Black History: The power of love

It’s Black History month. Once again, our nation celebrates the amazing contributions of African-American men and women who overcame daunting odds to better our society. Over a hundred and fifty years have passed, since Abraham Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation. According to www.history.com, “…[Lincoln] issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in the rebellious states ‘shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.’” The historical website also records, “While the Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave, it was an important turning point in the war, transforming the fight to preserve the nation into a battle for human freedom.” Ultimately, slavery was abolished, but our nation has continued to fight the enemy of racism.

When I was a little girl, I wasn’t aware of discrimination. All I knew was that when Clemmie hugged me or my brothers and sisters, or took care of my very ill mother, she loved us. Her skin was dark brown, and we were white and didn’t have a lot of money, but somehow God made us family in the worst of times. She fed us, bandaged scraped knees, and painstakingly nursed my mother back to health. Clemmie was a compassionate worker of miracles, that’s why at six-years-old I didn’t know racism existed.

Rosa Parks is booked.

But since it was the 1960’s, while growing up I became conscious of the battle for civil rights listening to nightly news casts. There were riots, valiant lunch-counter sit-ins, courageous Rosa Parks taking a seat on the bus, heroic Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. being assassinated, and there were more riots. For the next couple decades, there were also folks who tried to overcome the racial tension that never really healed.

Fast forward to the 1990s, to a humid summer evening when I was driving by myself. I heard beautiful music coming from a small church that I passed. I felt so alone and like such a failure that particular night. I was a young single mom doing my best, but it just wasn’t good enough in lots of ways. I had been refinishing furniture earlier that afternoon, and my white t-shirt and old jeans were soiled with wood stain. I stood next to my car listening to the melodious voices of what sounded like a Heavenly soulful choir, desperately wishing I could go inside the unfamiliar fellowship.

The sign said that the Lima church was AME [African Methodist Episcopal]. Over 25 years ago, AME churches had almost exclusively black congregations. Just then, another car pulled up and a couple of older black women got out and headed towards the brick church. One grandmotherly lady stopped to ask if I was alright. I told her that I was listening to the beautiful music. Maybe she could sense that I was a troubled soul or maybe she was simply kind, but she encouraged me to come inside the church.

“But I’m such a mess,” I protested pointing to my stained shirt and jeans.

“It’s not how you go. It’s that you go,” she countered enthusiastically. So, dutifully I followed her up the steps of that church where in the years to come I would be a welcome visitor on numerous occasions.

There were two ladies who attended the church who would also become close friends, Maggie Breaston, and her sister, the late Georgia Newsome. Growing up in the south and moving to the Midwest in the mid-1950s to escape racism, these courageous women told me story after story about the subtle racism they encountered once they arrived in the north. Yet, they refused to become bitter. Miss Georgia even became known as an expert on Black History in Lima.

In the end, what I know about Black History is that people who could have hated me for the color of my white skin, showed me love when I needed it most. Unconditional love like Clemmie displayed by helping my family, love like the woman who invited me to her church, or love like Georgia Newsome and Maggie Breaston always shared, despite experiencing the sting of discrimination firsthand.

 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood that love was the only force capable of destroying prejudice. To quote Dr. King Jr., “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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Finding Hope in a Lemonade Stand

Lemonade 1For a couple years, there was what I affectionately nicknamed, “The Posse” that assembled whenever there was trouble in my neighborhood. The Posse consisted of about half-a-dozen elementary-aged boys on bicycles. One evening arriving home before sunset, the small band of do-gooders had gathered in my front yard standing upright on their bikes looking forlornly at the cornfield across the busy road. The majority of boys weren’t allowed to cross the road due to their parent’s rules, but it was obvious that something was terribly wrong.

I pulled into my garage, wanting to head straight for my living room couch and a little TV, but I could tell they needed some adult help. Remembering once having had a little boy of my own who is now all grown up, I dutifully approached the group to inquire what was happening. Animatedly talking over each other, the youngsters frantically shared that a neighborhood dog had gone missing in the nearby field. The corn was high like it is right now. The oldest boy and I, the one who owned the brown and white frisky pooch, headed across the road while the others anxiously watched. Miraculously, the curious canine came running when he heard his 10-year-old master’s voice calling his name.

On another occasion, while I was in the yard pulling weeds, a middle-aged female who was new to the neighborhood and to Ohio approached me sobbing about her missing cats. I calmly explained that we would have to call out The Posse. That particular time, even some parents got involved in the hunt. One cat was eventually recovered, but sadly the other was never found. The members of this boyhood group are older now, and seem to have disbanded. It’s been a real loss, because their camaraderie infused a bond among normally isolated neighbors.

