- October 27, 2020
- Posted by: Irma McClaurin
- Categories: Black History, Black Lives Matter, Blog
As people head to the polls to vote, it is important that we do not lose hope. This column was written after Donald Trump’s election four years ago. It seems timely to repost it as people contemplate who to vote for.
January 1 is the day for resolutions with which to begin this new year. While people will be focused on resolving to eat less; exercise more; stop smoking; stop drinking; end that disastrous relationship; and be kinder to parents, siblings, children and self, I am focused on sending psychic energy and vibrations of hope to America.
Three score and four years ago, I was born into a segregated America. I recall in 1965 being giving the option to attend a white high school as part of desegregation where there was one seat! I can’t imagine what my life would have been like had I made that choice? Going to school everyday in an environment brimming with rejection and hatred simply because of the color of my skin.
I made a different choice and attended the all girls Lucy Flower Vocational High School on the west-side of Chicago. There I had Black and white teachers who showed us great love, taught us life skills and professional ones like typing and shorthand; I always had cash in addition to my scholarships because I could type. I thank The teachers who taught us Latin roots–a great help in the SATs. Mrs Freedenberg, my English teacher who encouraged my writing and decades later wrote me “I always knew you would do great things” on my becoming president of Shaw University.
I remain in touch with her and women from those high school years that have remained friends forever– Yvonne and Dena.
Author HS friends (2017) Author with HS friends (2019)
In highs school, we forged ties stronger than any I developed in college or graduate school. These girls grew up to be women I trust with my life. And while our paths have transected the country, we have remained in touch–Yvonne and I since we became “best friends” in 1965, and Dena more recently when we reconnected in the 1980’s. We now have our own high school reunion.
Despite a racist administration at Flower High school, determined to control the bodies of we impoverished Black girls by monitoring the lengths of our skirts and imposing other humiliations that I am sure the white girls at Richards did not have to endure, we thrived and learned.
Before abandoning Lucy Flower to Blacks, Richards High School [now Richards Career Academy] was built on the north side of Chicago. There they taught cosmetology and we Black girls could not attend. By the time I arrived at Flowers, there were two white girls in a school of several hundred students.
We Black girls were never given the option of attending Richards, and we dared not venture on our own for fear of our safety in a residentially segregated Chicago. Blacks had the south side and a small segment of the west side, though the fifty hundred block west at Cicero marked the beginning of very white space.
No Black person dared to cross that imaginary boundary; if you did, it was at your own peril. Neighborhoods were sites of whiteness and Blackness and poverty.
The Irish and king Mayor Daley had the north side and Jewish people occupied Skokie, where my Dad worked at a synagogue for over 30 years as a maintenance man who spoke a bit of Polish, learned to cook kosher, and sit Shiva. On Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath, my late brother and I sometimes helped him out. I did not know Puerto Ricans existed in Chicago. Our paths never crossed. They occupied the space near the University of Illinois Chicago, which eventually expanded them out of that area. And, Hyde Park, I learned years later, was considered the space for mixed/integrated couples.
Despite saying no to attending a majority white school and desegregating it, I have gone on since then to be a trailblazer of white spaces. In college at Grinnell, I was part of the cohort of 18 Black students that marked the largest group of Blacks admitted at that moment in 1969.
In graduate school, most Black students at the University of Massachusetts were in the School of Education. Myself and two others, Bheki and Dennis, were anomalies in the MFA program in the English Department.
The creative writing program was taught by 100% white men, and very much the norm. Occasionally, they would bring 1-2 white women in as visiting writers, and certainly in the mid-1970’s absolutely no Black writers or other writers of color ever darkened the windows of this white writing space.
I have said all of this as a prelude to saying: America, do not despair. We have seen the power of white space and white supremacist thinking before, and overcome them.
America, do not despair; we are braver and more resilient today than in the past. And of one thing I am certain: the genie of Black genius will not go back into the night, the bottle, the closet or the box.
America, do not despair at the rising tide of elitism, incivility, racial, national and religious intolerance, and good old fashioned racism and white supremacist thinking that has taken hold of our country at this political moment. We’ve endured worse and still we rose.
America, do not despair; we will right (and write) the wrongs currently being perpetrated in the name of conservative politics. We will endure the hyperbolic provocations. But we will not go quietly into the night.
America, do not despair; we will lift every voice and challenge injustice wherever it rears its ugly head.
America, do not despair, we will live true to the words engraved on the Statute of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. …”
America, do not despair, because when they call for Muslims to register, we will all appear- Jews, Gentiles, Baptists, Protestants, Catholics, Seven Day Adventists, Jehovah Witnesses, Atheists, and believers and non-believers-and sign our names in solidarity.
America, do not despair, for when they build the wall or lengthen the fence, which makes us not so nice neighbors to Mexico, we will stand as united Americans ready to tear it down as we demanded be done with the Berlin Wall.
America, do not despair, because for my 2017 New Years Resolution, I resolve, and ask every person reading this to do the same, to be filled with Hope and Optimism and the certainty that we will, through the Power of the People, forge a better, civil and more inclusive America for ALL of us in the present and in the future. Happy New Years.
(Updated: 10/27/2020 [Original post on LinkedIn, 1/10/2017].)
(C) 2020 McClaurin Solutions