Beside every strong man is a even stronger woman

For a history geek like me, one of the perks of living in Atlanta is learning more about civil rights icons such as the Rev. Joseph Lowery and his life partner, Mrs. Evelyn Lowery.

Early Thursday morning, Evelyn Gibson Lowery, the daughter and wife of Methodist ministers, went home to be with the Lord. She was 88 years old.

To say Mrs. Lowery was fearless, would be an understatement. Men like the Rev. Lowery, legendary for speaking truth to power, couldn’t have done what they did without strong, supportive wives.  These women — such as the late Coretta Scott King, the late Octavia Vivian and Mrs. Juanita Abernathy — were leaders in their own right.

On Sept. 15, Mrs. Lowery was by her husband’s side at 16th Street Baptist Church, at a service to mark the 50th anniversary of the bombing there. A few days later, she suffered a stroke. A native of Topeka, Kansas, Mrs. Lowery met her husband on a blind date while a student at Atlanta’s Clark College.

Like the wives of other civil rights leaders, she was by her husband’s side as often as possible while raising their children and tending to the home front.

When her husband was president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Mrs. Lowery founded the SCLC Women, an organization dedicated to human rights and strengthening families.  

Several years ago, I attended a banquet where the group honored Memphis sanitation workers, who went on strike for better wages and working conditions. In April 1968, the strike brought Dr. King to Memphis, where he stood in solidarity with the workers. While standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, Dr. King was assassinated.

At the SCLC Women’s banquet where the surviving sanitation workers were honored, people marched through the room carrying protest signs that read “I Am a Man,” one of the slogans of the Memphis movement.

While accepting an award from the SCLC Women, actor Forest Whitaker expressed awe at being in the presence of people such as the sanitation workers and  Rev. and Mrs. Lowery, who sacrificed much in the struggle for human dignity and equality.

I first met the Lowerys at a friend’s wedding nearly 10 years ago.  Rev. Lowery was officiating with his usual brand of humor. After the ceremony, he and Mrs. Lowery took time to greet us and other guests. Last year, Mrs. Lowery graciously welcomed me into their southwest Atlanta home for an interview with her husband, who will be 92 in a few days. She ushered me into the den where Rev. Lowery was resting in a green leather chair.

Earlier that day he’d spoken at a news conference about the lack of African-American judges in Georgia. Later, he was planning to attend a banquet where a Latino organization was giving him an award.

Just behind where he was sitting, was a picture of President Barack Obama, who asked Rev. Lowery to give the benediction at his first inauguration. In his typical style, Rev. Lowery began seriously — reciting the words of the Negro National Anthem. He ended with words that lightened the crowd’s mood.

“Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around; when yellow will be mellow; when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.”

In a statement released Thursday, Rev. Lowery spoke with affection about the woman who’d shared his life for nearly 70 years.  She felt no pain at the end of her life, Rev. Lowery said. And what a life she lived — one filled with family, love and service.

The Real Housewives of…..Gatlinburg?

the whole crew

What do you get when you put together six women in a two bedroom time share in the Smoky Mountains?

The good news: No one was pushed off a cliff; no one’s weave was pulled out and no one uttered the words, “Close your legs to married men.”

The bad news: Our girls trip to Gatlinburg wasn’t sexy enough to earn we 50-something wives and mothers our own reality show.

And guess what? That’s a good thing.

If you believe the “reality” shows; grown women are incapable of sustaining friendships. They bicker, bully and betray one another constantly and compete with each other like school girls. And sometimes, they pull hair and fight like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.

The sister friends who joined me for a birthday getaway in Gatlinburg last week valued our friendship enough to leave behind their responsibilities for some much-needed girls time. Our only agenda items: celebrating life and friendship, shopping, eating and sightseeing.