Let’s face it, unless we’ve known someone for a long time, most folks keep to themselvesHeadlines 2 in whatever neighborhood we live. Many people are so busy. Besides, the world has grown increasingly frightening these last couple of years, and neighboring can seem like a thing of the past. With terrorist attacks in unexpected places, ongoing school shootings, political unrest, heroin addiction running rampant, racially motivated killings, and then on July 7, 2016, our country witnessed one of the greatest tragedies of this decade. Five Dallas law enforcement officers were murdered, and seven others were injured in a brutal massacre. The following morning, I couldn’t imagine how anything would cause our country to have a bright future, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in that thought. Although it was a beautiful sunny day, I wanted to lock the doors and give up on humanity.

But late that morning, I glanced out of my kitchen window, and couldn’t believe what I saw. On the edge of my yard, four or five small children and a little red wagon, a few elementary school girls and one boy sitting in miniature chairs who had set up a makeshift lemonade stand. Children I had never seen on my corner before, with a young mother watching on the sidewalk nearby.Lemonade 3

Despite my formally despondent mood, I felt hope for the future bubble up inside as I observed the kids excitedly interacting with each other. I did what any self-respecting neighbor lady should do. I told my husband who was home on vacation, we had to go outside and buy some lemonade. Even though my spouse has been dieting, I asked him to give the little ones $1.00 for the fifty-cent lemonade. Confused that I was encouraging him to drink sugar and pay double the amount, my poor hubby was surprised a second time when I told him it was best if we throw the sugary drink away once we were back inside. I explained that being a former business owner myself, I had simply wanted to encourage the young professionals that hard work pays off.

Headlines 4Even when another fatal incident happened in Baton Rouge recently with law enforcement officers being targeted again, I remembered the lemonade stand. In the midst of turmoil it remains a sign of hope that there is still a wonderful future waiting for our nation’s children, because they are the future. I saw it in their twinkling eyes as we handed over our money to pay for our fifty-cent lemonade. Dollar bills that still say, “In God we trust.” The lemonade stand was a visual reminder that in the darkest of life’s storms, we can trust that there is a plan for our tomorrows.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy award-winng freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

 

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Black History: The Sad Story of Subtle Segregation

The late Miss Georgia Newsome, (r) Black Historian with her sister, Mrs. Maggie Breaston (l) and blogger, Christina Ryan Claypool (c).

As February ends, it would be remiss not to mention that it’s Black History month. I’d like to tell you that Black History is an inspirational narrative about societal acceptance and positive change, but often it’s not. Sadly, it’s more of a one step forward and two steps back kind of progression. Although sometimes it’s been the other way around. “The ASALH [Association for the Study of African American Life and History has dedicated] … the 2013 Annual Black History Theme to celebrating the anniversary of two important African American turning points – the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and the 1963 March on Washington,” reported the Davenport University Library Services.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In explanation, on August 28, 1963, approximately a quarter of a million people gathered in Washington D. C. There are historical photos of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. waving to the huge crowd. That summer day, the Lincoln Memorial audience heard the Civil Rights leader share his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. King spoke passionately about his vision of an America where one day in the future, his children would “… not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

I thought about the progression of racial equality, while celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day this past January at the Mount Zion Holy Union Church of God in Sidney, an event organized by Rev. Phil Chilcote. Keynote speaker, 73-year-old Dr. Ervin Smith of Columbus, an emeritus professor of Christian Ethics at Methesco, a Methodist Seminary, explained what segregation in Georgia looked like in his youth. Dr. Smith shared that he couldn’t go into the main library, restaurants, get the same medical treatment, or drink out of the same drinking fountains as whites, solely because of being black. Eventually, the scholar authored his own books including: “The Ethics of Martin Luther King Jr.,” and “Black Theology: Toward an Inclusive Church,” among others. Segregation affected Smith’s choice of a college as well. “I couldn’t go to the University of Georgia…couldn’t go to Georgia Tech. Why? Because of the color of my skin,” he said. When the educator who obtained his Ph.D. from Northwestern University in Illinois moved to Delaware, Ohio, in 1971, he thought he had escaped segregation. Yet he met a different kind of segregation in the north.

Bishop Ernest Wilson, pastor at Mount Zion, says that he could identify with Dr. Smith’s story. After all, he was “reared in Alabama.” He said, “I’ve been here [in Sidney] 52 years, but I remember where I came from.” For Bishop Wilson many of those memories are painful. He said, “I would talk to my mom…I can’t go around here saying, ‘Yes, Sir’ and they calling me a boy.” The 72 year old minister told of other serious injustices when he was teenager. Like seeing a friend stabbed for no reason, whowalked to the doctor’s offices with his intestines in his hands, only because he was black.” Bishop Wilson defines, “Equality, [as] the state or quality of being equal…we just wanted to be treated fairly,” he said. “One of the great deceptions I had 52 years ago when I came to Shelby County… [I] was really surprised some things going on here [concerning racism]. Thought I was leaving those things behind,” said the pastor. During the sixties, he found out that Blacks could only live in certain neighborhoods, and that there were still local businesses where he couldn’t get service.

