Tribute To An Old Friend

I was at work a couple of days ago and overheard a conversation between some individuals in the hallway regarding the recent and much publicized race for Governor of the state of Georgia. As I hustled by their huddle I caught the throwaway line, “Why won’t she just give it up already?” Something in me wanted to stop and offer a reply but I was headed to the restroom because I drink about 80 ounces of water during the work day and things were a bit urgent. But I do have an idea as to the impetus of Ms. Abrams’ tenacity.

It was Honors Night. The high school gym that sat at the corner of Clarendon and Berkeley was filled to capacity to celebrate the accomplishments of our Senior class. I was there but not to get any awards as it seems Honors Night isn’t for those like me that placed a bit too much emphasis on kicking a soccer ball over four years.  I was seated near the top of the bleachers in support of my friends who had actually given more than a casual damn about their studies. We had no shortage of exceptional students in our small, tight knit group of 103 in our senior class but one young lady, Stacey was her name, was operating on a far higher level than commoners like me. She was our valedictorian, had accolades, the highest honors and scholarship funds being tossed at her like so many rose petals at the feet of royalty from any university that you care to name. Tonight though, despite all of the aforementioned good, there was contention. Stacey’s dad, Mr. Abrams wasn’t happy.

It seems that through some clerical error in the school office, Stacey’s name was left off the perfect attendance roll for the school year. When her name was not called for that perfect attendance acknowledgement it was immediately apparent that error was not going to stand. His tenacious march started down the few steps from his bleacher seat and then down 30 or so feet of aisle between the folding chairs set up on the gym floor bringing an immediate halt to the evening’s proceedings. Even now I can still hear that man’s voice echoing through the stunned silence of the gymnasium, “That’s not right. Can you look at that again?” Polite, but loud enough that everyone in attendance could hear his request. There was something said by an administrator to the effect of having a look at the school rolls at a later time but that wasn’t going to fly. Not for a man who had likely seen to it personally that all of his kids got off to school every single day. He was certain of this transgression and he was bound and determined to see that his daughter would be recognized for every morsel of honor she had earned. Not at a later date. Tonight. The request came again with that stern fatherly tone that every good father possesses,  “Look at it again!” They did and admitted their error. Her name was called and he led the applause as he marched back up the aisle to his seat.

That’s my Valedictorian.

 

Decades later in present day, I have looked at my former classmate stare into cameras and unabashedly challenge what was seen by many as direct affronts to the democratic process in the days leading up to and following the gubernatorial race. Echoing her father’s sentiments from Honors Night, she stood defiantly in the faces of those that wished her silent and loudly implored that we look at it again, “it” being this harder-than-ought-be process of fair voting for everyone. I can’t help but think back to that night and know that her tenacity was planted honestly.

To be Black in this country is always beautiful but not always the easiest task to shoulder. So I imagine to be a Black woman running for the highest office in a state that often likes to mask itself as the mid-20th century version of itself was a difficulty that few of us regardless of gender will ever know. It’s hard to imagine anyone being overqualified for Governor but she probably was. Her academic record is rivaled by few and her years of work in the halls of Georgia state government earned her respect from both sides of the aisle. She would have been an excellent Governor of this state. It is unfortunate that is a piece of history that we were unable to see made. However she is made up of the kind of moxie that stops school assemblies and statewide elections in their tracks in the name of fairness and correctness. Those type people do not meekly fade away, I guarantee she will not.

From one Blue Devil to another, Ms. Abrams, well fought; you did us proud…

…and never forget that I beat you head to head in that playwriting competition that Mr. Leitgeb judged during Senior year. I know I won’t, especially when you’re eventually President.

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