Two of the most inspiring people who have continually brought me to my Happy Place during this quarantined year are over a century old as well as the very definition of ageless. I would like to take this opportunity to introduce them to one another. They both live in Chicago. It is my hope that I will be able to introduce them, even by Zoom, for friendship. And it is just for friendship because one of them, Mr. Timuel Black, is already married to his devoted wife, Mrs. Zenobia Johnson-Black. I chose to write about them because they inspire me and help me to remember that we will probably weather everything 2020 has brought us and that we will come out of this okay. Within their lifetimes they have experienced wars and depression and discrimination and illness and deaths of loved ones and somehow they have survived. They reminded me that they have also experienced success and joy and friendships and hard-fought victories and that when you have curiosity about life and hope and family and friends that life is worth living. Worth fighting for.
Our youth-driven society sometimes forgets the contributions made by those who came before us. Who gave birth to us, and took care of us and tried to deliver a better society for us. Those for whom the isolation of the pandemic has perhaps hit the hardest. And so I wanted to introduce people like Catherine Stovall and Timuel Black. People who have lived lives full of purpose and meaning and who still inspire hope in others and who still maintain a quality of life that brings joy to themselves and to others. And who knows, perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Black may have a gentleman friend for Mrs Stovall. Something about this just strikes my fancy. Most of the facts below were taken from previous articles I wrote about them.
August 1st, 2020 was the 101st birthday of Mrs. Catherine Stovall, the mother of Joshlyn Banks who is part of my Crane High School Reunion group. I decided to spend some time filming her (socially distanced of course) to glean some insights from a wise woman who has spent her years helping others and who still finds hope in the world even in the midst of chaos. I am usually pretty chipper, but the day I filmed her didn't start out as a happy day for me. I forget the details, but I was feeling a bit down. I needed to be coaxed out of the doldrums. Covering her drive-by Birthday Celebration worked!
Her outlook was surprisingly refreshing and helped to turn around my day. “Live life a day at a time,” she told me. I have heard that in various forms from twelve-step recovery groups and Eckhart Tolle’s admonition to “Stay in the now.” But there was something about the way she said it that jolted me back to the core of myself. She smiled and waved like a queen as people drove by honking their horns with colorful balloons flying outside their windows. Some stopped and delivered presents. Her gratitude was front and center.
She was born on August 1st, 1919, in Carleton, Alabama and lived through many things including the Great Depression of 1929. She spoke about not having food to eat or running water or indoor plumbing during that time, but said the grace of God brought her through. She raised seven children (the eighth died at an early age), and she learned to sew to make clothes for them. Times were tight after the death of her first husband but she worked hard to provide for her family, and eventually remarried.
Helping her children with their homework inspired her to go back to school and she was awarded her GED at the age of 71. After that she attended Northeastern Illinois University and Malcolm X College. She also earned a Christian Education Diploma from the National Baptist Convention at a ceremony in San Francisco. Career-wise she worked for Motorola, Allied and retired from the Board of Education. She taught Sunday School until she was 95 years old! She told me about her love of travel and how it took her to the World's Fair in Canada in 1964, the Bahamas, and Ghana, in addition to cruising and visiting ports of call in Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, St. Martin, Hawaii and Alaska. She smiled when recalling she has visited 38 of the 50 states. Being in the presence of this Queen and watching her sparkle took me to a place of untamed joy. She says we will get through this. She too believes in connecting with the joy.
Iconic historian Timuel Black turned 102 on December 7th, 2020, and was celebrated in Chicago with a special drive-by car parade organized by the University of Chicago Civil Knowledge Project and the Alumni Association. Mr. Black is a true Chicago treasure: historian, veteran, social scientist and political activist, scholar, teacher, civil rights leader and jazz enthusiast. You can find the full digital archive of Mr. Black's interview with The Historymakers here. And the interview of him by Maudlyne Ihejirika of the Chicago Sun-Times is embedded below.
The participants and supporters who turned out two weeks ago for Mr. Black's birthday included his neighbors and friends, colleagues and members of the academy and community, students and residents from the South Side and really from all across the City of Chicago. And this King sat outside, bundled up like a true Chicagoan as he waved and greeted his admirers, Mrs. Black by his side. The COVID-19 conscious event was sponsored by The Timuel D. Black Educational Foundation, The Civic Knowledge Project, The University of Chicago and The University of Chicago Alumni Association.
After attending Burke Elementary School and DuSable High School in Chicago, Black received his bachelor's degree from Roosevelt University and his master's degree from the University of Chicago. He was drafted into the army during World War II, and became a social worker during the postwar era, while teaching at various high schools and colleges. Mr. Black is a pioneer in the independent Black political movement and coined the phrase "plantation politics." He ran for public office several times, including campaigns for Chicago's 4th Ward alderman, state senator of the 22nd District and state representative of the 22nd District. He has spent his life furthering the cause of social justice, as witnessed in his books Bridges of Memory: Chicago's First Wave of Great Migration, which chronicles Black Chicago history from the 1920s to the present, and Sacred Ground: The Chicago Streets of Timuel Black, which provides a detailed portrait of his own extraordinary life.
Merry Christmas Mrs. Stovall and Merry Christmas Mr.and Mrs. Black. Thank you for your grace and joy in this year of transformation. Thank you for reminding me that life can be joyful and full of meaning at any age. God Bless.