Monday, September 12, 2011

Day 580: Greater than through love and support

Tonight was a special vigil held at UNCW as the NC Legislature debated whether to write discrimination into the constitution of our state. I was asked to speak. This blog is dedicated to my life: mind, body, and spirit. Tonight, being honored to speak at this event, surrounded by over 150 caring and amazing people form 17 to 80, I knew that in the darkest moments, there is hope, as long as we act and act together: bound by our common humanity and decency. There was love in that place tonight...and love will prevail. That is what this journey is all about: we are greater through love and support:

This is what i shared: 

I have a little show and tell for you all tonight!

These are the glasses of Sylvester Allen Austin, my great-grandfather. He was born in the 1880’s in Harnett County right here in North Carolina. He lived his entire 94 years in Harnett and Wake County and I had the privilege until I was 13 years old of going to his home and sitting with him and listening to him tell stories about this state, the world, and literally unveil for me what no history book, movie, or video could ever reveal.

Through these glasses he witnessed more change in one lifetime than any of us could ever fathom. Think about it: the rise of the gilded age, cars, planes, rockets, moon landings, industrialism, phones, tv, radio, records, tapes, movies. And in his world, here in North Carolina, he grew up just 20 years from the Civil War..worked shoulder to shoulder with former slaves, he saw Jim Crow at its height and watched it’s dismantling. He saw hate and saw divisiveness.

But Papa saw that there was a better way, and that is what he taught his daughters and that is how he and my great grandmother lived their lives.

That is the North Carolina that I inherited.

In all those years what my great grandfather NEVER saw was discrimination written INTO the constitution. Ironically, it was just the reverse.

The world that he worked and literally toiled in as a farm owner and a small businessman, that he aspired to see given to his children and ultimately to me, well, he would never have guessed would end up in the hands of a body like it is on this eve where a citizen is proposed to decide, not on their own ideas of what is right or wrong, but to have the state sanction AGAINST its own.

Now, I have another artifact. This one is a notebook. In it is a letter written by Lois Austin, who became Lois Austin Phelps. She was writing it in Campbell College in 1936 to the Raleigh News and Observer. In the letter she is commenting on the suggestion that she had read in the paper in which others had indicated that African Americans did not have souls and were not equal to Caucasians.

She was writing to say that such notions were, as she said “absurd” and she believed that we are “equal in God’s eyes”. I loved her snippy retort in the margin when she says in that too perfect handwriting “every educated person would agree”. Her letter was very passionate and succinct. But it was also brave. At that time, it was not the common thing for a woman of her age, color or locale to speak out much less write such a letter.

Lois was Mr. Austin’s daughter and my grandmother.

She is the North Carolina that I inherited.

Tonight..I can point here in the audience and there is Nancy Lois Phelps Hodges. She is the granddaughter of Papa Austin and the daughter of Lois Austin and my mother. Don’t need an artifact for her, she is a living example of the North Carolina I inherited. She has spent her life continuing the trend set for her, breaking through glass ceilings and frankly..just showing up for what is right.

She is the North Carolina that I inherited.

So here I am. The inheritor of these glasses, this notebook, and my mother’s example. Here we all are on the eve of watching our North Carolina decide on letting other’s decide on writing discrimination into OUR constitution. It is no surprise that we are here. That is the sad part. We knew it would come.

But it is NOT who we are. It is not what is right and we have a charge. If, after every call, every email, and every personal connection is exhausted, this comes to pass, then it is up to each of us to ensure that the North Carolina that I have outlined…that I have inherited is the North Carolina we leave to each other and those who come beyond us:

From My Great Grandparents: a North Carolina that continues to expand freedoms, heals divisions, and moves forward

From my Grandmother: a North Carolina that becomes more educated and EXPECTS to be educated and is FEARLESS in its advocacy and its defense of what is right

From my Mother: A North Carolina that is a power of example for others, that braves new paths and regardless of circumstances continues to show up!

This will happen if each and every one of us will be willing to be unified, educated, fearless, powers of example and for God’s up when the time is nigh! 

The legislature has passed the bill and it will move to the people. The time is nigh.

1 comment:

MamaK said...

Bo, thank you for outlining the thread that runs through your family and so many others, in the direction of freedom and justice. I am very glad you defined this in a larger historical context. This is not something for just this day, this election cycle, this decade. You spoke well for all of us.