I grew up in north Louisiana in the 50s and 60s. The town I lived in was really two towns, the white town and the black town. In some ways, I was mostly isolated from this divide. I did hear adults talking about blacks in ways that I couldn’t understand and I just let it pass.
This all changed in 1965. In response to the Civil Rights act of 1964, the federal court ordered my high school integrated. At first, I didn’t really know what that meant. As the day for the arrival of the black students approached, I remember a conversation with my father. He warned me that he would “kick my ass” if he heard that I talked to these new students. I then knew that something serious was happening.
The day arrived. Several boys and girls were bussed to our school. I could feel their uncertainty and fear as they entered the building. It was as if hundreds of eyes were examining them. They were stepping into a place where for the most part they weren’t welcome.
What did I do? I allowed fear to be my guide. There were many moments when I felt the urge to connect with them in some way. Yet, I did nothing. I was frozen. I have never forgotten that time and the embarrassment I felt because I let my fear keep my feet frozen and my mouth closed.
Tonight I remembered that time again. I never thought that a black man would be elected president when those students entered my high school 43 years ago. I watched tonight as Jessie Jackson, standing in Grant Park in Chicago, held an America flag and allowed tears to flow down his face. I watched as thousands and thousands of people gathered to hear our next President speak. They were young and old. They were from all social strata. They were black and white and Hispanic and Asian.
I then listened with rapt attention to President-elect Obama call us to a higher purpose. A purpose that knows there is never something for nothing. A purpose that says we have to work together for mutuality rather than personal gain alone. A purpose that believes the power of creation is within us and not given to us by someone else.
As I watched, tears erupted. I felt the old shame arise from my complicity in the oppression of blacks. I felt the journey out of this darkness has taken a giant leap. I felt an inner call to dedicate my life to inspiring and supporting everyone in finding their clarity of purpose, inner power of creation and determination for living in harmony. I felt that NOW is the time for speaking up and boldly acting.
I am filled with gratitude and resolve.