I listened as both older African American men portrayed growing up in the segregated south. Escaping to the Midwest, believing they would be accepted for who they were. Although often they were met with a subtle segregation, that was a difficult enemy to combat. In past interviews with Lima’s Black History expert, the now deceased Miss Georgia Newsome, she and her sister, Mrs. Maggie Breaston, also spoke of the subtle segregation they experienced many decades ago moving here from the south. After all, it happened most everywhere.

Maybe some folks would say, it’s over and we should just forget it. Yet to paraphrase the wise words of late Holocaust survivor, Elisabeth Sondheimer of Lima, Ohio, “If we bury the past, we are likely to repeat it.” Instead, “We’ve got to do better,” urged Bishop Wilson. “Fifty years after Dr. King made the speech I’m finding out…We’ve got to do better.”  But how can we?  Dr. Ervin Smith believes there is a remedy to the racism that seeks to destroy communities. The retired educator said, [We have] “Got to work with our children, work with each other…until we all see each other as children of God.”

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. This column originally appeared in the Sidney Daily News on Feb. 22, 2013. 

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Clemmie’s Colorblind Love

 

Philadelphia’s Valley Swim Club made national headlines again last month. The now bankrupt organization gained notoriety over a June 29, 2009, incident when Black and Hispanic children from a nearby day camp were subjected to racial remarks from club members. This happened, even though the Creative Steps camp had legally contracted for their children to swim there.

“73 members of the camp will share a settlement of $700,000 to $1.1 million, pending approval from a federal bankruptcy court judge,” according to an August 19, 2012, Philadelphia Inquirer article titled, “Campers hope swim-club settlement will help fight racism.” During the racially turbulent sixties, as a Caucasian child growing up in west central Ohio, I didn’t know anything about racism. Therefore, it seemed natural when Clemmie came to take care of me and my siblings, while my mom was seriously ill.

 Clemmie was an extremely overweight Black woman who had a heart as huge as the girth that surrounded it. My financially struggling family couldn’t have paid her much of a salary, yet she lovingly looked after us. With Clemmie there, I instinctively knew that everything would be alright.

What I didn’t know then was that a Civil Rights movement was being birthed out of the frustration regarding injustices that African Americans like Clemmie could no longer bear. Not yet a first grader, I couldn’t imagine anyone hating such a wonderful woman, simply for the color of her skin. Eventually, my mother regained her health, so Clemmie no longer came to care for us. Yet her colorblind love, which was based on her faith in the Gospel’s message, “…Love one another, as I have loved you…” had made a lasting impression.

A few years later, on June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy gave his memorable Civil Rights address calling for an end to the acceptance of segregation in educational institutions, retail establishments, restaurants, and hotels. He also demanded that African Americans be able to vote without the fear of harmful consequences.

Just hours after Kennedy’s eloquent speech, Medgar Evers, a Black Mississippi Civil Rights leader was brutally gunned down by a white Ku Klux Klan member. Evers, a World War II Army veteran had survived the Battle of Normandy, but that June night he lay bleeding to death in his own driveway. Fifty minutes later, he died at a local hospital.

Although I’ve never been grievously wounded like Evers, I do know what it feels like to lie on cold asphalt too hurt to move. As an eight-years-old girl walking to school, I tripped and fell so hard that it momentarily knocked the wind out of me and scattered my science project everywhere. I was blocks from my family’s house, but an older middle-aged woman heard my cries, and rushed down her porch steps to care for me.

I didn’t know my Good Samaritan who shared Clemmie’s mahogany complexion. My grandmotherly rescuer tended my cuts, and then she carefully helped me to put my science project back together. She smiled with maternal satisfaction when she finally sent me off to school. That beautiful smile is a treasured memory, as is the remembrance of Clemmie’s massive arms hugging me to her bountiful chest.

It’s important to remember the selfless acts of compassion of others. Because whatever our race, everyday society gives us the choice to tolerate racism based on the justification that someone of another ethnicity probably once mistreated us.

The late Jewish Holocaust survivor, Liesl Sondheimer, often shared a profound truth regarding racial forgiveness. Like Nazi Hunter Simon Wiesenthal, Mrs. Sondheimer spent decades retelling the painful account of the extermination of more than six million European Jews during World War II. Unlike Wiesenthal’s quandary concerning forgiveness outlined so poignantly in his book The Sunflower, my friend, Liesl, always maintained that, “You must forgive, but never forget, or Hitler has won.”

Christian apologist C.S. Lewis once wrote, “…if we really want to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo.” But Mrs. Sondheimer didn’t have that choice.

Neither did 12-year-old Mikkel McKinnie who made a decision not to let the prejudice of others destroy his dreams. One of the claimants named in the Valley Swim Club lawsuit, Mikkel has earmarked his possible settlement for higher education. He hopes to someday be a physician.

We all have a daily choice about permitting racism, which continues to be just as deadly to our society, as Hitler’s gas chambers once were. But sadly, not everyone has a Clemmie or a Liesl to teach them what compassion for their fellow man is all about. Still, if we follow Jesus’ command to, “Love one another,” it would be a much better world.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker.  Her Website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com. This column originally appeared in Ohio’s Sidney Daily News..

 

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