I was awakened by the sound of my father’s voice blaring through my window, interrupting my Saturday morning sleep-in. My father was a dignified gentleman, not given to blaring under any circumstance. I later learned that he was manning the bull horn as he rode through the neighborhood urging folks to come out and vote. As head of household in one of five Black families living in a White suburb, my father knew America’s dark history for our people when it came to voting, He was living the sacredness of the vote.
Decades later on November 5th, 1974, I held my daughter’s hand as we entered the polling place. There were three booths with drawn curtains. At intervals we saw each curtain open as one-by-one, a voter emerged. I explained the sacredness of the ballot, then whispered in her ear the candidates of my choice. It was a happy neighborhood event. We waved, nodded, and smiled at familiar faces on the line.
Fast forward. One by one, my grandchildren are coming of age to vote. They’ve each had the privilege of 21 years of political discussions at the family dinner table. The vote is precious to them, and they have more options than the curtained booth of 1974. Early voting and vote by mail have made the ritual more convenient. Unfortunately, redlining and shortened polling hours in minority communities have echoed the discrimination of earlier times. Regretfully, the atmosphere is not always one of neighborly greetings and waves. Our family’s youth are coming of age in tumultuous times: boisterous proclamations of bitterness, hatred, and divisiveness.
I realize that as a child, and later a young mother, I was naïve to some of the underlying currents of unspoken polarity. I believed the American dream was already a reality; now I see it as a work in progress. Nevertheless, I still believe in the dream, and feel saddened by the backward steps of the era in which we live.
Today, the grandbabies, now grand-men, are living successful lives. Unlike the younger me, they are not naïve to the underlying hypocrisy that is rising to the surface. Nevertheless, they are recipients of the opportunities that America has to offer. And they know that to have a voice in correcting the existing ills, they must follow the family tradition and hold fast to the sacredness of the vote.