The new year is off and running. While we are presented with an opportunity to do things differently, like stick to a weight loss plan, get our finances in order or I don’t know…have functioning state and federal governments, some things remind us that many of life’s challenges remain the same. You can count on taxes, death and Republican efforts to restrict access to voting. On the latter, I’m just saying. There are currently 28 states, that have introduced 106 bills to restrict voting in some form, according to a recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice.
However, the year has already had some surprises. While many of us heard the rallying cries encouraging Trump supporters to descend on the U.S. Capitol, most of us have been astounded by the wish of most federal Republican legislators to simply “move on” or “get over it.” It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “justice delayed is justice denied.” Instead, it’s just “justice be dammed.”
It is that word, “justice.” that immediately came to mind in learning of the recent deaths of Henry “Hank” Aaron and Cicely Tyson. Several years ago, Aaron sat at a dinner with Judge Vel Phillips and talked about how the two met. Aaron recalled, that after being denied the ability to stay with his teammates at the Pfister Hotel, he was given a dime and list of names to call to find shelter. Phillips’ name was at the top of the list. While standing in the rain, Aaron introduced himself on that fateful call. He said he was looking for a place to stay while his team, the Milwaukee Braves, was in town. Phillips picked him up and their friendship was cemented in stone.
Aaron was subjected to racism and differential treatment throughout his major league baseball career. Most notable were the death threats he received because he was a Black man closing in on Babe Ruth’s home run record. Ruth was a white man. Aaron and his family were constantly living under threat, but he persevered. In those days, persevering was your only option.
No one understood that better than Cicely Tyson.
As the daughter of West Indian immigrants, Tyson was fearless and determined. Challenging images of beauty, she started her career as a model. Eventually, she transitioned to acting and shattered limitations placed on Black women on stage, film and television. Against the back drop of segregation and discrimination, Tyson won acclaim for her work as an actor.
Back in the day, when Tyson was forging a name for herself during a time when the nation was still tightly gripped in clutches of segregation, she often faced prejudice. During her session on “Oprah’s Master Class,” Tyson recalled a moment when someone mistakenly thought she was a maid. The irony here is that she was on the way to an interview about her career.
When you understand the challenges Aaron and Tyson faced, you appreciate their courage. In contrast, as we fast forward to this year, you quickly realize that bravery is missing. Hank and Cicely were determined to make America live up to her promise. We must continue that work. If we are to succeed as a nation, it is our only option. I choose courage.