By Jacque Daughtry
About a month ago, I knew I wanted this blog post to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us. However, to discover what unites us, we must look at what has divided us these last 16 months. Honestly, that’s a bit scary to this 62-year-old, educated, upper-middle-class, white female. But as the leader of a non-profit that serves children and families who don’t look like me or have the same life experiences, I MUST examine life and circumstances from ALL sides to better serve our children, their families, and our staff.
I don’t recall our country ever being more divided than it has been over the last 16 months, and that has created a heaviness in my heart I cannot begin to explain. From the death, despair, isolation, job loss, and school closures due to COVID to the horror of the murder of George Floyd, the riots and increases in violent crime, the incredibly divisive election cycle and overtake of our capitol building, the Snowvid (aka the freeze in February) and all it revealed about our state’s woefully inadequate power grid, and the current humanitarian crisis at our southern border, I think many of us are waiting for the proverbial “other shoe to drop.”
BUT, just as we think we cannot take anymore, there are glimmers of hope. We are gathering in person again. Businesses are reopening. Schools are set to be open as usual in the fall. And two very unlikely allies, Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Texas’s U.S. Senator John Cornyn, united in securing the passage of Juneteenth as a national holiday. As I read the story about 94-year old Opal Lee, aka the Grandmother of Juneteenth, in the Houston Chronicle on 6/19/21, I was inspired to move past my fears and write this essay.
Reading about Ms. Lee’s tenacity and unrelenting optimism in her quest to get Juneteenth recognized as a national holiday inspired me to share my thoughts of hope and optimism, despite my fear of being judged or, yes, even canceled! She and I are of different backgrounds, races, and generations, but we have many things in common. I choose to focus on the things that unite us, and I’m asking YOU to do that, too!
A few quotes from Raj Mankad, the Chronicle’s Opinion Editor, explain how Ms. Lee began to change even the heart of this skeptical journalist:
First came Lee’s disarming vision of Juneteenth that had more to do with celebration than protests. It was more about a radical expansion of joy than an intense focus on what divides us. Lee had won over people across America — red and blue, south and north. But what struck me most was her stubborn optimism about the daunting pursuit of changing hearts and minds.
I realized that although Juneteenth would be a secular holiday, what Lee asked of me, and what she’s asking of this nation, is grace. (Mankad, 2021)
GRACE. Yes, that’s what we all need and especially after the past 16 months!
Although Ms. Lee and I surely have many differences, we also have many things in common. This quote from her confirms that:
You know this Juneteenth thing, when it becomes a national holiday, will be the catalyst that’s going to make all of us realize that we are the same; we are made by one God ... I believe that if you can be taught to hate, you can be taught to love. (Lee, 2021)
I do too, Ms. Lee! And THAT’s the point! Let’s flip the popular narrative and focus on what unites us as residents of the United States rather than what divides us!
- A pre-k thru 12 public school system that provides an excellent education for all children.
- A society in which all feel valued despite differences.
- A society in which all are well-fed and have access to excellent medical and mental health care.
- A society in which all have a safe and clean home in which to live.
Yes, this is quite the list. And many of you may be thinking, Jacque, you are such a Pollyanna. That could be true, but, like Ms. Lee, I am tenacious and don’t ever plan to give up trying. At Literacy Now, we work diligently on numbers one and two every day. If we can achieve these two things as a country or even just as a city, the rest and more will take care of themselves.
I don’t think one reader of this post would disagree that they also want these things. Our disagreement begins in the “how” to achieve them. But for today, let’s start with the fact that we agree and go from there. That starts with seeking to get to know those who look, believe, and think differently than we do. Loving others begins with building relationships, which is the cornerstone of everything we do at Literacy Now - building authentic relationships with all we serve and with those we serve alongside.
My life philosophy and one I strive to live by each day in my personal life and professional life as the Executive Director of Literacy Now is to love God and love people. It’s that simple, and I believe Ms. Opal Lee would agree! Boy, I sure hope to have the opportunity to meet her someday. We’d be great friends!
Mankad, Raj. “Essay: Opal Lee’s Juneteenth Movement Won but My Faith Falters.” Houston Chronicle, 22 June 2021, www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/outlook/article/Essay-Opal-Lee-s-Juneteenth-movement-won-but 16259285.php?sid=5ec17d04728b067a760c31b8&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=news_a&utm_campaign=HC_MorningReport.