The cast of characters, with the exception of Dee, are women I’ve been friends with for 20 or more years. I’ve known Natalie the longest. Our families went to the same church in Winchester, Ky. and later in nearby Lexington. We said Easter speeches together when we were 4 and were baptized together on Easter Sunday when we were 7. Natalie has a husband and a teenage stepson. She has a gift for cooking, sewing and remembering every detail of our lives.

Vicki and I grew up in the same neighborhood and have been friends since second grade. We’re all jealous of Vicki because she plans to retire from her longtime post office gig at the year’s end. Her husband and daughter ride motorcycles and she enjoys traveling too (in cars). She’s the kind of friend you want to have in your corner all day, every day.

Connie and I met in the newsroom when I moved to Atlanta. She grew up on a farm in Mississippi and graduated from the University of Mississippi. She is married with two grown daughters and a 12-year-old son. Connie and I have shared so much over the years: challenges with our marriages and drama with our children. She jumped off the career ladder many years ago to spend more time volunteering at her children’s’ schools and in her community. Her mother died around the time my granddaughter was born. I called her from my daughter’s hospital bed and we celebrated both their lives.

I met Emily through Connie. They went to Ole Miss together and pledged that other sorority (Alpha Kappa Alpha). Emily just became a grandma; or as she likes to call herself a “glam-ma.” She has a grown son and daughter and the husband she always dreamed of. Emily introduced me to Dee, who I’m just getting to know. Dee is newly single and happy. She has two grown daughters, loves to exercise and eats all the right things. Her demeanor is calm, cool and collected.

She is the opposite of me, which is why I like her so much. I have a hard time winding down, even on vacation. I keep saying I need to stop being on 10 all the time; but I’ll be lucky if I can get to 8 and stay there. I am the crazy person who checks email on vacation. We all spent time on vacation talking to our loved ones. But we also spent time getting to know one another. I am probably the only person who would endeavor to put two groups of friends together that don’t know one another. But actually, it worked out pretty well.

We’re all different, but we share several things in common, our love for Christ; our families and an appreciation for women friendship. In my darkest times, it has helped me tremendously to have sister friends I can confide in. I’ve also celebrated good times with my friends — proms, graduations, weddings and babies — not always in that order!

While in the Smoky Mountains, we all took time to soak in the soaring views and to reflect on our blessings. The weather was picture perfect and the city wasn’t crowded with tourists. We ate at the popular restaurants and shopped way too much. We line-danced and some of us went to a water aerobics class. We ended our girls trip with a prayer circle in the parking lot led by Connie. As we turned to go to our cars, we noticed one of the housekeepers had been standing outside the circle watching us. Moved by our show of faith, Manuel Vasquez, also a pastor, handed me his business card. Printed in Spanish was Juan 10:9. On the way home, Connie put it in her translator app, and we received a great message.

“I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”

It wasn’t crazy enough for reality television. But it was real.

rocking chair photo

atl crew

dee pix

the view

Another mass shooting; when will we learn?

Whenever a friend calls or texts and tells me to turn on CNN; I instinctively brace for the worst.

Last week, it happened again. Armed with a shotgun, 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, shot and killed 12 people inside the headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command. The former Navy reservist and IT contractor was later killed by police.

All week, the talking heads have debated the merits of gun control. At a memorial service Sunday for the victims, President Barack Obama talked about preserving the constitutional rights of responsible gun owners while doing something to curb gun violence and keep guns away from the mentally ill.

In a world populated with brilliant minds, this is an issue we can’t seem to fix. Frankly, if the murders of innocent children and teachers in their classrooms didn’t prompt significant changes, nothing will.

Until Sandy Hook, I was more optimistic. Now, I’m thinking at least part of the answer starts with us. We’ve got to be more aware of the mental state of people we live and work with. We also have to be willing to stage interventions. And when it comes to family members with mental illness, we’ve got to stop being in denial.

In February 2011, our family learned this the hard way. My cousin, David Duerson, committed suicide.

