By Geneva Craig
I was born in Selma, Alabama and I was basically a happy child, I knew that I was cared about and that I was loved by my family. My mother & father, my grandmother (Big Mama), aunts, uncles and cousins surrounded me. We had lots of good times that were filled with sharing & laugher. But something changed within me as I became more and more aware of the society in which I lived. It was a segregated society and I was on the inferior side. I began to pay more and more attention to how we were treated by white people. I took note of the many restrictions that were placed upon us; You cannot go through the front door of established restaurants (but you could cook in the kitchen); You could not get a drink of water from the humming water cooler that had cute little pointed cups, if you were thirsty you used the dirty sink over in the corner; and, more often than not there were no restrooms for the coloreds.
Now I want you to think back to your teenage years and if you cannot remember your own years think of your teenage sons, daughters, nieces or nephews and picture the strong reactions a teenager can project. Think of the words a teenager can speak that are filled with emotion and at times with outrage when they feel something is not right. Are you with me on this? Are you feeling my intent? Its’ ok to nod. Now this part may be a tab bit difficult for some of you—I want you to pretend that it is 1964, you are in Selma, Alabama and your world is in black and white. Now the bigger stretch, you are a black teenager. To save your health & your life you have been taught to never look a white person in the eye, you’ve been instructed to hold your head down, look at your feet or their feet, and only say yass-sur, yass-mam, or naw-sur. You always knew that you were at the mercy of the white person whose presence you were in and you hoped that they were a person with compassion and some sense of fairness.
Can you understand how I became an angry teenager? Can you understand the source of my anger, and my desire to lash out against such unfair treatment? Imagine wanting to change society but not knowing how to make change happen.
I was an angry teenager who had joined the civil rights movement. I was committed to not live a life that was similar to my parents and grandparents. I was not alone, there were a host of others who were feeling just like me. Dr. King recognized us. He could relate to us and he let us know that he needed us. When Dr. King was in Selma he would make it a point to speak to the youths. There was a group of us who attempted to always be present at the meetings. We would hang out near the office building next to Brown Chapel and Dr. King would speak with us. On one encounter Dr. King told me that I was intelligent, I was smart, and that I could become, and I could accomplish anything that I wanted to. But, I had to learn one thing and that thing was patience.
Remember, I am a teenager, and I looked up to this man. He gave advice to a teenager and that advice was…to learn patience!?! Hello. I respectfully thanked him and walked away mumbling the word patience, patience, patience. It took a while for me to come to an understanding of what Dr. King meant. I learned to become a patient individual and that attribute has served me well. The many months of demonstrating, going to jail, and having Dr. King inform us that snatching purchases from folk who entered boycotted stores caused harm to the movement—helped me to understand that change could be a very slow process. Knowing that Dr. King himself grew weary of the struggle but he continued to plan, to strategize, and he refused to quit in the quest for the prize helped me to mature in my way of thinking. I realized that we could not force whites to accept us as equal. The event of bloody Sunday, the sounds of billyclubs smacking against flesh, the screams of my fellow marchers and my retching from tear gas did not deter me from my commitment to make a difference in my world. All in all, these experiences helped me to learn patience and gain insight into humanity.
It takes patience to become well educated, especially when there are so many of life-stuff hitting you from all sides. Having patience has kept me calm when others have been in turmoil. Learning to have patience helped me to realize that nothing stays the same, there is always change. I have learned to plant seeds, life seeds & ideas, to apply small to moderate amounts of nurturing and patiently await the desired results. Rarely, have I been disappointed.
Dr. King reinforced what I had heard from my mother, who use to say to her children, “you are somebody”. I believed. I believed, I am an intelligent individual, I am smart and I can make my dreams come true. This life that I have lived, has been filled with many challenges, I learned to not become rooted with fear. I push forward, I trust my heart and more importantly my gut reactions. I follow Dr. King’s example to care for my fellowmen. I learned that when one dream has been fulfilled another one begins. Dr. King led a life of fulfilling dreams and I thank him for showing me the way.
This was a speech was first given at 2015 MLK Day Celebration in Ashland, Oregon. Read more about that here.
Welcome to Real Women Speak , where you’ll hear the voices of Oregon women who are struggling, soaring, muddling through and motivated to move forward.
Inspired by Decide.Create.Share , this blog chronicles stories from lighthearted happenings to questions of fortitude. From life-altering changes to simple anecdotes, our shared narratives serve to inspire, guide, and connect us.
Every woman has a voice. AARP Oregon seeks to amplify them.
About our guest blogger: Dr. Geneva Craig is AARP Oregon’s Chair of the Diversity Advisory Council and Clinical Program Coordinator of the Inpatient Rehabilitation Center at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center. Dr. Craigis a registered nurse licensed in the State of Oregon, Graduated from the University of Alaska with a degree in nursing and received a Ph.D. in Nursing from the University of Walding. Dr. Craig worked at John Hopkins Health Care Center before moving to the Rogue Valley to take a job as Clinical Program Coordinator, Asante Rogue Medical Center. Described as a courageous and determined woman Dr. Craig Geneva has met life’s challenges head-on. Born in Selma, Alabama during the time of segregation, Dr. Craig faced the social challenges of the south but was not deter from pursuing her dream.