Our Women Who Make Us Proud

Since the month of March has been designated Women’s History Month, allow me to take this opportunity to brag on some of the very outstanding women of color that we have right here in San Antonio, Texas. Now I don’t mean to offend my fellow brothers of color, but we have to admit that over the centuries we’ve had some awfully dynamic sisters. As far back as Phyllis Wheatley the great 18th Century poet through the 20th Century, our women have always been out front in our struggle to overcome prejudice, racism and bigotry. I’ll refrain from trying to name them all, for fear I might leave out too many.

ObamasWith the advent of the 21st Century that trend of strong, charismatic women continued. First Lady Michelle Obama has given this country a real lesson in class, dignity, brains and a compassion for all people. And I am proud to proclaim that we do have a number of women who emulate First Lady Obama right here in San Antonio. Allow me to share with you, the reader, a few of those outstanding women.

PierceThe two matriarchs of the Black culture in San Antonio are Aaronetta Pierce and Ruth Jones McClendon. These two pillars of the community have been leaders in the arts and in politics respectively for over thirty years in this city. Ms. Pierce has been a strong advocate for arts and has served on numerous boards over the years. She was a very close friend to the late great Maya Angelou, who loved to come to San Antonio to write. Ms. Pierce was the first Chair of the Martin Luther King Commission that organizes the march every year on the great man’s birthday. Because of her outstanding leadership on that committee, San Antonio has the largest and most effective King Day March in the country.

Former State Representative Ruth Jones McClendon has been the premiere Black office holder in the city. She served on the local city council for two terms and has been State Representative for District 120 of the Texas House of Representatives since 1994. In those years she established an impeccable record as an effective legislator for the Eastside of San Antonio, which encompasses a high percentage of the Black population. She recently retired because of failing health.

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Following in the footsteps of these legendary women are two new and refreshing Black women ready to take over the helm of leadership, both acknowledging that they follow on the shoulders of giants. Mayor Ivy Taylor accomplished the unthinkable when she won the office of Mayor in a hotly contested race in a city with only a 7% Black population. I have written about her accomplishments in a previous post on this blog in which I pointed out how proud she made us with her victory.  Mayor Taylor has an excellent career in front of her that could possibly lead to the governor’s seat in Austin.

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Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, sister to the legendary great NBA Basketball star, George Iceman Gervin, is the other woman of color who is a rising star in the political world. She is now in a two-person runoff for the vacated Legislative seat previously held by Ms. McClendon. Her opponent is an ex city councilman who has been removed from the political scene in the city for many years. You might call it his “last hurrah” for notoriety. Ms. Gervin-Hawkins has a proven track record as an effective organizer of a number of successful operations that have been of great help to the residents of the district. She is the Executive Director of the George Gervin Academy, a school that has welcomed young people who have been removed from the public school system, and need a helping hand to get their life in order. The Academy has graduated over one thousand students with high school diplomas and now these young people have gone on to build productive lives.

Mayor Taylor and Ms. Gervin-Hawkins are only two of a larger number of women of color in San Antonio who are making a difference in the lives of the young people in the African American community. Hopefully, as these two new dynamic leaders move forward in their careers, they will never forget that they are the recipients of the dedicated work by such women as Fanny Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Shirley Chisholm and of course Barbara Jordan. If they prove to be as competent leaders as these stellar women of color, then we all can be assured that our communities are in good hands.

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The Relevance of Our Elderly Generation

In a recent exchange of emails with a group of younger people in the San Antonio area, I offered my critique of what NWA represented to our culture. One of the recipients of the email retorted with the following critique of me. “Gee Professor Williams, that’s really easy for you to pick on NWA movie. Just like a lot of things you are totally out of step with what is going on with society. That’s why today’s generation no longer wants to listen to your generation.” I struggled with that rather acerbic attack of me, I guess because I am part of the older generation. But then I took a little time to analyze his statement.  I tried to figure out, what we did wrong that the younger generation no longer wants to listen to us. Here is what I discovered.