A year younger than me, I mostly saw David at family reunions until I went to college in his hometown of Muncie, Ind. While there, we got together at least once a week. He’d come to campus and pick me up for church and family dinners. He introduced me to his friends and I went to his high school football games with his Mom. He was smart, confident and fun to be around.

I watched with pride as he went to Notre Dame on a football scholarship and later became team captain and Most Valuable Player. In 1983, he was drafted by the Chicago Bears and was part of the legendary 1985 Bears team that won the Super Bowl. He would go on to be named the NFL’s Man of the Year for his community service efforts.

David and I lost touch, except for the occasional family gathering or Facebook post. I knew he was doing well because his parents kept me up to date on his life after football, which included owning several businesses and staying active in the Chicago community.

When David took his own life, friends, family members and former teammates had no idea about his mental state. I knew he had struggled in recent years — a failed business, a divorce, bankruptcy and the loss of his beloved parents — but I never doubted that he’d make a strong comeback.

At the time of his death, he was engaged to be married in April of that year. Alone in his Florida condo, he crawled into bed, covered his body with an American flag, aimed a shotgun at his heart and pulled the trigger. It still hurts to think about the desperation he must have felt. I often pray for his children, siblings, ex-wife and fiance. I’m so glad his parents weren’t alive to see their youngest son take his life.

There is no way to step into someone’s head and know what is going on. But there are signs that a person may be about to harm himself or others. David knew his mind and body were failing him. He was forgetting things and suffered from physical pain — common for retired NFL players. In text messages to his ex-wife and son before he killed himself, David asked that his brain be donated to the National Football League’s brain bank at Boston University. He wanted researchers to study it for a disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE.

The tests revealed the presence of CTE, a brain disease that has been detected in dozens of football players and boxers. It is caused by multiple concussions that never healed. People with CTE suffer from memory loss; and violent and impulsive behavior.

Part of me felt angry that David left three young adult sons and a teenage daughter behind to mourn his loss. As I think about it now, I’m glad he chose not to harm others.

None of us want to believe someone we love is capable of carrying out violent acts. In the case of Aaron Alexis, officials now say there were signs. While in the reserves, he was disciplined for disorderly conduct and insubordination. He reported to police that people were chasing him and he had an unusual obsession with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Mental illness is sometimes tricky to recognize and diagnose, especially if the person is in denial and is able to perform normal tasks, like going to work each day.

In the case of Adam Lanza, the signs were clearer. Before he burst into a Connecticut school and shot dozens of students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, his mother told friends she was worried about her son, who spent unusual amounts of time playing violent video games and never socialized.

She reportedly talked to friends about trying to get him help. If only her son hadn’t had access to so many weapons in their home. You have to wonder if that would have slowed him down or stopped him altogether. Experts say if a person is intent on harming themselves or others, they will find a way.

Navigating mental illness is hardest for family members who sometimes watch helplessly as their loved ones spiral out of control. In most cases, there are signs that we shouldn’t ignore. But no one wants to believe their loved one would cause such harm.

The Pain of Family Secrets

Every family has secrets. Some are eventually revealed; others emerge at the worst time possible. A funeral. A wedding.

Some people carry secrets to the grave.

My friend found out several years ago that the son he thought was his biological child was not. The child’s mother, who lived in another city, probably knew all along. She also knew my friend would be a better father and provider than the man who really impregnated her.

The secret was revealed by a paternity test. Not Maury Povich style; just a call from an attorney who suggested the paternity test when the boy’s mother decided she wanted more child support. Momma needs a new car, she told her son.  The move backfired in a big way.

I have known about this child since the woman called my friend and told him she was pregnant. From that moment, David (not his real name), readied his mind to become a father. He was nervous, and even briefly considered marrying the woman.  When his son was born, there was no reason to question paternity. He had pudgy little cheeks and large hands — he even looked like David, who threw everything he had into being a good father.

Then came the revelation. David considered ending child support payments and suing her; but realized he that would only hurt his son. And make no mistake, the child is his son in every sense of the word. He’s just not his sperm donor.

