Reflecting on Civil Rights, My Mother, Hope and Spirituality: Often I Feel As If I Have Failed! by Rev. Melony McGant
(Excerpted from the new book "Passing It On: Moving Stories of Activsts- 1960-2000" by Bev. Jenai-Myers Archway Press)
I was nurtured in the womb with compassion and birthed by a Woman of Courage in times of Great Change. As a child I made mudpies filled with hope; picked blueberries with joy, learned to swim in the ocean and climbed apple and acorn trees in search of wisdom. When I fell, the Woman of Courage hugged me and nurtured my cuts and bruises. I was a wild child dancing through fields of grass and flowers, chasing butterflies in the morning. As a child in the early 60’s I met Pete Seeger when I was at the Blueberry Cove Camp (Maine). I will always remember his warmth, his laughter and his beautiful, Generous Spirit! I am still singing a song he taught us---"This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land!"
Looking back I realize that as a child, I learned to read and travel the World through books! At night I imagined what life would be like if I could ride on the moon and share my toys with other children in the sparkling stars.
The Woman of Courage laughed and taught me to write stories and use my imagination. She told me I was special gift and would help make the World better. She taught me to Pray and say Thank You for my good life.
As I grew, the World kept Changing. The Woman of Courage, My Mother, Betty J. Tilman taught me to use my voice and speak out for Justice and to Serve All with Love. She taught me to respect others and shared her dreams for Peace in the World. We marched and sang and prayed that all children could be free to grow in Love.
The truth is, most of my life I've had to share My Mother, who lives in Pittsburgh, PA. I shared her with great grandparents and grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins and so many, many other people. Often they were people of different races, religions, and cultures; with languages I didn't (and sometimes still don't) understand.
People from Africa, Asia, Europe, South America and yes, even North America took to Her Love Like white on rice, red on apples, yellow on bananas, and green on tree leaves.
Over the years that I have known her, I have discovered that countless numbers throughout the World called her a Dear Friend and named her Godmother or Aunt to their Children.
There were many times I felt left behind. I often was. When she marched for Civil Rights in the segregated states, she left her young, willful, outspoken daughter in the safety of family friends. When she bicycled miles and miles with the Peace and Freedom Movement or went off to study Transcendental Meditation, my thought was "What About Me?"
Today I can answer “What About Me?” My Mother has and does use her energy, her voice and resources for equal rights for Me and All People of all cultures, race and religions. There is Miss Betty, Aunt Betty, Lady Betty, and Mom Betty but in the Castle of My Heart, she will always be the ONE who gave ME, her daughter the opportunity to Grow with Wisdom, to Shine with Confidence and Learn to Love beyond my imagination. My Mother Will Always Be My Queen!
Looking back, I now know that I was so very Blessed to grow up in a household where learning my history, having an imagination, believing I was special and participation in the Civil Rights Movement was essential. Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, John Brown, Mary McLeod Bethune, Ralph Bunche, W.E. B. DuBois, Kwame Nkruma, Gwendolyn Brooks, Charles Drew, Katherine Dunham, Romare Bearden, Franz Fanon, Franklin Frazier, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Harry Belafonte, Shirley Chisolm and Barbara Jordan, James Baldwin and Paul Laurence Dunbar, Gordon Parks and Richard Wright were just a few of the many names discussed at our dinner table.
My mother Betty J. Tilman, worked for 28 years at the University of Pittsburgh as a Foreign Student Advisor, etc, (and was a founding member of the University’s African Heritage Classroom Committee,) is a Golden Heritage Member of the NAACP, and also sat on the Pittsburgh Branch NAACP board of directors for 30 years. She has been Vice-Moderator and an Elder in the Pittsburgh Presbytery. She was an activist in the Civil Rights, Peace and Freedom and the Free South Africa Movements. As a child I attended many marches including the March on Washington where Dr. King gave his “I Have A Dream Speech, participated in the historical "Poor Peoples Campaign" (Pittsburgh). I too belonged to the NAACP, and attended community meetings with my Mom. Because of her involvement with the Friend's Meeting House (Quakers), in 1970, I spent the summer traveling through Ghana with the American Friends Service Committee. I was fourteen years and came back with a real appreciation and respect for “Mother Africa!”
