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19 chapter one Before We Become Dust Growing up, finding my own voice was tied up with denying my voice or having it forcefully rejected and in all of that the memory of my father is very strong. To this day—and I am today a very experienced public speaker—preparation to speak takes a great deal of energy. A lot of the energy is dedicated to overcoming fear and the pain of injury previously inflicted on me for speaking up. Over the years, I have developed some sure ways to find my voice, catch my breath, and start to speak. Sometimes I think prayerfully of the names of my mother, Beatrice Bernice Gordly, and of my grandmothers, Alberta Louise Randolph and Lessie Gordly. Sometimes I say their names to myself, sometimes I speak them aloud. I say the names with thanks and gratitude to God. Saying their names always centers me. Sometimes I even start my remarks by dedicating my words to honor their memory. I also use word-for-word prepared texts for my speeches, not just notes or outlines. I have to write down every word to get through my fear. Just recently at an Urban League dinner in town, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, the brilliant economist, gave a wonderful speech—without notes! I’ve loved listening to her for many years. I admire how she uses language, her comfort in her own skin, her way of storytelling, and her use of humor. As I acknowledge and affirm who she is, a little piece of me still feels “not good enough.” A tape recording in my head about being “not good enough” was violently enforced in my life over a period of many years. My story involves a struggle to quiet that tape and find my own voice in the world. Though we are both accomplished Black women and share certain perspectives and experiences, my voice is different from Dr. Malveaux’s. We have different, unique stories and selves, formed in different, unique circumstances. My circumstances took shape in Portland, Oregon, where I was born on February 13, 1947. 20 Many, many times during my childhood my mom, my sister Faye, and I would be at home glued to the television set watching something related to the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, any time a Black person was on television at all my mom would be on the phone calling someone to tune in and watch—or someone would be calling her—which speaks volumes about Black invisibility in the early 1960s. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., visited Vancouver Avenue Baptist Church in November 1961. My grandmother’s copy of his book about the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Stride Toward Freedom, was signed in that church when he came to visit. I have this volume in my personal collection, a treasured memento of those historic years of hope and struggle. A march held in Portland on September 22, 1963, brought the Civil Rights Movement even more directly home to me in Oregon. A wonderful high school teacher, Mr. Amasa Gilman, encouraged me and my friends to participate in this march, intended to protest the murder of the four little girls in church in Birmingham, Alabama. On that Sunday, we marched from Vancouver Avenue Baptist Church on the east side into downtown Portland and we massed in front of the federal courthouse. I have a strong memory of being present with my girlfriends Irma and Lela, my buddies. We were sisterfriends and traveled everywhere together. Many participants in the march spoke about their pain over the killings. It was painful for me to dwell on this outrage but it was also a relief. That march was a defining moment because it exposed me to people who spoke out in support of something of great importance—civil rights—and against something horrible—the murder of innocent children. Looking back, the event allowed me to link the issue of African American civil rights explicitly to horrendous violence against black girls. Something about that moment in time remains heavy for me to this day. Yet that march told me that I could have a voice, too, even as a young person. The march evokes important memories of the power of words in my life. Words carry so much feeling, history, and meaning. Words carry the power to inspire; they can also inflict great pain. I always attend carefully to language because I want my words to mean what 21 I say...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780870716140
Print ISBN
9780870716041
MARC Record
OCLC
794698940
Pages
184
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
N
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