I am privileged to share with you a guest post by my friend and mentor, Dr. Catherine Meeks. Dr. Meeks has been working for racial reconciliation longer that I have been alive. During her distinguished career she taught African American studies at Mercer University and Socio-Cultural studies at Wesleyan College. She currently serves on the Anti-Racism Commission for the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta and is a religion columnist for the Huffington Post.
Catherine inspires me continually with her courageous truth telling and her peaceful spirit (a powerful combination for sure).
I am so grateful to Catherine for sharing such a powerful and personal story. If you ever doubted that racism really causes tragic harm, doubt no longer.What is so sad to me about this story (other than the pain of the personal loss) is that some 60 years later we are still having to restructure our society to reflect the truth that all lives matter, equally.
So my friends, I give you the words of Dr Catherine Meeks:
Though he was born before me, he died when he was twelve years old and as I heard the story about his death while growing up myself, he was always my little brother. His name is Garland and when he was a little boy, he got sick with what my family thought was just a common stomach ache that could be cured by home remedies. My family tried their remedies and he did not get better. Finally one night he took a turn for the worse and they rushed him to the local hospital which was seventeen miles from our house. The hospital turned him away because he was black and poor.
My father was instructed to take him to the charity hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana which was seventy-five miles away. My father managed to get transportation and took my brother there, but by this time his appendix had ruptured and he developed a serious infection which resulted in his death.
Daddy never recovered from Garland’s death. He grieved about him until his death many years later. He was angry and sometimes not very nice to the rest of us in part from his sense of helplessness when it came to being able to protect us. I can only imagine how fearful he must have been for the rest of his life that something would happen to us and he would not be able to intervene.
Now that I am a parent, I understand much better than I did during my earlier years why my father was so angry and over protective. As a teenager, I thought that he was just overbearing and controlling. But now I understand that he was filled with fear and rage about his own inability to protect us, which was a job that he believed belonged to him.
This is what racism did to my father. It was racism that took my brother away from us. A system that would not allow a hospital to offer services to a little twelve year old boy because he was not deemed good enough to be treated there. It was not the customary thing to do. I understand my father’s rage.
But, along the way I made a clear decision not to become my father. I made the decision to find a way to be empowered so that I would not be at the mercy of racist structures that sought to control me and to make sure that I stayed in my place. I made it my business to work to find out when and where I wanted to enter into life and to go forward as a liberated woman to do just that. I was determined not to relive the fear based and rage filled life that my dear daddy modeled for me simply because he did not know how to find a way out of it.
It is this determination that has led me to work for racial healing and reconciliation since I was in my early twenties. I believe that our only hope is to dismantle racism and to replace it with a commitment to work tirelessly to build a Beloved Community where all of God’s children can be free.