Anonymous little girls who I pray know that they are Somebody
For the last couple of months, the poem that Jesse Jackson recited for decades to inspire followers of his Rainbow Coalition movement kept playing in my head and I could not figure out why. . It’s entitled, “I Am Somebody.”
It was as if someone, unbeknownst to me, had installed a replay button in my head. But because I love to write, I was okay with the button being pushed over and over again. I know from past experiences that God uses ideas swirling in my head.
During these times, I view myself as an open container , catching thoughts, and then waiting to manifest them after He reveals what it’s about. During the wait period, I’m observant. I listen intently and look deeply. I assign meaning, based upon my limited knowledge, but I know that I must hold on until He gives me the answer. I’ve come to enjoy the mystery of the process.
When “I Am Somebody” started floating through my head, I went back to my childhood in the sixties, taking a bus from the University of Michigan where my Mom was working on a Ph.D., to Jesse Jackson’s Operation Push Headquarters in Chicago. It was a bus filled with promising academic scholars, lawyers, artists, and doctors to be. It was only a few years after Martin Luther King had been assassinated and during the period that the Civil Rights Legislation was being enacted.
Some 45 years later, the memories that stand out for me most are of the camaraderie that I observed between my Mom and her peers. They laughed together. They had wild parties together. They did the funky chicken together. In fact, I’m still looking for a friend of my Mom’s who is now a renowned doctor and researcher in Los Angeles because of the memories that I have of him dancing in our living room. They told jokes in between strategizing for our futures. They took a Greyhound bus to Chicago while reciting “I am Somebody.” I could tell that they genuinely cared for each other.
They were not trying to impress each other. In fact, they played the dozen a lot. They were not showing off cars and houses and status and positions. They agreed that they were in a difficult time in history. They acknowledged that their path had been filled with pain, racism, poverty, and obstacles. Like Richard Pryor became famous for doing, they laughed and joked about their struggles. Yet, they rode and they recited, “I am Somebody.” And they were not alone in their pain. The bus was filled with their White and Jewish brothers and sisters.
My up-bringing on University of Michigan’s campus and prior to that in the South are drastically different from my life in Los Angeles. I often find it an interesting comparison which helps me better understand my discomfort in LA, although I love the city. I don’t have extended family here. No one calls me Georgia’s daughter or Erma’s grand baby:) like I was accustom to hearing growing up. There are no buses on which to act silly and just be real!
Folks in Los Angeles are concerned with holding prestigious positions, being powerful, and being looked upon favorably in their organizations, churches, and groups. As a maverick who has stood alone, clinging to my three sons and husband while being a basketball Mom for 15 years straight, I don’t fit in at all in the celebrity crazed, VIP scene in LA.
But in an instant, two weeks ago, my search for meaning was cut short when my Uncle called to tell me that my 48-year-old cousin, a police officer for 22 years, a cousin six years younger than I, had been shot in the head and killed in the line of duty.
I immediately stopped my search, packed my bags, and went South, where I was met by a host of cousins, aunts, and uncles who knew my name. Many didn’t know who the heck I was until somebody reminded them that I was Georgia’s daughter. And although I was there for sad, devastating circumstances, I knew that I was at home and could now SHOUT the “I am Somebody” Poem.
Still being an open container with a poem sticking out of my head, I continued to search and watch, thinking that my cousin’s life and death would assign further meaning. He was a detective, a father of four (4) sons who by all accounts struggled on his journey. We had a shared testimony of the struggle providing for and raising sons in this economy.
He had recently moved into a home, owned by his parents, a few doors down from where they resided. And when I went inside, it was clear that he had not had time to make it a home. There was no furniture except a bed and a few pieces of bedroom furniture. There was a closet full of clothes. His uniform hung among them.
Yet, my cousin’s funeral service was fit for a king. The streets were closed down as the procession made its way through the streets of Atlanta to the Mega church where the services were held.
On the day of the funeral, international news broke the story that the pastor of the 20,000 plus congregation, who was not my cousin’s pastor, had asked his followers to donate $300 each so that he could purchase a 65 million dollar private jet. Sitting in the beautiful church, I had mixed emotions about the pastor needing a private jet while the rest of us can barely afford two cars. I thought about the VIP crowd whose path I cross in Los Angeles.
I thought back on the time right before my Mom passed when I was attending a conference in Hollywood for creative artists. I approached a writer of a popular movie that my three sons loved. I asked if he could, perhaps, give me 10 minutes to speak with him about his journey as I had a script that I was pitching to anyone who would listen.