As a teen, I worked in the office of Pennsylvania Legislator, the Honorable K. Leroy Irvis and in the offices of a political consulting firm. As a young adult, and professional in Pittsburgh, I often volunteered on local, state and national political campaigns. I believed, and still do believe that the right to vote and live in a democratic society is a great gift!
In 1974 when I was 19, I joined the Navy. While stationed at the Norfolk Naval Air Station I wrote for the base newspaper and later when stationed in Puerto Rico, in addition to my responsibility working at the commissary, I hosted a multi-cultural show on Armed Forces Caribbean Network. In 1978, I returned to Pittsburgh at the age of 23 and became involved with community advocacy. I was appointed as an NAACP board member, served on the NAACP Human Rights Dinner Committee, was editor of the NAACP News, and briefly hosted a weekly NAACP radio talk show. My poetry was published by the Pittsburgh Courier. One piece was titled “The Unworthy, Worthy Politician”. Even then as I do now, I questioned the unfair system and the integrity of some of our leaders.
In 1980 I relocated to West Virginia to complete my undergraduate studies at Marshall University, and later to Washington where I was awarded an internship and hired as assistant to the fundraiser (Gary Rivers) for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
In 1990, after several years in NYC working for the American Management Association, I relocated back to Pittsburgh, owned my own business, and found myself involved in both a local & national movement in support of MBE/WBE programs. One of my most memorable marketing projects was a campaign for the Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund (MBELDEF). I have been a feature writer for the New Pittsburgh Courier, been featured in MBE Magazine, and have written for several other publications.
It is interesting to note that I now believe that one of the greatest errors of the Civil Rights Movement was for People of Color to refer to ourselves as minorities. The definition of minority according to Random House Webster's College Dictionary is “the smaller part or number part or amount forming less than half of the whole.” People of Color Are the Majority People in the World. We Are Not Less Than. I believe that we should teach our Children that they are brilliant, unique and special!
My life and career mentors and supporters have included James E. Aloway, John Butler, Wilhemina Byrd Brown, Byrd R. Brown Esq., John and Gloria Brown, Katherine Dunham (legendary choreographer and founder of The Dunham Dance Company, whom I traveled with and assisted for two years), Dr. Lucinia Dunn ( Former Mayor of Tuskeegee, AL), Rev. Marcia L. Dyson, Alma Speed Fox (President, Freedom Unlimited), Mary Gloster, Sylvia Golbin Goodman (executive director of the Andrew Goodman Foundation), Dr. Donald Henderson (former Provost, University of Pittsburgh) and his wife Bebe, Helena and John Hughes, Luddy Hayden, Elizabeth A. Hin (author and spiritual teacher), Nancy Lee (one of the founding members of the University of Pittsburgh’s African Heritage Classroom Committee), Congressman Parren Mitchell, Rev. Donald Marbury (Senior Pastor at Ebenezer AME Church Brunswick, MD), H. Daniel Mujahid, Jackie Mullins (United Steele Workers), Dr. Sandra Murray (re-known cancer researcher), Debbe Nimick, Tyrone and Barbara Rasheed, Gabbi Russell, Nate Smith, Maida Springer Kemp (first female officer in the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and leader in the African Trade Movement), Dolores Stanton, Gretchen Wharton, Barbara Davis White, Dr. Glory Van Scott (actress, dancer, writer, producer and founder of Dr. Glory’s Youth Theatre), and many more unnamed but held in my heart.
In life I work to be patient, sincere, kind, and responsible. I believe in listening, and in providing support or encouragement to every individual. I enjoy people of all cultures. They inspire me, and I enjoy sharing my knowledge with them. Most importantly I have a passion to serve, and to assist in the healing of hearts, so that more individuals can grow and flourish as productive members of our society.
And yet, often I pray and sit in silence asking for guidance and direction. If you were to ask have we failed, I would say that I don't know the answer. Racism and classism still exists in America. Integration has not been altogether welcomed. Though we have made progress, discrimination does exist. The wounds of slavery have not healed and often permeate our interaction with each other. A significant number of Euro-Americans still believe that many people of color deserve to be treated as second class citizens. African Americans and other people of color are still often the last hired and first fired. Unemployment for African-Americans doubles that of Euro-Americans. Certainly the lack of focus on our youth, inequitable education, as well as violence, guns and drugs circulated in many communities are symptomatic of American society’s values and lack of moral compass. These facts cause me great despair.
In our society today, there is too much emphasis on the acquisition of “things” and not enough emphasis on compassion, Love and respect for each other.
