September 16, 2019 is a day I will not forget. I was in the bathroom getting ready to head into the office and at 6:43 in the morning, my phone rang. The caller ID said Rose W Morgan & it didn’t hit me at first what I was about to hear on the other side of this call. She had been in the hospital for quite some time and the last few times I tried to call her, she didn’t answer. I had been getting a little worried and it wasn’t until I moved my thumb over the green “answer” icon that it hit me. This was not going to be a good call.
“Hello? Grandma?” I was hoping that it was actually her that was going to be on the other line. Instead, I heard the quiet sobs of my Aunt Cynthia. “…Ma’s gone. She’s gone”. I collapsed on the floor, sobbing. For the next hour and a half I spoke with Cynthia; finding out the details on what I had missed and what led up to her passing. It was so much to take in. I made arrangements to fly over to South Carolina by midday and eventually, I found myself there, in her house two days later. Surrounded by my three Aunts, her daughters, on a muggy Columbia, SC night, we spent the next several hours talking about this amazing woman. I can still smell the way her house smells. There have been many days over the last year that I have wanted nothing more than to pick up the phone, dial her number, and have one of our long conversations. But then I look at the state of the world and I am glad she does not have to see what we are seeing play out before our eyes.
She’s been here before.
Rose Morgan was born in 1933. She lived through the Civil Rights movement. She was a successful black woman during a time when inequalities were at an alarmingly high rate. She was 15 when Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981, ending discrimination against Black people in the military. She was 22 years old when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. 24 years old when the Little Rock 9 were met by the National Guard & a screaming mob of white students, faculty and parents that didn’t want them there. 27 when four Black college students refused to leave a Woolworth’s lunch counter without being served. She was 28 when 9 Black men staged a sit-in at McCrory’s lunch counter in Rock Hill. She was 30 years old when Charleston’s white schools allowed 11 Black students into their segregated schools. That was also the year that Dr King marched with over a quarter million people in protest in Washington DC.
She’s been here before.
The year 2020 is being heralded as the “hell year”. The year where everything has seemed to fall apart in the United States. What started as protests against police brutality has grown into what feels like history repeating itself with a brand new Civil Rights movement. Pulling from my own personal experiences and from those of new found friends and allies, we find ourselves facing angry mobs, screaming at us to “Go back to where we came from”. Yelling in our faces and threatening us with long barrel rifles while the police look on, almost as if they approve (and in some cases, they do). It’s during these times where I realize that I do not wish for her to be here for this.
But she is here. My grandmother was a great writer. She wrote in her journal/devotional often and I’m realizing that the words that come from me, in part, come from her. I spoke with my therapist recently about wishing that I could, at the very least, speak to her in regards to what we are experiencing right now. Once again we are protesting and there are adversaries that are screaming at us to go home. They want us to keep quiet and for things to return to the way things were. They speak of lynchings and black people deserving to die. This is not conjecture, I have seen instances of these very things with my own eyes. With everything that I’m seeing, I realize that I’m writing about things in a way that I believe my grandmother would have and it is as if my writing manifests conversations we would have had. Our views on these issues were incredibly similar if not exact.
The injustices we are seeing play out before our eyes will not continue. It will take all of us working together. Whether we take the role of educator or student, whether we speak up or realize it’s time to listen, we will see this world change. Will it be a perfect world? No. I think that there is a heavy misconception of what the civil rights movement, the black lives matter movement, and any real push for equality is based on. We are not naive to imagine that reforming police tactics, breaking down the foundations of police brutality, and moving the nuances of systemic racism from being a regular occurrence to the history books as opposed to giving them a memorial statue in many squares across America will bring a grand utopia. We understand that conflict is in human nature. Having opposing views will still be a thing. People will still have racism, classism, misogyny and anger in their hearts.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to be better, dwindling the numbers of the people that dig their heels into living in the misguided past.
I’m writing this on the day before the year anniversary of her passing. Today also happens to be the day that I took a step forward with 5 other black fathers through the door of the Police Headquarters for Bend, Oregon. We sat with the Chief of Police and discussed concerns, their past, current and future practices in this community, and initiatives we are working on to make this city safer for BIPOC people. I am also working with several other organizations in the area to ensure that it is a safe community for all, not just one subset. When I sat in my car after the meeting, I thought back to the post I made almost a year ago. The day that Rose Morgan died, I made a post that ended with her favorite poem by Edgar Albert Guest. The poem is called “It couldn’t be done”. In that post, I stated:
I promise, Gra Gra. Whenever things get tough. Whenever things seem overwhelming… I’ll remember how bright your eyes would get whenever you would say “He started to sing as he tackled the thing, That couldn’t be done…”…and I’ll do it.