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I grew up in Pittsburgh. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream”, and other speeches were part of my high school curriculum. I married a Southerner in 1987. I was shocked to hear that Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a part of his high school curriculum. I entered a different world, a world where in his growing up years, hired help was mainly black, maids, landscapers, and hardscape contractors. I began to see and hear of a South that was not part of my upbringing, but only depicted in movies like “Gone With the Wind.” However, I experienced more racism in the North than I ever did in the South.
Entering high school a naive 13-year-old, it was a landscape ripe with violent protests, riots, marches, Vietnam, Women’s Rights, Black Power. I was a kid growing up in a raucous world, but raised by a generation who grew up under a different tyranny. Being Polish and Ukrainian descent, my family came to the U.S. with nothing and created a home for me. They fled the Communists, Nazism, and Russian repression. They lived through the Great Depression. The women in my family suffered abuse as I learned, going back generations, as men from that era were angry, harsh, and even depressed. That led to drinking and fighting. Fortunately, my dad and my aunt who raised me were nothing like that. I was raised with a respect for law enforcement, the Church, and my elders. Step out of line and I got whooped, which I did quite a few times.
When I married into the South, bits, and pieces of my husband’s history gradually emerged. We moved to North Georgia, and I was stunned to see slave cabins preserved. My father-in-law told me they were preserved for future generations to understand and contemplate. While my in-laws were part of a generation that built railroads, served in the military, and farmed, I never heard an ill word about those from the black communities that helped build the South in those capacities.
My aunt, (growing up in Pittsburgh) who raised me, once told me a story. This was during the race riots in the 1960s and 1970s and she was fearful, because my uncle was a cop in a volatile area, and my other uncle, her husband, who was like my second dad, was a conductor on the railroad. Cities were on fire, and violence erupted, just like today. That’s when she shared that her first marriage was to a very abusive and philandering man, where she found him in a bar with a woman on his lap. They had been married for less than a year. She confronted him and he threw a knife at her. She fled, and he chased her down the Hazelwood/Glenwood District of Pittsburgh, where many immigrants settled. She said that a couple of black men surrounded her, and accompanied her to safety, and confronted her abusive husband. She told me she had nothing against anybody of a different race, and she divorced him soon after. I remembered that because in my tender years, it told me that anyone could be a good person or a bad person – it was a choice.
I say the Black Community and our American culture, in general, has lost its first love, because all of the above, the flight from communism and Nazism by my family, racism and the upheaval of the 1960s, a “United” States in the midst of great change, once was led by faith. This faith was rooted in a foundation that couldn’t be shaken. It sustained the Founders as they journeyed to a new land and established our founding documents. The old Spirituals of the black community, sung in solidarity amidst persecution, strengthened them against their oppressors.
Pope John Paul II stood up against the oppressors of freedom, in the same manner that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did. With a pastor leading the charge, without firing a bullet or setting fire to a church or trashing a business, King preached a message that changed our country and the world, through non-violence and strong faith. Pope John Paul II brought down communism in his homeland of Poland and pushed back a Russian invasion brewing on its borders without firing a shot, through non-violence and strong faith. The speech that President Trump gave in Poland echoed this message.
We can’t save ourselves. Snapping a picture of the tragedy that took George Floyd’s life and sending it viral, unraveled, like a loose thread on a precious tapestry, all the good that came out of the struggle against this insidious virus. Businesses were set to open, the economy poised to resume and spirits were hopeful. No one seems to be around to snap a picture of the countless officers responding to community unrest, or domestic violence, or gang and drug infestation, that never seem to improve in the inner cities, despite eight years of a “seasoned” community organizer at the helm. President Trump’s inner-city investment program was on the way to changing that. Inviting black leadership and clergy to the White House for dialogue, along with others from countries under persecution, opened a door to new communication and finding solutions. Yet we have forgotten the good that has been accomplished.
If we learned anything through the COVID-19 virus, it is that the deepest recesses of the human spirit are good, and will rise to the challenge of any crisis, if we hold to the messages that brought down communism and racism, and we can do it again.