By Ernie McCray
I sat at a Catfish Club luncheon the other day listening to Leon Williams and Reverend George Walker Smith converse about days of yore and their thoughts about today’s world.
Leon was the first black to hold a seat with the San Diego City Council and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
He spoke of the moments in time when he was into making our city and county governments more inclusive and more service oriented and more respectful of citizens. He touched on the area’s redevelopment movement when neglected communities started getting the attention they deserved and needed and had gone without forever.
He reflected, briefly, on the aspect of his career that I always admired the most, his mentoring of future minority political aspirants, his caring about what lies ahead and who’s going to do what’s needed to make it all better. Leon has always proceeded gently as a caring human being, one who is ever at the ready to approach problem solving in a spirit of love.
George is a lover too, leading from his heart, like Leon. In a louder, more colorful fashion. They both got things done. When he was elected to the San Diego City Schools’ Board of Education, he became the first black person to hold public office in the city. He shared with us how he took on making school board elections more equitable and reflective of the needs of all citizens – how he got more black and Latino teachers hired – how racial imbalances were made right in the schools.
Like Leon, George leaned towards helping people care about each other, knowing that love is the answer to many of life’s obstacles.
And they made reference to the barriers in their path, how they had to constantly, in their careers, explain to the powers-that-be the plight of underserved people in a social environment where white privilege ruled. Equality is not an easy sell in the Land of the Free.
They closed with concerns about today, wondering if the struggle for freedom is being continued with any urgency.
I suggested to them, based on my experiences, that they need not worry about the movement, that there are young people out and about today who are very aware and concerned about their world – enough to want to save it.
I run into them all the time and, from where I sit, they are making a huge difference in the world. Their attitudes trend strongly for equal rights – for all. They believe in it. They want to see it happen.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell wouldn’t have ended and gay marriage wouldn’t have been embraced as it has been without them.
They’re on top of the lingering voting rights issues and youth (mostly black and brown students) being militarized in their schools.
They’ve taken to the streets in loud protests when those who are hired to protect and serve and the Zimmerman-like vigilantes of the world shoot down black boys right where they stand, mere mortals, unarmed – gone without an opportunity to better themselves as human beings.
I sat in awe of the commitment of young folks to principles of fairness at San Diego City College’s Ist Annual Conference on Social Justice where they explored concepts like moving from data and talk to action and policy.
They entertained approaches to reducing gang activity and school violence and reducing the incarceration of so many people of color who have been entangled in the school-to-prison pipeline. The New Jim Crow.
They discussed decolonizing classrooms and bridging schools and communities and the need for counselors who can work with clients representing a range of diversities.
All ages of kids are in line for the making of a just world. Not too long ago I listened to students from grade school to high school, winners of a Black History Essay Contest, eloquently express their visions of how to create a better world. They wrote of their heroes, folks like: Angela Davis who has taught the world how to stand tall against falsehoods and innuendo; Stevie Wonder, who, as a humanist, more so than a musician, worked diligently so that our dear Martin would be honored appropriately; Ida B. Wells Barnett, who co-founded the NAACP and spoke out against the lynching of blacks; Jackie Robinson…
So many young people, I feel good about saying, are conducting themselves in the same way that Leon Williams and Reverend George Walker Smith went about their missions in life: with dignity and with the belief that the answer is love.
They’re on the right path, these young people. We’re in good hands.
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