockyards dedicated to telling the story of Fred Rouse, lynched by a Fort Worth mob in 1921.
There are many other organizations, sites, and museums – either existing or planned that tell the story of Black History in Fort Worth. There will soon be a new Juneteenth Museum located on the site of the old one at Evans and Rosedale. Fort Worth is also in the location and planning stages of building its own African-American History museum.
Each year, Unity Unlimited, Inc. hosts Fort Worth’s Juneteenth Celebration with a month of events and we’d love to see you there. We celebrated the signing last year with a huge festival and fireworks to mark the celebration of everyone’s freedom. As Ms. Opal says, “No one is free until everyone is free”.
Unity Unlimited, Inc, is celebrating Black History Month by hosting the Dallas Racial Healing & Transformation’s kick off in Fort Worth on February 23rd, from 6:00PM to 8:00PM at Tarrant County College South Campus, “A New Community Vision for Fort Worth”. There will be a conversation with Ms. Opal Lee and a wonderful program for all Fort Worthians to build a better community.
These are just a few of the reasons I celebrate Black History Month. If you’re in Fort Worth, please come celebrate with us’ but please celebrate wherever you are. It is something to celebrate!
– Rosa Parks, Quiet Strength (1994)
I spent yesterday afternoon with a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Seriously! I was delivering food boxes with Ms. Opal Lee and found out she had just been nominated for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize. In true Ms. Opal fashion, she laughed and said, “There’s thirty-two other nominees but it’s great to be one of them”. It was no big deal to her – just another of the honors this beautiful woman has received in her ninety-five years of service to her community and the world. Meanwhile, we went about delivering food boxes as she’s done for many years – just another of the ways she serves her community with love and determination.
I’ve thought much of the gifts I’ve received since I began working for Unity Unlimited, Inc. in the Fall of 2018. Perhaps the greatest gift of all is knowing Ms. Opal. I wish I could talk to the Nobel Prize Committee directly; to tell them about this special woman who makes the lives of everyone she touches better. It’s not just the public things she does – and does she do a lot! I can only speak for myself, but I feel I’m not alone. She’s helped me become a better human being.
She’s quietly taught me to love and serve others better. Simply being in her orbit transforms my heart daily. People probably get tired of hearing me say, “Ms. Opal says…” but they’ll have to get over it. I’ve become adept at sharing the many things I’ve learned from her. I could not have asked for a better mentor and friend. The wisdom she has so graciously shared with me is the good news of what it means to be just another of God’s kids serving God’s other kids. I’ve learned the simple value of listening and serving.
Working for Unity Unlimited, Inc has been a Godsend. Dione Sims, her granddaughter, is our Executive Director and I get to tell everyone I work in the family business! One day a while back, I told Ms. Opal that I was jealous of Dione. When she asked why in the world was I jealous of Dione I told her that Dione got to call her Grand Dear and both my grandparents were gone. She laughed and told me some of the most precious words I could ever imagine – “Oh, son, I am your grandmother. I’m just from a different mother.”
Now I know Ms. Opal is “the grandmother of Juneteenth” and I know she’s a grandmother to multitudes of people because that’s just who she is, but I’m so proud to claim her as my own.
So… to the Nobel Prize Committee – I know there are thirty-three nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize this year. I know they are all eminently qualified to be winners. I’ve read of their work and praise them all. But… I don’t know them and they’re not my grandmother. I can’t think of anyone better to receive the honor this year than Ms. Opal Lee!
While everyone can be a role model, not everyone can be larger-than-life. I think of those that are “larger” than the rest of us as the positive role models to role models. We all have larger than life heroes.
The kind of hero they are changed as I’ve grew. It was John Wayne, Superman, and John F. Kennedy when I was growing up in the sixties. My definition of a hero changed by the time I was in college in the seventies – it was more of an anti-hero. If you were against the establishment, I was with you! I even had a Che Guevarra poster in my dorm room and a “Question Authority” bumper sticker on my car (both by the way, were a burr under the saddle of the administration of the Christian college I attended for a year where piety and strict obedience were the norm).
I’m not sure who my heroes were in the eighties and nineties. Those were lost decades in many ways. I think I thought of anyone who could stay clean and sober was my hero. I sure wasn’t hanging around anyone like that. The new century brought about the recovery I’d longed for and my definition of “larger-than-life” changed once again to those that looked beyond themselves to serve the common good and make this a better place to be.
It I’d be willing to wager that we’ve all wanted to be a hero. I’ve even met folks who believe themselves to be one (a little clue – larger than life people don’t think of themselves as heroes, or even think of themselves at all, really – at least not mine…).
What is larger-than-life?
“What creates such larger-than-life people? Their altruism is hard to understand by almost any psychological definition of the human person. I believe such people have built their lives on the reality of union with God, Reality, or What Finally Is.” – Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (New York: Convergent Books, 2019), 161–162.
“Surrender is the strongest, most subversive thing you can do in this world. It takes strength to admit you are weak, bravery to show you are vulnerable, courage to ask for help.” – Holly Whitaker
“Your ordinary acts of love and hope point to the extraordinary promise that every human life is of inestimable value.” – Desmond Tutu
“Whatever that you do, you begin from the premise that you’re human together.” – Musimbi Kanyoro
“I’m not sure it even matters what the artist thought they wanted when they sat down to create the work. The art itself seems to want something, to make a change in the world. And the ability to create art like that belongs to each of us.” – Seth Godin
“If someone can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love. – Dr. Opal Lee (the Grandmother of Juneteenth)
I asked Ms. Opal if I needed to start calling her Dr. Lee. She laughed and told me Ms. Opal is fine. That’s what larger-than-life heroes do…