By Vernon A. Williams
All things happen by the grace of God, so it goes before every declaration that His hand is in every blessing. That having been said, at this time of expressions of appreciation, let me say out loud that I am thankful for the village.
None of us arrive at whatever station we have reached in life without a considerable amount of influence. Sometimes the impetus is the result of negativism or somehow trying to constrain your possibilities. Most often it is the positive influence we most embrace.
All of our journeys are as distinct as DNA, as unique as fingerprints. And yet there is a common experience that we share even with strangers, in that in every life, rain must fall. The Bible declares that no man or woman will traverse the sea of life without having to navigate storms.
This week we should be thankful that the Lord placed safe harbors in our path so when waters became too choppy and menacing, there was some place to go. We need to be thankful for the angels God placed along the way so when we were too weak to steer a helping hand appeared, when we were misguided a dove led us back on course.
This is a good time to reflect on those individuals in your life who contributed – whether in a fleeting moment, over a season or for a lifetime – to your safe arrival at the right destination. As so many would hasten to note, such shows of gratitude are appropriate 365 days a year and many function in that capacity.
But this Thanksgiving, it just seems natural that more intensified expression might fit the occasion, that someone lost in the crevices of busy lifestyles might resurface.
My greatest influence in life was, like many, my mother. No one would have blamed her for stopping right there but I am eternally grateful that Dillie Clara Williams decided to have just one more offspring three years to the day after her ninth child was born because my New Year’s Day arrival made it an even 10.
She taught me principles by which to live such as, you are no better than anyone and no one else is better than you; through the Lord all things are possible so never limit your dreams; approach any calamity with calmness knowing that worry doesn’t contribute to solutions and prayer changes things, and finally, that which we do unto “the least of those,” we do unto Christ.
From the block clubs, the precinct organization, to the PTA presidency, to the women’s federation, to boy scouts den mother and myriad other volunteer duties, her tireless example of engagement in the community was the root of my spirit of service.
My gratitude is immense for my father, the Reverend Willie Marion Williams Sr., who brought me to Christ. More than that, my example of manhood and the role of a provider was a father who was always there and who made certain that we wanted for nothing, even at personal sacrifice on the modest income of a steelworker.
Part of “the village” was the neighborhood and the extended families like the Nichols who lived right across the street on 22nd and Madison or the Calhoun family two doors down. Around the corner on Jefferson Street were the Battles while on Monroe, the Latimer family created home away from home. A little farther over on Monroe Lane were the Morgans and the Powers family on Harrison. An unspoken element of virtual team parenting put eyes on each of us even as we were nowhere near home.
The “village” consisted of your circle of closest acquaintances. There is a saying that if you show me your friends, I can show you your future. That’s why in addition to those names mentioned as being the neighborhood extended family, there were other friends that created the climate for ambition tempered by ethics that steered our path. Those true friends, and they know who they are, remain tightly knit in our circle even today.
Often I have mentioned in writing the names of teachers whose influence at Garnett Elementary, Beckman Middle School and Gary Roosevelt High School helped steer my course, so I won’t be redundant.
While my future was still being shaped I was blessed by outstanding influencers at the collegiate level like the brilliant Black music teacher Dr. Portia Maultsby whose compassion and rapport with students created an intellectual comfort zone and Dr. Bill Wiggins who put Black religion into context and offered everyday life wisdom.
Those in the professional sphere who helped mentor a career journey are many. I will name a few. My short list includes the world’s coolest deejay, columnist and urban socialite Chuck Deggans; cantankerous but ingenious drama teacher and director Al Boswell Sr.; my “other mother” – newspaper publisher Imogene Harris, and the facilitator of my transition into higher education purpose, Vice Chancellor Amy Conrad-Warner.
People say everyone needs a good mechanic, doctor, lawyer and handy man. One important area missing is spiritual cornerstone. Bishop Lambert Wade Gates Sr. and the Mt. Zion Apostolic Church family in Indianapolis constitute a foundation that extends beyond immediate family, colleagues or personal friends; a climate that goes full circle back to my mother’s admonishment that only what we do for Christ will matter in the end.
So, this is my story, and I know you have your own. I share with the hope that it will inspire you to take a moment for introspection and appreciation for all who have poured into your circumstance. In closing, wishing you and yours a Blessed Thanksgiving!
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.