Reverberations and Flashing Diamonds
By ROEETHYLL LUNN
Roeethyll Lunn is a lifelong educator, learner, and writer. For many years she has been a Developmental Writing Instructor at Wayne Community College in Goldsboro, NC. She declares herself to be "an experimental writer" of essays, short stories, poetry, and articles about people living in the "Pee Dee" area of rural South Carolina just before desegregation. She was Born in Darlington, South Carolina, has a BFA in Broadcast Media from Morris College, Sumter, SC, and an MFA in English and writing from Southampton College, LIU in New York
Where I Grew Up
Most people see images in various mediums, that depict growing up in the South in the 1950's and 1960's as a harried affair—a time of worries, real fear, and anxiety. Being a product of that era, I can truthfully say, in many instances, it was.
When I look at old pictures of family members who have long passed, I remember the unfairness of the governmental racial mandates of that time which prevented so many from developing themselves and entering into professions in which their individual talents could have easily been accommodated and—given their bearers—lead the way to a successful career.
I still have vivid memories of how deeply disrespectful words were hurdled so blatantly at the people I loved. I was crestfallen as a child when I had to witness these words being directed at my parents, my grandparents, my neighbors, along with my unsuspecting friends and me, from the mouths of a race of people I was told to render respect toward. But when someone asks me how it for was me, being a young, black girl during that time, I immediately think of Whitney Houston flashing a large diamond ring at Oprah Winfrey’s face and answering, "Oprah, it [her marriage to Bobby Brown] isn’t all bad." And it wasn't. Everything that I saw in my life during that era was not all bad.
I have innumerable diamonds that I can flash from my memories of those times—memories involving the existence of a powerful Black sub-culture wrought (in symphony with, and in spite of all else) by nurturing, family members, enriching Black churches, and empowering Black educators that had the capacity to counteract all else that I witnessed. It was an era when social and economic repression and not having much on a personal level, materially, enabled the Black church to teach people to appreciate and give reverence to “…whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things"(Philippians 4:8).
One particular diamond in which black parents, who sometimes could not even read or write themselves, readily wanted their children to be able to flash later on in their lives was the virtue of getting a good education.
Whenever the weather would allow and if parents could spare them from helping out on the farm, children were made to go to school. One of the most remembered parental admonishments to their brood of children was, “Just do yo’ best…I don’t ‘pect you to make all A’s…sometimes you cain’t … but one subject you better make A’s in, or you’ll hear from me, Buddy, and that is in conduct."
Our parents would say, "You bettah not ever let no teacher of Y’orn tell me, you been acting up in class.” Back then, teachers and learning were given deference, and a completed education was something parents wished for their children. That’s why I have difficulty seeing how the respect for studying hard to get a good education, and the respect for educational institutions themselves, has suffered so greatly over the years. (my parents are pictured above at right)
The Terror These Days
After every incident involving terror, someone always hammers out in print, or stands before a camera, in a state of total astonishment, and says invariably, “I can’t believe it!" "I never thought…" "I just talked to them!" "He was such a nice person." "It just goes to show what type of world we live in." Or, "I cannot see how he/she could have given anyone cause to harm him/her.”
I had no idea that the tragic event, which happened at my own place of employment last year, would cause me to become such a person. I didn’t know him outside of our work place, but I did know him. I knew him from conversations we’d had when I went to pick up work orders from his office, and I used to ride and exchange small talk with him on the elevator most mornings. These pleasantries were the comments that most co-workers share. The dreaded return to work on Mondays. "We are almost there, it's Hump Day," And, “We made it!" on Fridays. We had other conversations and jokes about the amount of breakfast food the other had on our carry out container from the cafeteria, and the enticing smells it emitted. So imagine my shock when they said it was my co-worker who had been shot.
After I’d dressed for work that morning, the phone rang. The automated voice said something to the effect that… "All classes are suspended." "Do not report to campus for any reason." And, the most curious part, which I remember exactly, “This is not a drill.” Before official news outlets made their public announcements, a fellow instructor from work called and told me who the victim was and (according to the grapevine) what had happened at our school.
Terror lives vibrantly in the aftermath. When standing at the particular spot where it happened, terror uses the imagination to create scenarios of what the victim must have felt—surprise when realization came to announce what was happening. And finally, when the moment of acceptance of the certainty arrived of not being able of escape the situation alive. For those who are closely connected to these occurrences, terror makes them read faces before they enter an elevator, look carefully at people when passing by them, and offer prayers for personal safety each time before entering the building.
Echoes from the Past
I find that I am often echoing the greatness of rural, southern (mostly Black) people who lived in the America of the 1950s and 1960’s—the years of my youth. I also of course like to share reflections about the hilarious and heartwarming situations I have encountered as an instructor at a local community college. Everyone and any group of people have a story of the things they have experienced, and, of course, it is not always pretty. What I am declaring is this. I feel the only reasonable service, for those of us who are so inclined, is to keep alive these stories, in whatever art form we have privy to.
When I write about the Black people of earlier times, folks that I knew and grew up with, I am not trying to exploit or reverberate forever the Negro legacies of cruelty and sexual exploitation—or God please forbid—cause anyone to pick up actual arms for battle. What I am trying to write, with my strongest voice, is the declaration: It was not all bad.
In spite of it all we endured, those were sweet years for me, filled with wonderful people whose lives I have the inclination to share with anyone who cares to listen. I need not contrive situations or staged scenes. Mine are all true reports. I remember these people, I talked with them, and I saw them as they were. The ones whose merits I praise were Christian hearted, kind, loving, and strong people, whose every effort (makeshift though it was) was geared towards seeing that their families stayed together in a dwelling place where their children’s bodies were fed and clothed, and their emotions were sheltered from the social elements which
buffeted them. And above all, they had the foresight to see that education was their children’s surest ally.
The Price of Education
Even though Education in America was supposedly free, for my generation it came at a high price—great personal sacrifice. Parents learned how to use their natural knack or expertise for sewing, washing, cooking, nursing, carpentry, and growing fruits and vegetables to help them pay the expenses of their children’s education.
One of our local and most well respected local educators of that time, Mrs. Elease McCray, said that the owner of the farm where her family sharecropped, told her father that he had to move off his land. The owner's question, how could her father be able to send her and her two siblings off to college, and he, as the landowner, could not send his? He reasoned that her father was either holding back or outright stealing from him, and the reason why he didn’t go to the law was because he could not prove it.
Today’s educational institutions should not have to become immobile targets to the gore filled events that we regularly witness in national headlines. I think the fault may well lie in our society's inability to help convince today’s youth to recognize the merits of positive thoughts and activities and to encourage them to "flash diamonds".
Like my generation, or any generation of people who have learned the necessity of acquiring skills that teach them how to survive and go on to live productive lives, our youth today too must learn how to sometimes look away from the harsh circumstances in their lives. To see that food is delicious, music is stimulating, humor is plentiful, friends are comforting, nature is spectacular and gives epiphanies or inspiration for our personal predicaments, and the explanations for them. And most of all, our young people should be taught that education should again be given a place of deference because it is a proven resource and a priceless ally in life—one that has the power to help those who pursue it to escape their present circumstances and aim toward greater horizons.
Editor's Note: see an excellent and closely related piece on American Violence by Community Works Journal's Hector Vila.
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