*RE-Defined: Thanksgiving

Saying, “thank you” after someone handed me a gift used to be my ultimate expression of gratitude. That’s how I was raised. Once I had a family of my own, my husband and I encouraged similar behavior for our own daughters. Make sure you say thank you we’d sing in unison. I thought it was a common cultural practice. As a result, I began to reprimand others for not making their children thank me for birthday or holiday presents. Things had gotten out of hand. Don’t get me wrong. There is significance in thanking a person when he or she hands you something. In fact, I still believe it’s a gracious response. But somehow my concept of gratitude was limited to just this act.

I needed a gratitude overhaul.

After careful soul searching, I figured out the problem. I was seeking gratitude when I should have been living in a spirit of gratitude. But how? How does one achieve this? I decided that one way was to send fewer material items and provide more authentic expressions of appreciation to people who had impacted my life. I decided to be gratitude.

The process was simple.

I chose a month and then told one person each day how grateful I was for him or her being in my life. Loved ones felt compelled to return the favor. As a result, it became a sort of gratitude exchange. My intention was to make them feel valued. But they also wanted me to feel equally loved. This even and immediate trade happened with all of the people that I contacted, except my goddaughter, Kotrish.

When I told Kotrish that I was grateful for her presence, this young lady’s response was, “Thanks. That was unexpected.” My old self wanted to judge the reply. But I remembered the purpose was to appreciate others, no matter the reaction. I accepted it and continued on.

So, the month of gratitude ended. Christmas had come and gone. A new year had begun.

The memory is still clear. I had just returned home from work. Waiting on the dining room table was a salmon-colored envelope addressed to me. Inside was a matching salmon-colored thank you card. Kotrish had handwritten a note filled with ten separate thank-you statements. I cried. It meant so much to me that I carried it in my inside purse pocket for weeks. The blurred blue ink shows how much I’ve held it. Its tattered edges reveal how much I have opened it. I thought this would be the only card.

But I was wrong.

Her testimonials continued. For the next year, she sent four more handwritten thank-you cards every other month. Each one is different. Each one is heartfelt. Each one is better than any other gift I could ever receive from her.

I know it is customary to exchange store-bought presents during this time of year. But perhaps you can gift your loved ones with an additional item. Maybe this holiday season, you can offer an expression of gratitude. Jewelry will fade and clothes will soon be outdated. Telling others how much you value them? Well, that could last an entire lifetime.

*This was originally published in Natural Awakenings November 2015.

Advertisements

Encouraging Activism: A Conversation with Rodney L. Hurst Sr.

Rodney L. Hurst Sr. has worked as a civil right activist for sixty-one years. His initial involvement with NAACP’s youth council led him to organize sit-ins at several downtown Jacksonville, Florida lunch counters during the 60s and 70s. The fight for equality and the subsequent and infamous Ax Handle Saturday are detailed in his memoir, It Was Never about a Hot Dog and a Coke®!

On May 26th Mr. Hurst and I discussed civil rights and advocacy. Unfortunately, his words are still timely.

KG:     Your book describes racial oppression and police brutality from decades ago. Has anything changed?

RH:     No.

KG:     Nothing at all?

RH:     I mean based on what we’re seeing today, we had instances of police brutality years ago, back in the 50s and 60s. We did not have pictures and videos. So, it was your word against ours. And they were agents of the courts, and after all they were white. So, all of those complaints were dismissed. It didn’t make a difference what you said. This did not happen. As you see what’s happening in the news today, very little has changed from years ago. All of that is the same. But now, because of video cameras, pictures and telephones, people are beginning to capture some of those images.

KG:     What do you think people can do today other than take pictures and videos?

RH:     First of all, the civil rights movement does not change. It is a marathon in the ongoing journey. You have to do whatever you can, organized or not.

KG:     Do you think people believed the civil rights movement was over?

RH:     Sure. Because when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed and the Civil Rights Act of ’68 passed. Aha! You know? We can sit back and rest. And then here comes Nixon and the Southern Strategy after Goldwater.

KG:     So what do we do?

RH:     That’s always a question. What do we do to fight?

KG:     Right. Especially, when it seems nothing’s going to happen.

RH:     If you feel like nothing is going to happen, and to get real philosophical, it’s just like living life…

KG:     Then you’re already defeated?

RH:     Yeah. If everything’s so ordinary, nothing’s going to happen to me, then why live? The struggle and the fight are so simple. Basically, you’re saying I want the same thing you promised in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Why is it that I have to deal with all of these things based on the hue of my skin?

liberty-bell-1442648_1280

One of the first things I’m in favor of doing is called telling the history right and the inclusion of black people in history. When you pick up a history textbook and you cannot read about any of the contributions any of your ancestors made, the playing field is not even. Yet, I can pick up a history book and read about the contributions of white Americans and Europeans.

KG:     That’s a good point, but today, teachers have set textbooks and they’re dealing with almost zero autonomy. They have to be careful about what they teach, what they say, and how they say it. What would you say to them?

RH:     The question then is, if you don’t teach American history and include the contributions I made, then why should I be interested in American history?

KG:     Do you think it’s a matter of being more courageous?

RH:     It was then. Today, it’s just a matter of teaching the truth.

KG:     Do you think educators have to be courageous to teach the truth?

RH:     Maybe, if teaching the truth requires courage. If you feel inhibited and afraid to teach the truth, then yeah it takes courage. But when you don’t teach the truth, then how can you teach an honest American history? So if teaching dishonest American history is okay, and you can teach it with no pushback, then what happens to your integrity as a teacher when you know what you’re teaching is dishonest and incomplete?

KG:     What about non-teachers? What can they do?

black_powerRH:     Sometimes you have to find out what works for you. A lot of my friends joined the youth council because everyone knew membership lists were not public. Many of them wanted to sit in, but their parents wouldn’t allow it. They did other things. They did not shop downtown.

KG:     Okay. So they still protested in a way?

RH:     Yes. Another example is a good friend of mine who’s a Quaker. To this day she does not eat table grapes because of Cesar Chavez and does not drink Coke products because Coke used to support the apartheid regime of South Africa. And that’s what she did, small things.

KG:     Even to this day, she does those things?

RH:     To this day…

KG:     I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

RH:     You know I hear a lot of people say, “Where are the Martin Luther Kings?” You are the Martin Luther King. You know? Don’t wait for someone to pick up and lead you.