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What’s a “Black” Holiday?

I love being part of Cowtown Farmers Market. Market mornings are the high point of my week. I get to spend time with our regular customers and the vendors who have helped me so much along the way. All the division and strife our country is experiencing seems to disappear for a few hours.

We work hard to keep politics out of the market. However, I have a couple of bumper stickers on my truck that clearly define my personal political and spiritual stance. Usually, if any of our customers make a political comment, it’s folks who tell me they like my bumper stickers. It’s nice to know there are other Christians and Progressives out there in Fort Worth. Texas is not exactly known for social justice Christians and progressive politics.

I was setting up at Cowtown Farmers Market a couple of weeks ago. I was running a bit behind that Saturday. Customers tend to come earlier than the posted 8 AM start time. The market “old timers” – the regulars who have shopped there for years – get there early to get first pick on everything. The Covid crisis has also brought many new shoppers to Cowtown. The shortages at the beginning of the pandemic caused people to take a renewed interest in where their food comes from. Plus, outside markets are an excuse to get out and see others. Covid has isolated so many folks.

I was placing the week’s produce on the table when I heard someone remark “I don’t know if I can buy from someone who has a Bernie sticker on their truck”.

I looked up. A couple about my age stood there staring at me as if they were ready to pounce on any possible response I might say. I smiled, said “okay”, and went about my business.

Apparently, I didn’t give the anticipated response. The man declared, “That guy’s a socialist. Is that what you want?”

Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have even responded to begin with. Some people don’t want to discuss an issue. They only want to argue – no discussion involved. Unfortunately, I nibbled on the hook a bit. “How’d you get here this morning?”

“I drove”.

“On a public road?”, I asked.

“Yes, but my taxes paid for that” he retorted. His speech was becoming louder and more antagonistic.

I tried to de-escalate the conversation. I casually remarked, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I just know Bernie to be a good man. His was the only campaign to reach out and help our namesake, Ms. Opal with making Juneteenth a federal holiday”. I was praying they would move on. 

“What?”, the man asked.

His wife chimed in, “You know what Juneteenth is. It’s that black holiday.”

He grumbled, “Great. Just what we need – another black day off we’ll have to pay for”.

That’s when he set the hook. I bit down hard and wasn’t letting this one go. “You know buddy, I’ll make this easy for you. I don’t sell to racist Trump supporters.”

I guess he wasn’t expecting that. He gasped and hurriedly walked away.

I immediately felt guilty about my retort. Market is no place for such behavior (although I shared this with a couple of the other vendors and received big thanks). I take my job seriously. I represent Opal’s Farm to the community. I never want to cast the farm in a negative light. Moreover, as a non-profit we refrain from political endorsement and don’t identify as left, right, or middle on the political spectrum. Our main mission is to provide “educational activities and resources to people, young and old, to foster unity and harmony within the community, the city, the state, the nation and the world regardless of race, culture or denomination.” My reply to our visitor at market didn’t exactly reflect our mission.

When I told Ms. Opal about the interchange she replied, “Now you know what I’ve been facing all my life”. Her words have stuck with me since that day.

I wish I could see that couple again and have a real discussion, not an argument. That seems impossible in our country currently. If I’m honest, there was a time in my life when I might have thought of Juneteenth as a “black” holiday. Celebrating the freedom of a whole people is cause for celebration but it simply didn’t apply to me. There was no way to understand its importance because I didn’t share in the experience. At least I didn’t think so.

Part of the Juneteenth Caravan

It has been my privilege and honor to be a part of Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. When I became the Farm Manager and part of Unity, I began to spend a lot of time with Ms. Opal. Although she retired from teaching in the Fort Worth Independent School District, she hasn’t stopped teaching. I’ve learned more about my community and myself in the last two years that I ever did in all my years at school and the education continues…

Ms. Opal

Opal Lee has spent a lifetime as an educator, activist, and advocate for making Juneteenth a Federal holiday. She always tells everyone that it’s a unifier – for everyone regardless of color. Today I get it. Juneteenth is not only a celebration of emancipation for black slaves – it’s emancipation for everyone.

It’s emancipation from old ideas and social constructs. I always leaned far to the left in socio-political matters. However, being “liberal” is its own brand of white (or class) supremacy as well intentioned as it may be. Liberal white folks and the privilege afforded them does not in any way mean they know what’s best for others, especially people of color and other cultures.

Juneteenth allowed me to begin the honest self-examination that shed new light on old ideas. It freed me to acknowledge my own privilege and prejudices. Juneteenth corrected my vision and allowed me to love and serve others in a new, better way. It facilitated spiritual growth in ways I cannot put into words. It also freed me to make living amends for my well-intentioned failures by freeing me to be an ally for others and not having to have all the answers for them or myself.

