Wednesday, August 12, 2009

“Unshakeable Human Spirit”

Today President Obama bestowed our country’s highest civilian honor on sixteen individuals who exemplify “that our lives are what we make of them; that no barriers of race, gender, or physical infirmity can restrain the human spirit; and that the truest test of a person's life is what we do for one another.”

Watching the news play of this prestigious occasion, I was struck by the humanity that the awardees have demonstrated throughout their lives / careers.
While I was pleased that President Obama’s first “class” for such a high honor was truly representative of our country, I was more pleased by the diversity of life endeavors / choices of the awardees—which is why they were really chosen. But what made me beam from ear to ear was the fact that I KNEW who these men and women were and I got it! I mean, if I had to pick 16 people; I could not have done a better job! And I must admit, I wondered why it took so long for a few of them?

I am extremely proud today!

Speaking of the recipients, I remember the first time I saw a Sidney Poitier movie—1967, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. We went to the drive-in theatre to see it. It was one of my Mom’s favorite—she was a big Spencer Tracy fan and this was his last movie. In the early ‘80s my pre-teen son and I were at my Mom’s watching the movie for the umpteenth time. I think it was my son’s first time and as is customary with youngsters, he was stretched out on the floor paying more attention to something else than the movie. Are so we thought. Later over dinner, he posed the question, “Granny, what is a Negro?” My Mom looked at me with raised eyes and it was apparent that she was trying to stifle her laughter in the same manner that I was.

Of course, it wasn’t a funny question; definitely not asked in a manner to evoke laughter. If we had laughed, it would have been that nervous, almost hysterical laughter that comes with embarrassment. Embarrassed not because of the answer or the asker, but that the question had to be asked. Embarrassed because the eleven-year-old son and grandson of “black social activists” didn’t know what a Negro was. Embarrassed because although we had been dragging him to NAACP meetings and women’s rights rallies most of his life, realization was setting in that there might be a few things we had missed in our “upbringing”.

Blah. Blah. Negro. Afro-American. Black. African American. I think I’ll text my soon-to-be 13-year-old granddaughter and ask her if she knows what a Negro is. Somehow I “know” that my son has covered this base, but just to be on the safe side… I‘m certain the movie will be on real soon and in addition to Academy Award winner, they will no doubt add “Medal of Freedom” recipient to Mr. Poitier’s credits. And well they should!

Remarks By The President
At The Medal Of Freedom Ceremony

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