In 25 years of journalism, one of the greatest privileges enjoyed by a writer is to sit and listen to hours of the recounting of situations, incidents and times in the lives of people.
It is amazing how a simple little talk and a snapshot in time can yield a lifetime of invaluable wisdom and reflection.
I notice that in speaking in a comfortable setting, folks can be loose, let their hair down and just be themselves.
One such visit a few years ago was a sit down with Ms Jewell S. Houston. It was a once in a lifetime encounter that will always be in my memory.
On The Village
Our talk started off going back in time to a season of life where the community was a real “village”.
First, Ms Houston talked about a time when neighborhoods were safer. People respected property of others. There were little to no break-ins and it was her recollection that it was a time when once could leave doors unlocked with no security systems to protect you up or lock you in at night.
Today, one can hardly live anywhere without fear of a break-in or intrusion of some kind violation that leaves one feeling unsafe and unsettled the neighborhood or at home.
The character and makeup of communities have changed with more people moving in that are not African-American and bringing their unknown pasts and values into the community. – Those quiet changes have affected the pride, the look and appearances and history in our neighborhoods.
Ms. Houston knew education and truly it was a different time then than today.
Education was more than going to school and sitting in a class for a few hours. Real learning about life and living were taught by older teachers with some life experience under their belts. Teachers were dedicated to preparing students for life and not just teaching for test.
The idea was to help kids get ready for life by sharing parallel stories that worked to shape the inner man and woman.
As a result of this kind of that unheralded work, many great names and leaders were born and bred coming from Acres Homes, Fifth Ward and Third Ward and many other places across Texas and the South.
She was a Houston native and a graduate of Booker T Washington High School, Paul Quinn College and Houston College for Negroes. She began teaching in Aldine in 1951 and dedicated 34 years of her life teaching and instilling a “can-do” attitude in her students. She wanted all children to rise to the challenge of seizing opportunity in a world ripe with opportunity.
She loved children and had a big heart and desire for every child to pursue their talents and passions reach their tip-top potential and succeed in life. In the words of this writer, she was the great “coach” and mentor for kids who never had coaching in sports or did not have that parent to urge them to the education finish line.
On God and Church
I was most impressed with her ideas about the eroding values and loss of respect in the Black community for God and the Church.
God and Church are not being taken as seriously today as was in the days of the revival days of the old pastors, Churches and brush harbors.
The old days were a time when people desired to hear the word of God and that focus reflected in the lives of people who demonstrated that with lives showing great character development, spiritual values and an unselfish desire to serve others and the community. God and living the Christian life before others meant something. It was not checking in or punching a time clock on Sunday morning. The genuine realness of God shown in every aspect of Black life from handling small disputes, developing marriages and relationships to dealing with issues directly affecting the Black community.
During that time people sought the guidance of God, the Church and Pastors to lead during those critical history making moments.
She recalled how people shared parents were parents. The life, words and work of Mother and Daddy in the home were respected and honored at one time in our Black history.
“Honor they father and mother” was a golden rule that was honored and never broken, even by the most hard-headed of the kids. The values of God were communicated in life and translated to the lives of children.
That lesson learned in the home helped underscore the values of respecting and honoring authority, whether it was the teacher, policeman, pastor or next door neighbor.
Talking back and profanities were few to non-existent during those days among children, because many understood the consequences – a swift and harsh judgment by switch, belt or back hand.
From this writer’s perspective, today it is common to see single-parent households, latch-key children or street walking children who do what they want when they want and raise themselves and teach themselves values foreign to the old ways and old paths that lead to a better life. It is part of a generation raised up looking to gang members and drug dealers as role models.
It is time for parents to get back in the game and raise children with more solid characters and Godly values – that begins at home and in the home.
Old Paths, Service Not Selfishness Saves A Community
Now the world has a more “me” approach to living life that has nearly removed the concept of showing or having compassion for others.
Selfishness and “I gotta get mine” at any and all cost has replaced the spiritual teachings of “Loving one another as I have loved you” and demonstrating that love by giving in service to one another or “laying down one’s life for a friend” if necessary.
There were many more lessons taught during discussions that day and it will forever remain with me as long as I live.
It is my hope and prayer that we can recapture the spirit of our elders and honor them by returning to the “old paths”.
Those ways served Black parents, Black children and the Black community well.
We lose life giving wisdom with the passing of our wise elderly folk living in our community.
Many of us remember their golden deeds, but how do we take that life and honor it?
I believe that is done when we not only reflect on that great example, but we seek to follow in those steps and take the torch and carry it another mile or two until we relinquish it and all its lessons to the next generation.
We hope we can make our communities great again will our own will and God’s help.
However, we must heed the wisdom of the elderly – It’s priceless.
Ms Jewell S. Houston is resting with our ancestors, but her light still shines in the lives of all she knew and touched.
I for one am richer and have greater appreciation for the little things in life that make our history and African communities great and proud.
Thank you Ms Houston for sharing your life, example, timeless wisdom and bright spirit and influence with us. That will last forever.