Today, we remember a significant milestone in our nation’s history. Fifty years ago today, hundreds of thousand of citizens participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. I hope that every classroom in KCKPS and across the country is talking about and exploring the significance of the March on Washington. Today, among many distinguished speakers on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Congressman John Lewis, and presidents Obama, Carter and Clinton reminded us that we have come a long way towards realizing the dream of equality for all citizens, but that there is still much to be done.
Growing up, I learned a lot about discrimination from my grandmother’s friend Ora. In the sixties, it was unusual for women of such diverse backgrounds to be friends, but they truly were. They did not say much about their friendship, but it was visible to anyone who paid attention to their interactions. Ora was a person of few words but someone rich in character. I am sure that is what drew my grandmother to her.
I always regret that I did not know more about Ora, and about her life. I would ride with my Aunt Thelma, who on occasion would offer Ora a ride home. Ora lived in an area known to us as “the other side of the tracks.” As a young child, I saw the railroad tracks that separated the two distinct halves of the community. As a person who tends to be literal, it took me a while to understand that the expression had little to do with the actual placement of the tracks. I loved Ora, as did my entire family. She was family. On occasion, I would be allowed to attend Ora’s church. I still have vivid and joyous memories of the experience. No matter how hard life was Monday through Saturday, her church on Sunday was always full of joy and celebration. I am sure she never knew it, but this friend of my grandmother’s, she was one of the most influential people in my life. From Ora, I learned critical lessons about character, unconditional love, and the importance of hard work. I also learned the reality of how harsh life can be. Ora never said it to me, but it was clear that the American dream for some was (and still is) only a dream. I attribute the choices I have made in my life’s work directly to the lessons learned from this soft-spoken woman.
Today, as I listened to the speeches commemorating the March on Washington, I can’t help but think of Ora. I wish I could hear what she would say if she were still alive today. My guess is she would acknowledge that many things have changed, and also agree with the speakers who noted that there is still much work to be done. I imagine she would say something about the importance of one’s actions and character, and caution me about those who say one thing and do another. I am so grateful for the lessons and the access Ora allowed me to have to her life.
As I think about the importance of today, I also think about the lessons I learned from this incredible person who happened to be my grandmother’s friend. Ora, what I learned from you drives me each and every day as superintendent of KCKPS. I understand how important it is to stand up for the rights of all people. I have pledged to carry forward the message that the American dream is possible, and that quality education is fundamental, and the right of every citizen. Today is a great day to be reminded that we must stand up and speak out. “It’s Up to Us!”