My generation was the first to really attack segregation in the South. It was my generation that sat down at lunch counters and refused to leave until they were served. They were spat upon, kicked, physically attacked and called every indecent name you can imagine. It was my generation that got on buses, and rode into the South or if they already lived there, joined those coming from the North in order to integrate bus lines and bus stations. They were kicked, physically attacked and called every indecent name you can imagine. It was my generation, i.e., Robert Moses who challenged the registrars in the South who failed to allow Blacks to vote. It was my generation, i.e., John Lewis who attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery in a protest against the unconstitutional failure to allow Blacks to vote. It was my generation that organized campus protests throughout the entire country in an attempt to get universities to offer Black Studies. It was my generation that stood up and proclaimed their right to a just and fair treatment when such a statement could cause them serious bodily harm and even death.

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The other part of my detractor’s statement was that “we are totally out of touch with what is going on in society today.” I thought about that statement and assumed he meant that with the young people’s assertion, “Black Lives Matter,” somehow my generation and generations before me never understood that concept. If that is what my detractor was implying, then he really hasn’t read his own history; because if you look back through time you would know that black lives have always mattered. David Walker wrote his Walker’s Appeal in 1829, because Black Lives Matter; Nat Turner began a rebellion in 1831, because Black Lives Matter; Harriett Tubman risked her life going into the South and brought her people out of bondage, because Black Lives Matter; Frederick Douglass spoke on the hypocrisy of the Fourth of July Celebrations back in 1852, because Black Lives Matter; Martin DeLaney, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, A. Phillip Randolph, Fannie Lou Hamer and many more all challenged an apartheid system, because Black Lives Matter. Medgar Evers, Malcolm X., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and many others were murdered, because Black Lives Matter, and thousands of Black Americans marched and fought in the trenches against an oppressive and abusive social and economic system in this country for years, because BLACK LIVES MATTER.

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I have nothing but admiration for the young people who are now continuing the work began by others, long before any of them were around. Our history is a continuum from one generation to the next. So therefore, what has happened in the past is relevant to what is occurring now. For any one group of people to make the charge that any generation, as far back as when our ancestors were brought here in chains, is irrelevant to our cause is destructive to what we all want to accomplish.

In the Chinese culture, the elderly are venerated, respected and listened to for worldly advice by their young, and the Chinese culture has survived since 1200 B.C., or even earlier. There must be something right about their culture of respect for their sages, and maybe some of those who don’t believe in the relevance of the saying, “with age comes wisdom,” could learn a valuable lesson from the Chinese.

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A Great Brother and Great Writer Moves On

clackLast Thursday, I was surprised to read a Facebook posting by one of the most respected men in the San Antonio literary community. Cary Clack, who had served for the past year as Communication Director for Mayor Ivy Taylor, agreed to resign from his position. Cary is a native of San Antonio, who as a young intern at the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, wrote a number of commentaries for the late and great Coretta Scott King for her appearances on CNN. He was a columnist for the San Antonio Express News for over seventeen years and served as District Director for the office of Congressman Joaquin Castro until he gave up that position to serve with Mayor Taylor. Cary is a brother who cares very much about his community and has always been one of the most principled human beings that it has been my privilege to know; and also a very polished and professional writer and communicator. Why he decided to leave the mayor’s office right at the beginning of her term is a discussion and subject he does not want to engage in publicly, because he does not want to become fuel for the fire of the Taylor haters and there are a lot of them in the community.

I believe Cary left he mayor’s office because he was not comfortable with his role. He is a writer and must feel free to express himself as he sees fit. That is what a good writer must do. Working for any politician, you must be willing to relinquish that kind of freedom and be nothing more than the mouthpiece for whomever you may work. One fact, however, is indisputable; Mayor Taylor lost a very good man when she lost our friend Cary. His character is reflected in the fact that just before Mayor Taylor decided to run for a full term in office, Cary was approached by executives from the University of Texas System in Austin about a job as speechwriter for the new Chancellor, General William McRaven, the man who led President Barack Obama’s successful operation to get Osama Bin Laden. He went to the mayor and asked what she planned to do and she then told him that she would run. He felt that his loyalty to her, in what would be a very hotly contested race, was more important than taking the job, and decided to stay put in her office.

