Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sen. Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1169

  What do we do when we have several things of importance to do at the same time in different places? Do we just decide which is most important and participate in that one? If so, how do we decide which is most important? On the other hand, do we try to find a way do all of them or as many as possible? What do we do and why?

  It was Saturday morning. I had come to Montgomery the night before for the Alabama New South Coalition (ANSC) Annual Fall Convention. The day’s session started at 9 am. I felt strongly that I should be at this convention. First, I have not missed but one semi-annual convention since 1986, a total of 48 conventions. It has been important that I participate in each during these 24 years and as president emeritus of ANSC, it was now more important than ever. Secondly, I had a convention assignment: present the gubernatorial candidates to speak at the luncheon.

  On the other hand, Sister Betty Mae Webb’s funeral was set for 11 am. in Selma. She and I have been members of Calvary Missionary Baptist Church for a long time. Plus, her supporting role in the Voting Rights Movement was of special significance to me, for I stand on the shoulders of those who struggled for the right to vote. Her daughter, Sheyann Webb-Christburg upped the ante by saying, “My mother would really want you to speak at her funeral. She loved you. Even when she was sick, she forced herself to go to church to hear you review the Sunday School lesson and get a hug. Besides, your name is already on the printed program.”  

  I knew I had to participate in Mrs. Webb’s funeral. People only die once. ANSC, however, will have many more conventions in the future.

  Funerals are always important. However, at the age of 67, I know a lot of people, with so many getting up in age, there are several funerals each week that I should attend. I have to pick and choose. 

  In fact, there was another funeral that same Saturday that I needed to attend. It was that of Glendan Jones, father of Rev. Thelma Hogue of Perry County. I did not know him personally, but I have been close to Thelma’s husband, Spencer Hogue, for 30-plus years. I also feel close to Rev. Thelma Hogue with whom I serve on the Black Belt Community Foundation Board. I really wanted to be there for her and the family but that funeral was in Perry County. Even with my best efforts, I could not have made all three events. 

  Still, I had such strong feelings that I should be at the convention. I struggled with the situation, weighing and balancing. Finally, I decided to at least participate partially in the ANSC Convention and partially in the funeral of Sister Betty Mae Webb.

  During the ANSC General Convention session that morning, I explained my dilemma to the body. People really understood, and I was appreciative. I asked Roger Watts, an ANSC founding member, to fill in for me at the luncheon by presenting the gubernatorial candidates. He gladly agreed. I was ready to make ends meet.

  I left the Maggie Street Dream Center in Montgomery at 9:55 am. I made very good time, arriving at Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Selma before 11 am. The large church sanctuary was filled with people from all walks of life.

  After the usual preliminaries, I was the first person to make remarks. Sheyann had made sure I was early in the program so I could get back to Montgomery. The program imposed a two minute limit on speakers. I did the following five things in my two minutes: (1) explained my dilemma; (2) apologized for having to leave the funeral after I spoke; (3) spoke to my relationship with Sister Betty Webb, emphasizing the hugs, Sunday School review, and our special love for each other; (4) spoke to the role of Sister Webb in the Voting Rights Movement in 1965; and (5) assured the family that God knows what God is doing and Sister Webb is now at peace.

  I immediately exited the side door of the sanctuary. I again made very good time, making it back to Montgomery at 12:05 pm. The noon luncheon had not officially commenced. I felt a real sense of accomplishment.

  I asked Roger Watts to still present the gubernatorial candidates even though I was back in time. He agreed wholeheartedly. Then Roberta Watts, his wife and my friend, stepped in. She insisted that I make the presentation. She said that New South members needed me to make the presentation. Roger and I caved in to her determined advocacy.
  All of these events were important to me. Two involved paying my last respects. The other involved making a change for the better for the living.  Each was important for different reasons. I just did the best I could.

EPILOGUE – It’s easy to say what we believe. It’s a different thing when we put our beliefs into action with conflicting values involved. Our real values are reflected by the decisions we make. What we do represents our values, not what we say.  Hard decisions truly test our values.

  About the author: Hank Sanders is a long-time contributor to the Capital City Free Press and represents the people of the 23rd Senate District in the Alabama Legislature.

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