In December, I attended the homegoing services of two of my friends who happened to be from the same family.
Rev. Ron Richardson said, “Each of us, in the course of our lives, has our battles to fight… We have our battles at work, in the home, in the community, in church, in politics, and with disease in our bodies… Knowing how to fight our battles can make a difference between winning and losing, between being a casualty or a survivor. The life of Perry K. Thomas, III, teaches us how to be a survivor in the battles of life…
Perry encountered a life-threatening physical problem in his younger years…it was chronic…he had a heart full of love…The beneficiaries of this love happened to be his family, friends, church… When I think of the life of Perry Thomas, I think of a life of presence…a survivor…”
As I listened, memories flooded my mind as I thought about my relationship with Perry. He began visiting the CREATE office as a salesman for Middleton Office Supply. For years, he stopped by each week to see what we needed. And, of course, we always had great conversations. I learned a lot about his love for family, his church and the community.
One day, while visiting, he said, “Juanita, you need a picture on that back wall and I have just the one for you. In fact, in this print, I see you. You are one of them. Let me order it for you – you’ll need to get it matted and framed.” I said, “Can I send it back – if I don’t like it?” Without hesitation, he said, “You will like it.”
Perry brought the print to the office. I immediately fell in love with it. The print is called “The Beauty of Color.” It depicts pictures of strong, black women in every hue and color; some with beautiful hats on; and some with elegant jewelry. When you look at their eyes, you see strength, hope, character, and you see them as survivors. It still hangs proudly on my office wall.
Following Perry’s homegoing service, a few days later, once again, I was sitting in the First Presbyterian Church listening to Rev. Richardson as he said, “Edith Ruff Thomas lived her life with a concern for the whole community … She did not want to isolate anyone and give the impression an individual or any part of this community did not belong … Edith knew that every area of this community needed to work together if it was to survive.”
I thought about my relationship with Mrs. Thomas. She was always involved in some project that CREATE administered and I talked to her weekly for years. One day, she said, “Juanita, I want you to come to the house. I sell clothes and I want you to look at them. I will have lunch ready for you.” I went to her house – tried on clothes, laughed and talked with her. She had an array of food spread on the table. I said, “Are you expecting someone else for lunch?” She said in that beautiful soft- spoken voice, “I did not know what you would like, so I prepared a little of everything.” I said, “You didn’t have to do that.” She said, “I wanted to.” While eating lunch, she and I talked about her family – mainly her children; my mother and family; about the history of the community; and, about her love of her church.
I visited her home several times. I never bought any clothes, but I learned a lot about relationships, and how it takes individuals like Mrs. Edith to be a stakeholder in a community that prospers.
Rev. Richardson continued by saying, “On Christmas day, we celebrated the birth of God’s Son…On the same day; Edith Ruff Thomas was born into eternal life. Thanks be to God for the gifts she left each of us…”
Ironically, almost 29 years later, in 2013, my daughter, Tyra, and Perry’s niece and Mrs. Edith’s granddaughter, Maggie, developed a relationship with each other by working on a senior project together. Can you believe that out of all the seniors at Tupelo High School, these two were selected on the same team? Life has a way of coming full circle.
As this New Year begins, regardless of one’s socio economic status or race, think about relationships among each other. If we didn’t develop a positive relationship with someone last year, Oprah said, “Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.” Are relationships important? You be the judge.
Juanita Gambrell Floyd is vice president for Finance and Administration at CREATE Foundation. Contect her at firstname.lastname@example.org.