Still, there is pain. His son, now in his early 20s, has never been told. David, who plans to tell him soon, knows this secret could cause his son to question whether everything in his life has been a lie.

Most secrets cause permanent damage. My friend Connie told me about a women she interviewed who had been sexually abused by a male relative who babysat her while her parents worked. The abuse started when she was 8 years old and she never told anyone. As is often the case, her abuser made her believe she was to blame for what happened. Years later, when she told a police officer what happened, the man tried to run her down with his car.

When she had children, she sat them down and told them they should always tell if someone touches them inappropriately. Silence allows abusers to have the upper hand. And many of them convince themselves that what they are doing is somehow justified. The only way to break the cycle is to educate children and be honest about past secrets. There is also healing in revealing secrets. When we give voice to our emotions and past experiences, good or bad, we are releasing them into the universe. Only then can we move on with our lives.

Four lives snuffed out; one deferred

Who’s going to Birmingham today? Statue dedication at 4 p.m. central. Concert with Jamie Foxx, Jill Scott and Charlie Wilson. Thanks Michael German for the reminder. LOL.

LOVE MY PEOPLE

plaque

BIRMINGHAM — They were five little girls looking forward to the rest of their lives.

Sarah Collins Rudolph lived to tell their story. She was 12 years old at the time; now she is 62. She and her sister Addie Mae walked to church that Sunday morning as they had done so many times before. Their Sunday school lesson that morning, “A Love that Forgives,” would test everyone in their town.

Addie Mae, the big sister who liked to draw and play baseball, would never come home again. Sarah would never be whole again.
A flat gray tombstone marks the spot where 14 sticks of dynamite, rigged into a bomb, were planted just outside the ladies dressing room at 16th Street Baptist Church.

It reads: “Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963. 10:22 a.m.” There are four roses on the stone with the names of each murdered girl: Addie Mae Collins 14; Denise…

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Four lives snuffed out; one deferred

plaque

BIRMINGHAM — They were five little girls looking forward to the rest of their lives.

Sarah Collins Rudolph lived to tell their story. She was 12 years old at the time; now she is 62. She and her sister Addie Mae walked to church that Sunday morning as they had done so many times before. Their Sunday school lesson that morning, “A Love that Forgives,” would test everyone in their town.

Addie Mae, the big sister who liked to draw and play baseball, would never come home again. Sarah would never be whole again.
A flat gray tombstone marks the spot where 14 sticks of dynamite, rigged into a bomb, were planted just outside the ladies dressing room at 16th Street Baptist Church.

It reads: “Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963. 10:22 a.m.” There are four roses on the stone with the names of each murdered girl: Addie Mae Collins 14; Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14 and Cynthia Wesley, 14.

“Ye thought evil against me but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass as it is this day, to save much people alive.” Genesis 50:20.

The bomb was planted by men who hated people they didn’t even know. They were men who believed they shouldn’t have to share schools and other public facilities with people they didn’t consider to be human.

Led by the Rev. John Cross, 16th Street Baptist was one of several churches in Birmingham where African-Americans gathered to plan protests against segregated conditions. Across the street at Kelly Ingram Park, children and adult protesters were sprayed with high pressure water hoses when they would not leave. Police dogs were turned against them. Hundreds were arrested. But Birmingham’s business owners and city leaders held fast.

That morning at 16th Street, Addie Mae, Denise, Cynthia and Carole didn’t have a care in the world. They were fixing their hair and making sure their dresses were perfect. Addie Mae and Sarah were preparing to sing in the choir.

The last thing Sarah Collins Rudolph saw before she was blinded by glass and other debris was her sister, tying a sash on Denise McNair’s dress.

In that instant, Sarah called for her sister, “Addie, Addie.” Then she called on Jesus to help them.