Ultimately, it freed me to have deep, meaningful relationships and grow my community. That is the end result of true emancipation – a broad all-encompassing community that serves and supports one another. That’s something for everyone to celebrate and something we need now more than ever…

To learn more about Juneteenth, Ms. Opal Lee, Opal’s Walk to DC, Unity Unlimited Inc., and making Juneteenth a National Holiday please go to:

www.opalswalk2dc.com

www.unityunlimited.org

www.juneteenthftw.com

www.juneteenth.com

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Be Like Chuck

This is a difficult update to write today. Yesterday we learned that our friend, Chuck Briant, passed away unexpectedly on Monday. We are heartbroken by his passing. Chuck was a huge supporter and advocate for Opal’s Farm and I’m proud to call him my friend. Our prayers are with his family during this difficult time.

Chuck and I met early last summer. Our mutual friend, Harrison had brought him out to the farm. Chuck fell in love with Opal’s Farm right away. He made it a point to stop by the farm frequently, even during the extreme heat of the Texas summer and the blustery chill of winter. He helped harvest, prepare beds for Spring, and keep everyone in line. The only time we didn’t see him was when he went out of town to visit his kids and grandkids.

During the lean times of our first year it was Chuck that helped us through. More than once it was his words that kept me from giving up when it seemed impossible to make our dream of an urban farm a reality. He had an uncanny ability to say just the right thing at just the right time. I can’t tell you how much his encouragement and wisdom helped me grow as not only the Farm Manager, but as a person.

He had an incredible servant’s heart – particularly when it came to making sure everyone had food, healthy food, on the table. His passion was contagious. Most importantly, he served with a humble spirit, often asking to remain anonymous in matters of service. He gave freely – something we should all aspire to.

I think we were all in shock yesterday when we heard the news. Today was a mix of tears and “Chuck stories”. It’s fitting that I was watering in new seed when I got the call yesterday. Chuck was always intent on watering everything in good – sometimes to a fault. He’d always ask if I needed to get some water down. “Those plants look like they need some water”. I could never convince him that they were going to be okay (especially since I’d watered earlier in the day. As I worked the tomato beds today, I could see him standing there with hose in hand.

We’re convinced that Chuck knew everyone. His network of friends was unbelievable, which isn’t surprising given who Chuck was. We used to joke that when we all get to heaven Chuck will be deep in conversation with Jesus and somebody will walk by and ask who that is over there talking to Chuck…

Chuck touched each one of us who knew him in a unique way and helped us all be better people. He is missed more than words can say. We wish everyone could “be like Chuck”. We’d all be better for it.

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Growing and Going…

Down at the Farm – Our social media pages have been somewhat neglected over the last three weeks. Many of you know my son passed on May 29th. Thank you to the many friends of Opal’s Farm and our great volunteers for keeping the farm going during my absences and your words of condolences. The wonderful (and sometimes not so wonderful) thing about the farm is that it grows and goes despite life showing up in ways I’d prefer it not to. I’ve been so busy playing catch up that I’ve failed to update everyone. Believe me, there’s a lot happening!

First, we rode in the Juneteenth celebration and caravan on Friday. It was incredible to see the love and support for Juneteenth and for making it a Federal holiday. It was even more incredible to see the diversity of the crowd in both the caravan and along Lancaster Avenue as we followed Ms. Opal to Will Rogers Auditorium. The time for unity is now. Ms. Opal is right. Juneteenth is a unifier!       

I would love to thank each of our volunteers who participated in the caravan as well. Thanks Mike and Alexis for riding your bikes alongside Ms. Opal and those walking with her. Thanks to Stacey, Ethan, and Averie for making a lot of noise and helping hold the Opal’s Farm banner for all to see. A huge thank you to Blue Zones Project Fort Worth for making the banner possible! It now proudly hangs in our booth at each of our markets!

Tomato-palooza!

To make Juneteenth even better, Ms. Opal’s petition to make Juneteenth a Federal holiday has passed ONE MILLION signatures. We all well on our way to 1.5 million! Ms. Opal started out with the goal of 100,000 signees. I think we’ve passed it. It’s not to late to sign the petition. Please go to www.opalswalk2DC.com today!

One Million and growing…

Finally, it was announced that Senator John Cornyn of Texas will introduce a Senate Bill declaring Juneteenth a Federal holiday. NPR also reported the Representative Sheila Jackson Lee has a House Bill with over 200 co-sponsors for Juneteenth. Things are happening folks so let’s celebrate and keep pressing forward.

The farm has been coming right along this Spring. Last Saturday was Tomato-palooza at Cowtown Farmers Market (www.cowtownmarket.com) and we had some serious tomato action happening. We have produced over three hundred pounds of tomatoes so far! We didn’t have only tomatoes, of course. We had cucumbers, green beans, peppers of all kinds, squash (several varieties), onions, potatoes, carrots, and best of all, purple hull peas (and they are really coming in…).

