(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)
I had not meant to write. I was going to wait a week and get back into Slice of Life, in its weekly incarnation, in round two. But something in the newspaper caught my eye and I felt the need to reflect.
The news article was about the death of a local activist, Herb G., whom I remember clearly and dearly from my years as a newspaper reporter. I first met Herb and his wife, Charlotte, as a school reporter for the regional newspaper, and I could count on either one or both of them calling me or stopping in to the newspaper office on a regular basis. Charlotte-and-Herb or Herb-and-Charlotte — they were always referred to as one name, it seemed — were transplanted New Yorkers who came to our city to work in the social service sector.
But their heart and soul were in the areas of social justice and education. Everything they did was done through that lens. Local politicians used to roll their eyes when Herb and Charlotte came into a meeting. They knew they were in for a grilling. As a newspaper reporter covering the city school system, I was a main contact for them to get their message out. Our city was not quite as progressive as it is now. (And that, too, may just be a projection of hope of the present). The community was in the midst of an ideological struggle between the conservative old guard and the newcomers with families seeking to cast a broader net for all people. This does not mean the conservatives were heartless, but they often resisted any change. And they resented the influx of Hispanics and Asians who were arriving on a steady basis. The progressives eventually won out.
In those days, Herb and Charlotte were fearless in their discussions and debates. They demanded equal access to education for all children. They decried any implications of racial imbalance. They sought to nurture and cherish the various cultures of city residents. They were the first to call for action when racial epitaphs were written on public property and the last to end the discussions for learning. Their own children were long grown up, but they saw themselves as advocates for those could not speak, or were scared to speak, for themselves.
It would not be unusual for me to be caught in a conversation with Herb and Charlotte that might last a good hour or two. They knew they had me and they bent my ear as much as they could. And boy, they could talk. Charlotte often greeted me with a warm hug, even after I had left the school beat and was reporting in another city. She was about human connections.
Their message of social justice did come through for me. Now, as a teacher, I still think of Herb and Charlotte often as I try to show my students the bigger world beyond their insular community. Their message resonates today.
So I was saddened to learn that Herb passed away. Charlotte, too, died last year. Their legacy remains, I hope, in the ways in which the people they touched — including me — see the world.
Peace (in social justice),