Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sen. Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1168

  Sometimes we really want to do something but one little thing stands in our way. Sometimes we allow that small thing to stop us from doing the big thing we want to do. Sometimes we overcome that small thing to do the big thing and sometimes we don’t. I faced such a choice this week.

  The big thing was a special occasion. A friend and fellow struggler was being honored. It was important that I be there with her and her family and friends for this occasion. I really wanted to be there but one small thing stood in the way.

  First, let me fill you in on my friend and fellow struggler. She is a powerful woman: powerful of spirit; power of intellect; powerful of commitment. When she stands with you, she is a powerful ally. When she stands in opposition to you, she is a powerful foe. She is just a powerful woman.    

  My friend and fellow struggler is a co-founder of Alabama New South Coalition. She has been a leader of this organization down through the years, serving as president, chair of the board, and in other capacities. She prefers to lead from behind the scenes, but she is an excellent leader from the front. But leadership in New South was not why she was being honored. It did, however, contribute to our being fellow strugglers.

  My friend and fellow struggler is or has been a professional, a teacher, a university dean, a business woman. She is also a mother, a wife, and a child of God. She is powerful in each role.

  Before I tell you the name of this powerful woman, let me tell you about the special occasion. She was being inducted into the Alabama Nursing Hall of Fame.

  My friend and fellow struggler graduated from Tuskegee University with a degree in nursing. She served as nurse and a nursing instructor, eventually obtained her doctorate,  and became the first African American dean of nursing at a predominantly white university in Alabama, Jacksonville State.

  After my friend retired as dean of nursing, she became an entrepreneur. Her businesses included the following: Enrestoration, Inc., which provides support to those with intellectual disabilities; the Bethesda Life Center, which provides primary health care; and the Excel Institute, which provides education opportunities from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. Every business is community focused and service oriented.

  Now, let me tell you what almost made me miss this very special occasion. It is a small thing, but it affected me in a big way. The induction was a formal occasion: Men had to wear a tuxedo. That was a real problem for me. I avoid tuxedos like the plague. Therefore, I avoid such formal occasions. And this truly was a formal occasion.

  The event was at the North River Yacht Club near Tuscaloosa. I called Judge John England who had arranged for me to attend the induction. I wanted to know if I could wear a dark suit instead of a tuxedo. He checked and informed me that, “Black tie means black tie!” I struggled, allowing this small thing to challenge my going.

  I was hoping I could not get a tuxedo in Selma but the owner of Hill’s Formal Wear said to come on down. I then hoped he would not have one big enough but he had plenty my size. I wanted to do the right thing but I did not want to wear a tux. The only exceptions for me have been weddings in which I was a best man. I attended the induction ceremony.

  At the induction ceremony, my friend and fellow struggler did not share her journey as did other inductees. Instead, she challenged us saying, “I want you to know that this induction is not an exit from the road of challenge for me. It’s just a re-fueling stop.” She told us that we could achieve anything we put our minds to. She challenged us with words from Plato, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Milton, Emerson, and others. She made it clear that she was still on the road of life, meeting new challenges. She asked that we join her, putting our minds to the task, meeting the challenges.

  I was so glad I was there for my friend and fellow struggler, Dr. Roberta Watts of Gadsden, Ala. She said it meant the world to her that I had come. I am so glad my prejudice against tuxedos did not prevent me from joining her and her family and friends for this “re-fueling stop.” I am so glad Dr. Watts is still on this road of challenge, continuing to be a fellow struggler as well as a friend. Incidentally, there were other men at the ceremony in plain dark suits.

EPILOGUE – Prejudices are powerful. So are strong preferences. They override our needs, our common sense, our self interest, and the best interests of those we love. We must challenge our prejudices and our preferences at every turn. The reward will be great. 

  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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