By Juanita Gambrell Floyd
“You are ugly. We are all ugly.” These were the first startling, yet powerful words expressed by Superintendent Patrick Washington of Benton County, as he began his keynote address during the Committee for King’s 24th banquet celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
He talked about the plight of our children, schools and communities. He stated that, “In his experience, a clear indicator of a community is the state of the children. If we motivate the community – we must motivate the young people. Dr. King allowed young people to march with him. They were eager to belong and hungry to be a part of the movement. During a march, a policeman stooped down and looked directly into a young child’s eyes and asked, “What do you want?” The child fervently said, “I want freedom!” The young people energized the movement. Sadly, today, many of our children are in prison, school dropouts, or bound by drugs. Are we dreaming, or are we living in a nightmare?…”
As I listened to his remarks, with a heavy heart, I concluded that his initial words were true. “We are ugly” when we remain silent, stand back, point fingers and say, “That’s a black problem; that’s a white problem; that’s a church or community problem or when we falsely accuse our black or white brethren of… We are ugly” when we kneel and pray to a merciful and loving God and arise with the same feelings of hatred. Meanwhile, our children are suffering, dying in the streets, abusing themselves with crystal meth, heroin and crack, not graduating, and not securing jobs. Many of our schools and communities are in disarray. Ignorance is not a white or black problem – it affects every facet of society. If we are tired of the statistics, then we must all work toward a solution.
We must be tired enough to do something! A quote from an unknown source said, “May God bless you with anger at injustice, so that you will work for justice, equality and peace. May God bless you with the foolishness to think that you can make a difference in the world, so that you will do the things which others tell you cannot be done.”
Washington continued with, “Change begins with you. You can change.” My sister was employed as one of the first black nurses at a hospital back in the early 70’s. She often talks about that time in her life where she was not accepted as a qualified RN by many of the doctors, even though she had graduated from an accredited college at the top of her class, and passed the State Board exams on her first sitting – with a high score.
One incident happened as she was making rounds at the beginning of her shift. She noticed a patient who was gravely ill. Not having been told this during shift reports, she immediately called his doctor. She said, “The patient is vomiting fecal material, has a rigid abdomen and a temperature of 103.”
He sarcastically asked, “How do you know it’s fecal material?” She calmly replied, “I collected some in his emesis basin.”
He then gave her several orders and said, “I will be right there.” Upon arrival, he said, “I’ll start the IV and put the nasogastric tube in.” She replied, “Sir, I have already done that and x- ray is on their way to get him.”
When they entered the room, the man’s wife tearfully and hysterically said, “He has been vomiting all day and she is the only nurse that did anything!” The patient had emergency surgery. That doctor returned to the floor and sincerely said, “You saved his life.” His demeanor was totally different and they remained friends until his retirement and death. The doctor changed his way of thinking. He realized that the color of her skin was not an indicator of her abilities as a nurse.
Carl Bard said, “Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” A passage of scripture says, “If a man … purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour… meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.” If we purge our way of thinking about each other, I believe, change will occur.
If we take a good look at ourselves and our way of thinking – will it bring change? Is change possible within me? Is change possible within you? You be the judge.
Juanita Gambrell Floyd is vice president for Finance and Administration at CREATE Foundation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.