By Lionel Washington
My mother Linda and my grandfather James are the bravest people I’ve ever known.
Ernest Hemingway tells us that courage is grace under pressure. These two heroes of mine had plenty of both.
I was fortunate to live with my extended family, who exposed me at an early age to important issues facing our community. Mill levies and ballot initiatives were discussed over a plate of collard greens cornbread and. Both my mom and my grandpa were leading the charge…and actively involved in voting rights and in the parent/teacher association.
My mother was a hardworking teacher. My grandpa James Washington was a proud member of the military—pre and post segregation. WWII, Korea, Vietnam. Even after serving our country, and fighting for freedom. He experienced racism that affected his promotions and career advancement. It was so bad that even left the Army and moved to the Air Force which had just become a separate branch of service from the Army Air Corps, because it was at least was somewhat better for people of color to serve.
When I was 11, my grandfather explained to me the importance of voting and issued a broad but very clear directive: ‘Get involved!!’
And so I did. In Junior High, I attended District Accountability meetings with him and my mother. I was elected to student council and volunteered for local candidates I believed in—all because this was instilled in me. I WANTED to participate. My first job in college was to register voters on the 16th Street Mall. When I encountered apathy, I’d say, “People fought and died during Jim Crow and through the Civil Rights movement so we could do this. This is important. Our country is on the line. [People are counting on you not voting.]”
“My mom raised me to be a community organizer—to get involved. That’s why I coach basketball. That’s why I worked as a University Admissions counselor. I care about our young people—and was raised to do so.”
This morning is about hope. And it’s also about courage in the face of challenge. And over the last decade in the Pikes Peak region, I’ve experienced challenge. I have been denied access to a bar (pause)… denied a Martin Luther King day off by my employer (pause)…and I’ve been jumped.
If my grandpa were here today, I wish I could tell him that everything was just fixed.
Nelson Mandela quote: There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere. And you must walk through the valley of the shadow of death again and again until you reach the mountain top of your desires.
Getting involved isn’t something you do once. You do it every day. You chip away at inequality. You face challenges. You maintain grace under pressure. You do it again and again. You get involved.
That’s what Citizens Project does, and that’s why this little organization that could has captured my imagination and my heart.
I want something better for my 1 year old son, Carter Jade. I imagine a community that is truly equal, truly free. I know you want this, too. Not only for my son, but for your children and grandchildren. Really, for ALL children. That’s why we’re all here. So as we cope, with the recent Supreme Court ruling to strike down some of the critical protections of the 1965 VRA, we continue to face modern day challenges voting and the rights of citizens- that is why, the important work of Citizens Project really does matter…even in 2014.
One last thing. I think you all know what my little guy will hear at the kitchen table once as soon as he is out of the high chair and sharing a plate of greens and cornbread with his daddy, I’ll lean over and pass on the wisdom that my grandfather- his great-grandfather gave to me and that I’ll share with you all this morning…. “Get involved!”