To Our Heroes

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By | February 12, 2006

During Black History Month often our focus is on Dr. King and other great and well known African American leaders of have made a difference. I want to speak of those closer to home, local African American heroes, who have paved the road for their children, grandchildren and all those within their community. So this editorial is a letter written to them.To our Heroes,I heard a story one time about a little boy who wouldn’t stop pulling his sister’s hair. His sister told him, “You better stop pulling my hair,” but he forgot, and kept on pulling. His older brother told him, “You better stop pulling Sissy’s hair,” but he forgot, and kept on pulling. His older sister told him, “You better stop pulling Sissy’s hair,” but forgot, and kept on pulling. His daddy even told him, “You better stop pulling Sissy’s hair,” but he forgot, and kept on pulling. His mother didn’t tell him anything; she just yanked him up by the ear and popped him on the behind a few times. And guess what? He stopped pulling his sister’s hair. When his Daddy asked him what made him remember to stop, the little boy said, “Mama just explained it to me better.” This little boy had a quick memory lesson. That’s what I want to talk about today: memory, and respect.I think it’s especially fitting, during this time set aside to remember the importance of our African-American culture, history, and heritage, to talk about the importance of memory. Because to me, memory is all about respect.Now, I’m not talking about how easy it is for me to forget something my wife told me to bring home from the store. I wouldn’t want anybody, especially Lynette, to relate my respect for my wife to my thick-headedness about grocery lists. But there’s another sense in which, if I truly respect Lynette, I’m not only going to pay attention to what she tells me from her heart, but I’m going to remember it. I’m going to respect what she says to me. See, I learned all about memory and respect for Lynette, the last time I forgot our anniversary, and I tell you right now, I don’t plan to repeat that mistake.What about the other significant people who have sacrificed for me and other local African Americans? What about those who have gone before us, who have, in so many ways, paved the way for our opportunities and successes? What about them? How can we show respect? Again, we believe we can do that by remembering, by saying to folks like those of you, “You are not forgotten.”How can I forget someone like Dorothy Wiseman, our local historian, who has dedicated her life to make a difference, from communicating the importance of education, or sitting under a tent during June Teenth registering people to vote? Or other educators like Coach James Valentine, Principle R.W. Stafford, librarian Haddie Ruth Cole, or Teacher Allie Ward. It’s important to note there have only been five elected African American public officials in the history of our city. Elmer Wright and Val Brailsford served on the School Board, and Dr. Leo Scott and Vercie Brown served as city councilmen. Our heroes however or more than educators and elected officials alone, some of them never made the local media, but their sacrifice and assured that their children and grandchildren would have an easier life than they did. They wanted us to do better than he did. They weren’t presented with the same opportunities that today’s African Americans have, but because of their sacrifice not only do today’s African Americans benefit, but our grandchildren will. You see, the sacrifice of those pioneers is part of my story. To forget them and their contributions would be forgetting a part of who I am, because it is deeply connected with making me who I am today.When Alex Haley, author of “Roots,” spoke at Abilene Christian University in 1986, he said, among other things, that recovering the story of his ancestors was, most of all, a journey of self-discovery. He also said, “If you don’t do anything else after listening to me, go home to your attic and find that box of old photographs, and sit down with your grandmother and great-aunt and get them to tell you who the people are in the pictures. Because if you don’t, the memory of those people will die with them.” What an amazing truth: each of us in this room is a living storehouse of memories and wisdom that is unique in the entire world. What a shame, what a tragedy it would be if your children, your grandchildren didn’t get the benefit of some of that knowledge. If they don’t know who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done, they lose the opportunity to know a piece of themselves. Because the fact is, your lives live on in them and their children. It just makes sense, as Alex Haley discovered: who you are is determined, in at least some measure, by where you came from. You need to know where you came from–you need to remember. You need to show respect.It has been said that you can tell a lot about a people by finding out whom their heroes are; who they respect enough to remember. Today, I want to pay homage to you, our local African American heroes past and present. Each of you is a hero. Each of you deserves to be remembered, to be respected, and to be heard. In some measure, you have contributed to my life, and I say to you: you will not be forgotten.Anthony WilliamsAbilene City Councilman Place