Sometime I feel as If I have failed, and that my miniscule actions leave no footprints in the sands of time. Still, there is a place deep in my heart that tells me that I am wrong. It is only my disappointment that causes this pain in my heart to move through my body as my nerve endings become filled with acute anxiety.
What I am feeling is what many of you may be feeling. The question some of us may be asking in this time of painful transformation is "Will Hope Be Enough for All to Re-Connect to Our Divine Source of Love?". The Truth Is that All Sincere Unselfish Actions of Love Make this World Better!
There are moments when I daydream. I close my eyes, trust and allow time to pass. I breathe and exhale. In Hope. Out Love. I follow the Light through the darkness. Each step I take into my heart fills me with Grace and gives me Hope.
I vision Good Change on Earth. Good Change is not always comfortable or easy. Sometimes Change brings confusion and chaos. I Breathe. The World Is Changing. I Am Changing.
I hold on to Faith and ask for more Courage. I keep moving towards the Light. I Breathe. In Hope. Out Love. I thank Our Blessed Creator. I honor Our Ancestors, Angels and Saints.
As I step into Good Change, I imagine that I become the Light. All around me are other Lights. We are those Spirits Awakening with Respect and Integrity. Together We Are Breathing. In Hope. Out Love.
My Dream for the United States and Our World continues. I imagine that Collectively we honor our Elders and our Children. Together, we vision a World of Loving Peace where there is economic equity, good education and housing; as well as a blossoming sustenance and Good Possibility for All. We share Lovingly. We Forgive. We smile and decide to work together to help heal our broken hearts and our Earth/Heart.
Somewhere buttercups, tulips and magnolia trees blossom. Robins and hummingbirds sing. The powerful voice of blue jays is heard even by dolphins and whales. The oceans roar and the wind calls on us to Love. And Love vibrates and spins new melodies.
Yes, even with all of our difficulties, inequity, injustices and wars, if we are to survive and prosper, we must embrace Good Change. We must commit to work together to allow Hope, Love and New Possibility to fill the air. It is time to continue our individual and Collective Journeys with Courage, Integrity, Purpose and Respect for Each Other.
I invite YOU to take a moment to still yourself and bow in Gratitude to for your Life of Good Purpose. Though we have made progress, there is much we must do. Right Now, let us offer prayers for those who are lost, suffering and in need of our Compassion. May Integrity Awaken our Humanity and allow Love to lead so that our Children thrive and grow in prosperity… may good dreams flow everywhere throughout the World.
Breathe Deeply 10 Times. In Courage with Love, Out Integrity with Good Purpose and Love.
I pray that We All continue to learn to take greater steps on the path of Love.
With Joy, Humility and Gratitude----Let Us All Open Our hearts Breathe Deeply.
Peace is Possible through Compassion, Cooperation, Hope, Forgiveness, Integrity, Kindness, Mercy, Patience, Respect, Understanding and the Grace of Love!
Rev. Melony McGant is a thought-leader, humanist, poet, & compassionate communications professional with more than 20 years experience in assisting both people and organizations discover and promote their professional or personal life missions.
A resident of New York City, Rev. Melony McGant is a career/life coach and personal empowerment workshop facilitator and a Certified Level One Trainer in Kingian Nonviolence. She is also Coordinating/Marketing Director for Dr. Glory Van Scott Productions. She has a strong track record of success in public relations, cause marketing and special events coordination. For her community service she has received the New Mexico Not Even One Service Award, the 911 Red Cross Volunteer Award, the Pittsburgh City Council Women's Recognition Award, and the Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund Award for Service.
An ordained Interfaith Minister, a professional storyteller and author of the novel "Sunshine & Olivier: A Parable of Love" (IUniverse), Rev. Melony is also the primary author of "The Healing Adagio: A Love Symphony In Five Parts" and the new journal, empowerment workbook "Seeker Dreamer: Amazing, Brilliant Compassionate YOU!" (both published by Authorhouse).
Rev. Melony McGant's work is also included in several anthologies, including "The Book of Hope" and "The World Book of Healing" (both by Beyond Borders Press), "Go Tell Michelle: African American Women Write to Michelle Obama" (SUNY Press). and the new book "Passing It On: Moving Stories of Activsts- 1960-2000" by Bev Jenai Myers (Archway Press).
All books are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and independent booksellers world-wide.