I will never forget the way he turned up his lips as he asked, “Why would an important person like him spend 10 minutes with a nobody like me?” I was shocked that a human being would talk to another like that. But being in an emotional state I, simply, turned and cried my way to the bathroom. By the time I got to the stall, I was sobbing as I thought about how cold-blooded the world could be and that my best friend, my mother, would be making her transition soon, leaving me to maneuver on my own. She passed four months later. And to this day, I’m still embarrassed of how I sobbed in that bathroom. It was a lesson in thickening my skin!
But my cousin was somebody. Dignitaries came to commend a public servant who had died in the line of duty. The President of Morris Brown College spoke and offered condolences. Representative from the State of Georgia came. The governor’s office, the state of Georgia’s legislative office, and the U.S. Legislative body sent representatives. I don’t think any of them knew my cousin personally but still they sent representatives to show that my cousin was “Somebody,” that his life mattered. Hundreds of Uniformed Police Officers from all over the state of Georgia attended.
As I sat in the back of the family section — I hadn’t seen my cousin in several years — I thought about who he was to me. He was a sweet cousin, who never had a bad word to say about anyone. He was gentle and kind. He was the type of person whom I looked forward to seeing because I knew it would always be an easy visit. We’d joked about having a basketball team between us: My three sons and his four. We prided ourselves on being Easter babies. Our birthdays are two days apart in April.
He didn’t complain. He always accepted whatever I had to say. He was positive and sweet. He cared for my close family member who has health challenges and lived in the Atlanta area for a while. No matter what was going on, my cousin was always kind and re-assuring. He would comfort me in his soft and gentle voice, saying, “Everything is going to be alright.” He would help in any way that he could.
He never challenged me about this or that. We sent text messages back and forth the week before he passed. He said that he was coming to Our Voices Our Stories http://www.ourvoicesourstories.com and he wanted specific dates.
By the end of my trip to my cousin’s funeral, I was ready to assign meaning to the “I am Somebody” Poem. It happen at my cousin’s Wake when a local professional thief — that’s what he called himself — spoke and said that my cousin was “Somebody “because he took the time to talk to him and help him stay out of jail. He was in jeans and said that he didn’t want to dress up because my cousin wouldn’t recognize him if he did.
Two single mothers also spoke and said that my cousin was “Somebody” because he took the time to counsel them and their wayward sons and help them stay out of trouble. My cousin’s oldest son spoke and said that , “No” was not in his father’s vocabulary and that he worked hard to give them whatever they needed.
A husband and wife who lived in the middle class neighborhood where my cousin had been called to search for a drunk man who had pulled a gun on his wife and daughter and then gone on a shooting spree spoke: They thanked my cousin for searching for the gunman and taking the fatal bullet that the gunman shot before being apprehended. The two female officers who were with my cousin on that horrible night said that the last thing he said to them was ” stay back so they wouldn’t get hurt.”
Ironically, I caught of glimpse of a press conference of the brothers of the man who killed my cousin. They, too, said that my cousin was a good man, that he had been checking on their brother, the gunman, and his daughter for months. Apparently he was a supporter of the man who killed him. In the end, this open container was able to assign meaning to the “I Am Somebody” poem while in the midst of celebrating my cousin’s life and attending his funeral.
The lessons learned: You are somebody when you care for others, when you’re kind, when you accept people for who they are instead of passing judgment about who you think they are or should be. You are somebody when you’re concerned about the welfare of others and will tell them to stay back while you stand in the line of fire.
You can be somebody despite your flaws. You do not have to hold an important post, head the committee, or be in control. You do not have to have a fancy job to be somebody although important people may acknowledge you. My cousin was somebody because he cared for a thief and single mothers trying to save their sons.
In the end, my cousin was somebody because he cared for others. He took the time to listen, to make others feel accepted and at-ease. He never criticized others harshly and kept his judgment and opinion of others to himself. He deserved a service fit for a King.
Enjoy the news clip about his service at the bottom of this post.
My prayer is that one day someone somewhere will think I am Somebody!
I May Be Poor
But I Am
I May Be Young
But I Am
I May Be On Welfare
But I Am
I May Be Small
But I Am
I May Make A Mistake
But I Am
My Clothes Are Different
My Face Is Different
My Hair Is Different
But I Am
I Am Black
I Speak A Different Language
But I Must Be Respected