Last week, my wife and I boarded a plane to travel to Atlanta, Georgia - a place many call "America's Black Mecca." It has five Black colleges and universities, mostly associated with the legendary Atlanta University. The schools associated with Atlanta University include Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, Morris Brown, Spelman, and Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC). Atlanta is home to the Civil Rights movement and where Dr. Martin Luther King was chosen to lead the attack on discrimination and segregation in America, beginning with the Birmingham bus boycott.
I remember when my wife and I drove to Atlanta last year to see our grandchildren and our son Jamal and his wife, Makini, how surprised I was to discover how close Atlanta was to Birmingham. It's only about one and one half hours away. Birmingham was such a violent place for Blacks and Civil Rights workers that it was nicknamed "Bombingham" in the sixties. I guess you could say it was one and one half hours away from hell, if you were Black.
This time we flew, but it is more fun to drive, especially if the vehicle is the right size and the company is good. Even our relatively small twenty two foot motor home is sufficient for a fun two and one half day ride with my best friend and wife of forty seven years. Of course when you drive you get more than peanuts and pretzels to eat. While driving you can drink your coffee and water without having to stand and wait in line to relieve the fluids. Maybe that is TMI (too much information). But it is good that we flew this time because after we got there we watched the news of the fires in Altadena and surrounding areas. I do not even want to imagine driving back two and one half days, after hearing news that they had closed off my street and wondering if we would have a home to return to.
Our trip was eventful, to say the least. It's always good to see my children and introduce my son, Dr. Jamal Hopkins, who is a professor at ITC. You can call it bragging, but I am a proponent of the theory that my mother taught me that says, "it is a poor dog that won't wag his own tail." She loved to introduce me as her son "the lawyer." I'm glad I gave her and my father that little something to be proud of.
When we arrived at the Hotel in Atlanta, the children of America's Civil Rights giants and celebrities were walking the halls like Lou Gossett, Rev. Bernice King, Congressman John Louis, Jr., Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, Melba Moore, Maryum Ali, Rev. Dr. Bobby Jones and comedian Chris Tucker. The event for traveling to Atlanta, in addition to seeing the children and grandchildren, was to celebrate the birthday of Xernona Clayton and support fundraising for the Trumpet Awards. The birthday event included an inspirational breakfast and message from a preacher from Detroit named Reverend Marvin Moss.
He took a text from the story of Sampson and a previously preached sermon by Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The topic was, "What Makes You So Strong Black Man?" He raised the question of Delilah asking Sampson what made him so strong after all they had done to him. After posing the circumstance of how history has presented weapons of mass distruction, like segregation, discrimination, drugs imported into the Black community, portraying Black men as studs, ignorant, and criminals, promoting incarceration instead of education, and after being lied on and lied about, Black men have still done so much with so little, still we rise and produce. From building the pyramids in ancient times to John Henry building the railroads, we've produced poets, educators and authors, like Sterling Brown, to President Barack Obama.
Then the question turns to Black Women and asks in spite of being raped, walked on, walked over, messed on and messed over, how do we still turn out Barbara Jordans, Fannie Lou Hamers, Xernona Claytons, Maxine Waters, a Bishop Vashti and Bishop Barbara Harris, and an Oprah and Alexis Herman? Ultimately, he concluded, the question of what makes you so strong Black man and woman is faith in God.
On the trip I found time to reading more of a book called Rebel With a Cause by John Sperling. Sperling, a former Cal State San Jose Professor, started the University of Phoenix. The book tells the trials he endured from education officials who resisted his efforts to start a private college to educate working adults. He left California and went to Arizona. While trying to get it going he encountered then Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally. Dymally was working with a group who was trying to get a Black College in California (Los Angeles) going.
That is one of my passions to get a Black college in the west. It seems that an extension University of one of the Atlanta five could work. Why not bring the struggling Morris Brown to California to help them stay afloat and at the same time give us a Black College West. Is anybody listening?
The balance of the weekend was magical, except the cloud of the fires that literally hung over our heads throughout the trip. Can you imagine me on the program, up at the podium, at the same time I'm receiving a call of the news that flames were shooting up in the mountains above my house and my entire neighborhood had been evacuated? When we arrived in Atlanta, there was a cloud burst of rain. After we collected our bags, we discovered them wet. In fact one was soaking wet. We opened the bag right there in the baggage claims office and discovered our clothes wet. They offered us a voucher. When we left Atlanta, a thunder storm caused the airport to close at the time we were about to board the airplane. We were anxious to get to Altadena to see for ourselves what was happening. However, our plane arrived late at LAX. After we landed and got our AGAIN wet bags, the airport shuttle took us to our car which decided not to start. There was no air conditioning and it was hot. We called AAA for a tow. When they arrived about 45 minutes later and were about to hook us up, the car changed its mind, and started. We finally got Altadena and to our street only to be told that we couldn't get to our house. Our two other sons, Omar and Yusef, had moved our cars and Motor home to the parking lot at the office, but were unable to get back to the house to get any of our important papers since they could not produce any ID for our address. We showed our ID's and the officers told us that we could park on a side street and walk to the house but we could not stay there. We saw no flames like our sons had saw and reported to us. Only thick smoke filled the air. When we got home we didn't leave. The next day, I went out bought doughnuts, coffee, and bottled water for the Sheriff's Deputies who were guarding our street. Thank God for large and small miracles! All's well that ends well. I look forward to our next trip.