Now that he has decided to move on, many in the community are wondering what is next for this man of many accomplishments. No doubt he’ll have a myriad of offers from various newspapers, possibly some national magazines and he already has one from Prosperity Publications. As a fledgling publishing company with limited resources, we are not in the position to offer Cary the kind of salary that his talent demands. But I do know he is the kind of person that we want to have as an associate, partner or maybe just a writer in our company. We want good, honorable people, who will not compromise their principles for financial gain. Writers who want to tell the story about our heritage and culture and in doing so make a positive impact on our race. Cary is that kind of person and the mayor should have done everything in her power to keep him in her office. But since she didn’t, some other literary entity is going to be blessed with a talented Black writer who will do great things for their company.

Striking a Blow Against Illiteracy

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Last Saturday evening, one hundred men and women struck a blow against illiteracy when they gathered at the Club at Sonterra in San Antonio, Texas for a tribute dinner to our local authors and to the memory of the late Dr. David Floyd. School teachers, college professors, corporate executives, business men and women and elected officials came together and offered their support for the establishment of the Dr. David Floyd Writing Project, a proposed 501 c3 foundation dedicated to teaching young men and women the craft of writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry, screen writing and autobiographies.

sbai5Our guest speaker for the event was Mrs. Aaronetta Pierce, one of the leading cultural giants in our community. She spoke eloquently on the value of one’s heritage and the importance of cultural sustainability as we reach the halfway point of the second decade of the twenty-first century. Mrs. Pierce, a very close friend of the late and great Dr. Maya Angelou, shared some of her cherished memories of that icon with us. Mrs. Pierce reminded us of just how fortunate we were to have a grand lady like Dr. Angelou as a contributor to the grace and beauty of our culture. She also read excerpts from her soon-to-be published, “Letters to My Grandchildren,” which traces her ancestry back to Tennessee and elaborates on her family’s many accomplishments, despite the extreme obstacles they faced in the racist South during their lifetime. Her message was with the love of family and with sheer determination one can realize their dreams despite obstacles. Her reflections on Dr. Angelou as well as her “Letter to My Grandchildren,” will be two of the key essays in the anthology, Black is the Color of Strength, to be released in April 2015 by Prosperity Publications.

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Mrs. Pierce’s remarks segued right into my brief words on Dr. David Floyd. David was a man who graduated from high school reading at the second grade level but despite extreme obstacles, attained a PhD in Accounting in January 2014.  Unfortunately, we lost David to cancer in October 2014. Before he passed away and at the point he knew he would die, he asked me to write his eulogy because I had helped him write his life story. In my remarks, I described a system that failed David when it passed him from grade to grade knowing he could not read. I spoke about a system that had a cell waiting for David in one of its many prisons. About a system that had a gun waiting for David, so that he could take the life of another young man just like him.  About a system that had plenty of drugs waiting for David and a system that had death waiting for David, so that his life would end without any accomplishments at all. But this system did not know David Floyd. He defied all these odds and became an example for other young boys who face the identical pathological conditions in their lives.

sbai3David is no longer here to present to young adults what is possible if you are willing to try. He is a symbol of success against overwhelming obstacles. And that is why the one hundred guests at our dinner, along with our distinguished speaker and many thousands more have made a commitment to create the Dr. David Floyd Writing Project, as a vehicle to spread his story and assist others in their goals to become just as successful as him. Last Saturday evening was our first blow, but stay tuned because there are many more blows yet to come.

You will have the opportunity to read more about David’s fantastic accomplishments in his revised autobiography, Through My Mother’s Tears, to be released in May 2015 by Prosperity Publications. Once you read his story, you will know exactly why we plan to establish our writing project in his name.

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