Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hope Lies in the Unexpected: An Inspirational Story


I have an inspirational story for you. It goes back to a time many years ago when for me, as for many battle scarred 60's idealists , the future looked grim. Maybe it will help people who feel beaten down by the recent election see some glimmer of hope on the horizon, perhaps from a place they never expected.
The year was 1972. I was having a hard time. The movement i was part of in the 60's had splintered into factions, some which had embraced a kind of violence I could not endorse. Several fomer friends and political associates had blown themselves up in a town house in Greenwich Village; other were on wanted posters you could see in any post office I was glad I never went down the path they had chosen, but seeing their pictures plastered all over by the FBI sent chills through me
Work was also stressful I had just started teaching at Fordham in the Institute of Afro American Studies and trying to figure out how I would navigate being the first white faculty member to teach in a Black Studies Prorgram in NYC, if not the whole country I loved the students in my classes and the people I taught with, but there were some students not in my classes who had been bitterly opposed to my appointment and facing them- and sometimes facing them down- on a daily basis was challenging
My personal life was also a mess. The relationship that had shaped my life for nearly 6 years, with a beautiful Black woman passionately devoted to helping people in need, who had been the first person I had fallen in love with, was breaking up and I was wondering who I would be without her by my side, especially since I had been adopted by her entire family.
In the midst of all this, a friend of mine decided to try to set me up with someone who was sitting in on a class he was teaching at the New School. i reluctantly went along, gave a lecture in the class and after a half a bottle of bourbon decided to ask the person out on a date
That person's name was Liz. As i looked across her at the table of the restaurant where I took her- I think it was Umberto's Clam house- I thought about how different she seemed from the woman I had been seeing for six years. She was gorgeous, but she looked like the captain of the cheerleading team in high school that I had been afraid to ask out Unlike my former girlfriend, the product of a working class Black family in Georgia, she had grown up in comfortable circumstances and had opportunities few Black people and not that many white people, had enjoyed growing up.
It would be hard to have been more skeptical about where this was going than I was the first half hour of our date, yet over time, I would fall in love with, this woman, who had a depth of intellect and character equal to anyone i had ever met. Not only would the former cheerleader captain, who many people know as Liz Phillips turn out to be the best life partner and parent anyone could dream of having, she would turn into one of the great education leaders of New York City, and New York state
In 1972, I feared the most meaningful parts of my life might be ending. In truth, I was on the cusp of a new beginning.