Turtle's Progress

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Open Letter to My Grandchildren, On the Inauguration of Barack Obama

Dear Brody, Sarah, Charlotte, and Ephraim,

As I sit here watching the pomp and circumstance of the Inauguration of another American president, it has occurred to me that this president is the first to be elected during your lifetimes. Brody, you were born just three weeks after the presidential election of 2004, and Ephraim, your birth was nearly a year before Barack Obama was elected.

I hope by the time you are each able to read and understand these thoughts and observations that you will not think that this election was anything special. I hope that you will have seen Americans of all colors and ethnicities serving as leaders not only in government but in all walks of life. But today that is not the case. Today is special. Today brings tears to my eyes. Today Barack Obama becomes president of the United States of America. Today your Grama celebrates the country into which you were born.

Yesterday we celebrated the birthday of another great American, Martin Luther King, Jr. He died 40 years ago but in one of his last and most famous speeches he once said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Today feels like the beginning of the fulfillment of that dream, and I pray that this is the case.

I think that your parents, and parents everywhere, have that same dream for their children that Martin Luther King, Jr. had for his children. You are each named for people of character whom your parents love and admire; people who can serve as outstanding role models in your lives. I'd like to tell you what I know about them in the hopes that you will someday read this and understand a little about the character of the people whose names you share.

Brody, your middle name, Thomas, is for your granddad who is your mom’s father and my husband. He was a police officer who was respected by his fellow officers and his community. He received many awards during his career, but the one he told me he was most proud of was from a group called COUL (Community of Unified Leadership). This group was formed in 1971 to help the city of Anniston deal with racial problems. Your grandfather was the first (and maybe the only) police officer to receive this honor. This tells me that in his duties as a police officer he was recognized as someone who treated people with respect no matter the color of their skin. He also loves his family very much. He was a good son, an Eagle Scout, and he always studied hard in school. He has taught Sunday School, and always regularly attends church. He is a wonderful father to your mama and your Uncle Craig. He works hard, and he loves you with all his heart. Thomas is a name you should be very proud to share with him.

Sarah Lorraine, you have two names from two very special ladies. When your mom was only 16 years old she met a lady named Sarah Finch who was 87. They became great friends. She had a wonderful sense of humor and cared deeply about anyone who came into her life. She worked very hard her whole life and took care of her mama and her daddy and her husband when they were very sick. She loved your mama very very much, and your mom loved Sarah Finch so much that she always told her when she had a little girl she was going to name her Sarah. Lorraine is the name of my grama, your mom’s great-grandmother. She was the best grama a child could have and loved all of her grandchildren, but she cared about other people too. When I was a child she lived by the railroad tracks, and I can remember how “hobos” who would be passing through our town on the train would come to her back door and she would give them something to eat. They seemed to know that a kind lady lived in that house. Sarah Lorraine is your name now, Sarah, but it comes from two very loving and strong women. When your mama and daddy gave you that name I think they had hopes that you too will grow up to be as strong and loving as they were.

Charlotte, your middle name, Ann, is also your Grama Karen’s middle name. I have only known your Grama for a few years but I know her to be a wonderful person. She lovingly raised seven children, including your daddy, to be strong and caring adults. She also taught school for many years and helped other people's children, many of them black, Latino and Asian, learn not only their academic lessons but also about how to grow up to be good people. She and your Grampa Tom have counseled young married couples. She works hard in her church, volunteers in her community and is a loving grandmother to you and your cousins. I hope that you, Charlotte, grow up to share not only your Grama Karen's middle name but also her beautiful and loving spirit.

Ephraim, your middle name is McCray. It is the maiden name of your daddy's grandmother; your JoJo's mother. The only things I know about her is that your daddy loved her very much, and that she raised your JoJo. That alone tells me what a great woman she must have been because your JoJo is very special. She raised your daddy and your Uncle Tory to be outstanding men and fathers. She taught school for nearly 30 years, served in her church as an elder, a choir member, a worship leader, and a Sunday School teacher. She delivers meals-on-wheels, visits shut-ins, takes care of your Papa and loves you, Sarah and Lily with all her heart. I know your middle name McCray is special because it belonged to the woman who raised your JoJo to be someone who cares deeply about others no matter what their color or background. You will do well, Ephraim, if you remember where your middle name came from and that you share that family name and background with your very special JoJo.

So today as I watch the Inaguration of our first African American president, I think back on the history of this country and how far we have come, but I also look forward. I think of the four of you growing up in a country more inclusive than the one I came up in, and what that will mean for you. I think of your names and hope that you will each know and remember where your names came from. I think of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream and I hope that you will each grow to be caring adults who will be judged by others only by the content of your character.

But my most fervent prayer for you is that each of you will grow to be a member of that nation that Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of. That nation that will judge others not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I pray that you will have friends of all races, ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds. And that you will not see or focus on the differences between you but on the things you all have in common. I pray that you will not see color but will always look for character in all who come into your lives.

Someday when you are older and I talk to you about what today means to me and maybe watch videos of it with you, and you see your old Grama getting sentimental and choked up, I hope you will try to understand, and that you will know the important history of what happened today. But I also hope that you will look at me and wonder "What is the big deal?" Someday, I pray it is no longer a big deal, but today it is. Today I celebrate the Inaguaration of the first president elected during your lifetimes, and the first African American president elected during my lifetime.

Love, Grama