Thanks to all our volunteers. We’ve had several new folks who signed up this last week to come work at the farm. Unfortunately (at least for them), the weather hasn’t been conducive to volunteering. We love the rain, though. Hang in there and come out when the sun comes out!

You all can find us at www.unityunlimited.org/opalsfarm to sign up or donate today. We make each donation count as we move forward into the Fall planting season! See you soon…

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Several of our farm volunteers have asked if we will be working today, Memorial Day. The answer is a definite yes – if the weather cooperates. It didn’t. I woke to sounds of raindrops hitting the air conditioner. The farm doesn’t grant many days off or holidays this time of year. There’s too much to do. Add to the mix COVID-19 and social distancing and typical holiday get-togethers are out of the question. However, I will take a moment, rain or no rain, to stop by the cemetery today to honor my father, grandfather, and two uncles who served in the military during a time of two world wars.

My Grandfather fled an abusive homelife at the age of fourteen, lied about his age, and became a “Doughboy” at the tender age of fifteen. He soon found himself on the front lines of World War One. His experiences there left him skeptical of a government that asked him to risk his life in combat and promptly forget about him when he came home. That’s probably why he was a life-long Democrat and ardent Republican hater.

He became a contractor and later owned a nursery and landscaping business. I found one of his old business cards from the fifties. He had spared no expense on the color, double-sided card. The back of his business card said:

LANDSCAPING—GRASS SODDING—I NEED A JOB

Eisenhower is my shepherd. I am dire in want. He maketh me to lie down on park benches. He leadeth me beside still factories. He restoreth my doubt in the Republican Party. He guideth me in the paths of unemployment for his party’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the alley of soup kitchens, I am still hungry and do feel evil, for he is against me. His Cabinet and his senate discomfort me. Thou didst prepare a reduction in my wages, in the presence of my creditors. Thou anointest my income with taxes; my expense runneth over. Surely hard times and poverty shall follow me all the days of the Republican Administration, and I will dwell in a rented house forever.

Loan Me a Dime – eh. “Me” no wineo, Thanks.

Shepp’s Nursery

I have a feeling that he contributed to my leftist leanings…

I remember sitting in his old work truck as a kid, listening to his stories, and watching him chew his White Owl cigar to a nub (and wondering why he never spit…). He’d survived a gas attack during the war and couldn’t smoke. It was lip cancer, not lung cancer, that took him in 1972. Dad told me many years later that we sat in his old work truck because he didn’t want to be in the house with that crazy old woman (my mother’s mother), but that’s another story…

My Dad was the youngest of three boys. He didn’t get drafted until the war was over and served in the Army Air Corp stateside. However, his brothers were not as fortunate. Uncle Don served in the Army Air Corp as well – a Bomber Ordinance Unit in the South Pacific – while Uncle Bynam, the middle brother was in the Army in Europe. Uncle Don came home. Uncle Bynam did not. He and his entire squad were killed at Anzio, Italy in 1944. The invasion at Anzio, called Operation Shingle, was one of the most ill-conceived operations of the war. Risk-taking is always easy for officers in the rear…

I did not serve. By the time I was of draft age, Selective Service registration was suspended. Everyone wanted to forget the Vietnam debacle that had cost over 58,000 American lives. They also wanted to forget the veterans who came home with wounds that couldn’t be seen. I know. As a college intern in a congressional Veteran Service office I heard stories from forgotten, broken young servicemen and tried to help them navigate a Veterans Affairs system that could care less. Don’t get me started…

My father and uncles are part of what has come to be known as the “Greatest Generation”, and rightly so. They lived through the Great Depression and the horror of World War Two. They saw the burst of economic growth that followed the war. They handed my generation a better life (at least for some of us) than they had lived. Their war seemed to make some sense. It’s no wonder we romanticize them as the “greatest”.

The rain looks like it’s going to stick around for a while. I’ll grab my jacket and head over to the family cemetery plot. My Grandmother Joel purchased the plot on her meager seamstress’ salary when Uncle Bynam’s remains were returned from Italy in 1947. It took over fifty years, but Grandmother and her boys are all together again. It was just my Grandmother and her three boys from the time my Dad was ten. They were extremely close knit family.

I’ll stand quietly for a moment looking at each of the gravestones. Uncle Bynam and Uncle Don both have military markers. My mother opted to have matching markers for her and my dad. She joined him a couple of years ago.

One of the things that always gets me is the dates on Uncle Bynam’s gravestone. He was born at the end of “the war to end all wars” and died in the next one. How many more lives are gone in the hundreds of conflicts since then? I pray for the day when young men no longer die for old men’s folly and self-interests; when no one serves in the military because it’s no longer needed. “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven”.

I probably won’t stay to chat like I usually do – the rain is falling harder – but I will take a moment to remember their service and sacrifice. I hope that each of you do the same. It sounds oxymoronic to say “Happy” Memorial Day, but it’s pure joy to honor the ones we ones we do today.

Happy Memorial Day to everyone…

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