Family is a funny thing. It’s both close-knit and far-reaching, more comfy than your favorite sweater and as uncomfortable as an awkward first date. Some family is blood and some family feels deeper than that.
And family is exactly what stopped me in my tracks this past Monday.
As you may have noticed, the east has been locked in a giant winter storm. Boston and Kentucky are experiencing record-breaking snow, while the south is experiencing ice storms. This past Monday a friend and I were planning to road trip back to Georgia after visiting a friend in Cincinnati and experienced this record-breaking snowfall firsthand. We ended up getting stuck in Kentucky.
But we didn’t end up there alone. My Great Aunt Anne, who I hadn’t seen since I was seven, hosted us. The day before we left for the Natti I received a letter from her, asking me to visit her in Lexington. And it just so happened that I would be driving through Lexington on my way back.
The timing could not have been more perfect. In fact, I think the whole thing was set up by God, the letter, the trip to Cincinnati, and getting snowed in in Lexington.
We got there and it looked just like my seven-year-old memory served me, the big trees, the beautiful birds, andthe welcoming atmosphere. She made us waffles and begged us to stay off the roads and spend the night with her instead. It wasn’t too hard to convince us.
Her eyes sparkled when she smiled and was sharp as a whip at 80. She told us stories of my heritage, stories I have never heard. I sat there engrossed, learning about how dramatically things have changed in the last 80 years.
Raised in Arkansas, she was in the heart of segregation between the whites and the African Americans. She recalls living on a little farm and everyday the white school bus would come and on a very busy day be only half-filled. When it came time for the African American school bus to come children literally had to hang out of the windows it was so crowded.
As a child she didn’t understand this and asked her grandmother why some of the African American kids couldn’t ride the bus or go to school with her since there was so much room. Her grandmother responded with, “Honey, that’s just the way things are.”
And so it was. Nearly everyone in the south believed in segregation, it was a cultural custom people didn’t even question. My aunt emphasized that her family weren’t bad people, they were good people who just didn’t know anything else.
Some people were passionate about racism than others, using words and violence to show their hatred. Others just knew nothing else, so no one did anything about it. That was until my great aunt came along.
During WWII my grandmother and my aunt moved Portland while their mother worked in the shipyards there. During that time she went to an integrated school and made best friends with a little African American girl. They would tell secrets and go to the cinema together. They discovered that it’s not one’s appearance that makes one valuable, it’s the content of character. And these little girls found true friendship in each other.
Soon enough, the war was over. Anne and her little family packed up, moving back to Arkansas, where racial segregation was still very much alive.
But this time it was different, this time Anne knew right from wrong. Despite her surroundings she couldn’t shake the truth that African Americans were no different. She couldn’t erase her friends memory, so she did something about it.
She began to speak out against racism, challenging “the way things were.” It didn’t seem like much, but I believe it created waves in her little community. She began to known as a “n****** lover” and a couple of boys wouldn’t date her because of it, but I don’t think she was too bothered by it.
She didn’t introduce racial integration to her school. She didn’t stop racism in her hometown. And some might think that her saying something didn’t do much of anything. But I know better.
She was a forerunner, a sign of the times to come, and though she may not have realized it she ushered in a new season of acceptance and love.
Racism isn’t culturally acceptable any more, and it was “ordinary” people like my aunt who stood alongside African Americans that gave great people like Martin Luther King Jr. shoulders to stand on.
When she finished her story I wanted to stand up and clap in that little living room. I refrained, and decided to tell her how inspiring her choices were.
Later, I was telling my friend who had heard the story how inspiring I thought it was. She laughed and said “Meghan, she is just like you.” She went on, “You’re all about justice, all about the underdog, and you’re not afraid to talk about it.”
She was talking about my passion for helping those trapped in the sex-trade, my zeal for women around the world who are treated in a sub-human manner, and my enthusiasm for equality. If you have read any of my blogs, you have already picked up on this. I am about as subtle as a gun.
I stood there dumbfounded, realizing that maybe, I too, was a forerunner. Maybe I was a history maker, and maybe I was changing mindsets already.
So maybe when I get some name-calling, or some angry emails (admittedly they are few and far between), that I should take it with a grain of salt. I guess it just comes with the territory of being a little world-changer.
So here’s to words and the power that they hold. Here;s to words that can change the world.
May you speak them boldly and for all the right reasons.