Mark sent me a little book for my birthday called “Letters to My Grandchild.” I was looking at it to see if I could write something for the grandkids. One of the topics grabbed me: “One Positive Change in the World I have Witnessed.” However, I feel strongly about two changes. So this is for my Seattle grandchildren, though I hope the Silver Spring ones will read it too.
Despite all the bad news, despite all the wars and violence, I want to tell you that in my long life I have seen some astounding changes. You are the generation of computers and cell phones and amazing devices that connect you to the larger world. That is truly revolutionary. When your parents were young we had three TV stations and a phone attached to the wall.
But I want to tell you about two other changes I never thought I would see. The first is the legal integration of the races. When I was in high school the news reports on TV showed the violent reaction among white people in the South when black citizens tried to vote, go to a lunch counter, and even go to an all white school. I saw small black children escorted to school through angry shouting white crowds. The Freedom Riders were courageous young people, both black and white, who demonstrated peacefully to demand change. They inspired me, as did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who led marches of African-Americans to claim legal rights.
My choice to teach in an urban school district and to learn as much about the history and literature of African Americans shaped my long teaching career. I wanted to do my part to make education a way to build understanding across divisions of race. I tried to use what skills I had to further that cause.
The other more personal development is the massive shift in society to include gay people. When your dad told Pops and me he was gay more than twenty years ago, we were worried. At that time gay people had few rights. Often parents would disavow their sons and daughters. Gay people could be fired. They were bullied. They could not marry. All in all there seemed to be little room for them in society. Part of the reason Pops and I were so concerned is that we feared your dad’s life would be so difficult. We certainly did not think he could marry, have a family, be accepted among friends and in his career.
We were so wrong. When we celebrated Christmas with you and your family we see once again that things have changed. And they changed because gay people, like both your dads, refused to be silent. People like your dads courageously told their stories and demanded to be treated equally. Like the brave African Americans of my youth, they asked for change. So my message to you is do not be satisfied with the way things are. When you see something wrong, work for change. Try to find other people to work with you, because change is possible.
Now you know and I know things are not perfect. Though legally issues such as voting, integrated restaurants and schools are settled, black people still suffer from subtle and not so subtle forms of discrimination. Though gay people can marry and have families, there is still bullying and discrimination. People can still be fired for being gay. There are those still filled with hate, but I want to hope society has changed for the better.
We just have to keep working because there are still grave injustices. So your work will be to take up where we old folks leave off. All the great religions and philosophers of the world say working for an idea greater than yourself makes life meaningful. I hope you will choose to do that. I wish you a life of courage and compassion. I wish you family, love and work. I wish you happiness.
With lots of love,