Everything went dark. Later, at the hospital she overheard someone say her sister Addie was dead. A few weeks later, doctors told her she would lose her left eye if her right eye was not removed.
To this day, she still has trouble performing simple tasks. When she drives, she worries that someone is going to ram their car into hers. She never had children and is on her third marriage. She still bears the facial scars from that day, which she covers with make up. She misses her sister.

At least four men were believed to have constructed and planted the bomb ¬– “Dynamite Bob” Chambliss, Thomas Blanton Jr., Bobby Frank Cherry and Herman Cash. They were members of the Ku Klux Klan, a group that promoted violence and white supremacy. It would take decades before all three of them were convicted of murder. The last man went to prison in 2002. Cash died before his case could be brought to trial.

Birmingham attorney Doug Jones was the U.S. Attorney who convicted Blanton and Cherry. The men were heartless and bragged about what they did.

Fifty years after the murders, only one set of parents remain. Maxine and Chris McNair joined Rudolph and her husband George in Washington Tuesday where they received Congressional Medals posthumously for their loved ones.

The medals signify the sacrifices of the girls and their families. Denise’s parents remember what was then their only child as a busy little girl who loved to know everything that was happening around her. In Spike Lee’s documentary “Four Little Girls” her father talked about the pain he felt explaining to his daughter why she couldn’t drink out of the same water fountain as white girls and why she couldn’t get a hamburger at a lunch counter. That pain cut deep, Chris McNair said in the documentary.

Cynthia Wesley was a girl known to everyone as compassionate and caring. She would do anything for a friend. Carole Robertson was looking forward to playing the clarinet in the band.

You can’t come to this spot and not be moved to tears thinking about what happened here 50 years ago. Had I grown up in Alabama instead of Kentucky, I could very well have been in the ladies dressing room that day with my sister.

On Saturday, a bronze statue of four little girls will be placed at the entrance of Kelly Ingram Park. It will overlook 16th Street, where the Civil Rights Movement was galvanized like never before at 10:22 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963.

the cornerstone

sign2

the church

27 children by 17 women? Are you for real?

In his 38 years of life, Nathaniel J. Smith of Dayton, Ohio has produced 27 children by 17 different women.

Now this dude has the nerve to want a reality show. Please! You need a truckload of condoms or an operation.

When asked by a judge on the TV show “Divorce Court” how he had fathered so many children, Smith gave a one word answer, “sex.”

Well, duh!

One of the most memorable lines in the 1991 film “Boyz n the Hood” came from Furious Styles, played masterfully by Laurence Fishburne. He was counseling his son Tre (Cuba Gooding) on sex and responsibility.

“Any fool with a d*** can make a baby, but it takes a real man to raise his children.”

I guess Smith was too busy to watch the movie. His children range in age from 1 years old to 21. His estranged wife is 23 and his 21-year-old daughter now has a child of her own, according to the Dayton Daily News. The former barber, who calls himself a poet and performer, told the newspaper that times are hard so the mothers of his children have had to step up and do more. He was called into court recently on failure to appear charges related to a child support case. No surprise there since Smith has 21 child support orders.

Smith is an idiot. I’m not going to waste any more time on him. But here’s what I want to know from the mothers of his children: why would you lay up with a man who has 2 or 3 children he isn’t taking care of let alone enough for at least two basketball teams? It’s unfair to you and it’s especially unfair to your children.

If a man won’t take care of his own children, he’s surely not going to take care of you. I’ve been in court trying to get child support from a man who did not want to pay. It is humiliating but sometimes necessary. In my case, I had a job; and he was working on his Master’s degree and working on and off. I decided it wasn’t worth going to court for what at that time would have amounted to $25 to $50 a week.

Don’t get me wrong, women and men with children should be required to pay child support. But before we have children with someone, we really need to examine that person’s character.

We must love ourselves enough not to deal with a man who doesn’t take responsibility for his actions. There are too many unwanted children in the world already longing for someone to care for them. If you really want a child and you can’t find a decent man to marry, perhaps you should consider adoption.

But whatever you do, don’t get with the likes of Nathaniel J. Smith.