I would like to pass along thoughts that are (to me) relevant during this and any time that African American history and or remembrances are observed. The document entitled “My Parents Were Revolutionary” is an exploration of the life lessons and concepts that my parents taught us (my sisters and I) when we were growing up. “The Great Ones” is (I hope) a different view of slaves in America. I would be honored if they were in some way to find themselves printed in The Spokane African American Voice newspaper. If not, then I am still honored to submit them.
Thanks for your time,
Chuck Worthy, Gig Harbor, WA
My Parents Were Revolutionary (In a Time of Revolutionaries)
My Parents, Charles E Worthy Sr. and Helen A. Shaw Worthy grew up in a time of change, conflict and upheaval. At that time (of course) African Americans were considered second class citizens and less than equal to their counterparts in every way. As children in Wilmington North Carolina the oppression of racism, Jim Crow and discrimination filled the air. There was no place to escape it and virtually nowhere to run. Subjected to this they rode in the back of the bus, walked past the better schools in order to attend the colored only schools, used the discarded school books from white only schools and suffered all the slings and arrows associated with being “colored” in those days. For the record, I will say now and early that I am not writing this as a rant, rage or protest. I am writing this as a tribute to my parents and the revolutionary ways and concepts they taught their children. These concepts have guided me throughout my life and I am thankful for their revolutionary ways. The revolutionary concepts I will explore here are education, competition, a relentless work ethic and self reliance.
As they taught us these things I am sure they were looking back at The Great Ones. From an early time my parents began to create an atmosphere, a constant background and foreground voice espousing the value, the results, rewards and possible outcomes of applying one’s self to educational pursuits. This was so much more than the usual lecture about getting an education. They constantly told us that education was not only important but that the pursuit of an education and the constant striving for more knowledge was a critical cornerstone of life itself.
We did not (as children) realize that they were echoing the words of Frederick Douglass, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and virtually every individual that signed The Declaration of Independence. In the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln an American Concept is introduced, “The Desire to Rise”. To rise above your background, your initial place in society and mediocrity. This rising comes through education and our parents taught their children that education and knowledge were to be sought at all cost. In many ways the doors of education were only partially open to them but they sought it with an amazing determination. Competition is a part of life no matter what the current social view. My parents were aware of this and wanted their children to be prepared to compete in a world with many stacked decks and hidden barriers. Compete, compete, compete and give your best no matter what.
I was five years old when they began to teach me these concepts. It may sound strange, but they grew up in a world where in many situations they were not even allowed onto the playing field. Work hard, compete and seek opportunities to such an extent that you cannot be ignored, that you cannot be cast aside and that you must be taken into account. Revolutionary thoughts indeed. Imagine my parent’s role playing competitive scenarios with me in the mid 1960’s. The bottom line was “what will happen if you are not as well prepared as the other little boy”, who will get the job or position.
They also taught us that we were competing even when we did not know we were competing. When that other individual was out of sight and out of mind. Surely they were looking back at past generations of African Americans that were not even allowed to compete or apply for an opportunity. Our lessons on hard work often came wrapped in the phrase “you can’t just skate through life”. In effect, you get out of life what you put into it. They were looking back at their lives and the lives of past generations. At times where hard work was perhaps all you had. No advantages, no wealthy parents, no trust funds. Just hard work and the hope of rewards gained from those efforts. The hope that you could feed your family, raise your children well and provide for them because of your hard work. The father of the great Sidney Poitier said “’The Measure of a Man.’ … the true measure of a man was how well he provided for his children. …” In times past and times to come this provision comes through hard work. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 puts it this way “For also when we were with you, this we declared to you: that, if any man will not work, neither let him eat”. That may sound harsh but, well… We just need to deal with it.
Keep in mind that this same hard work may place you in a position to help others. My parents, God bless them. Self reliance is a concept often maligned, but when mixed with compassion and the knowledge that we are often times in the same boat with many others it can lead to great things. We were taught that we must first rely on ourselves and always seek what is best for us and our families. We may indeed need help at times in our lives but shame on us if we come to that place because we have overly relied on others. My parents looked forward into the future and saw the potential of our lives. They then turned to each of us and taught us that if you gain that goal, you will gain it through your own efforts, your hard work and determination. Others may be there to help you on your way, but you must strive for the goal and seek what you desire with all your heart. We were taught that we were individuals, part of a family, part of a culture and nation and that we first rely on our own efforts and then take the hand of assistance when necessary.
In all of this I see not only my revolutionary parents but their parents. I see James Shaw (my mother’s father and valedictorian of his class at Wilmington’s Williston High School) with a club foot (due to polio as a child) working for 30 years climbing trees for “The County”. I also see Ezra Worthy (my father’s father) also working 30 years for “The County” and doing all that he could to secure a future for his children. They both had honorable careers but careers that were at the top of what was available to them. I look back past them and see the previous generations. Working menial jobs and suffering under the yoke of oppression and discrimination. Working so very hard and always with a desire to rise in their hearts. In time they brought into the world the two revolutionaries that have shaped my life and the lives of my sisters, Charles E Worthy Sr. and Helen A. Shaw Worthy.
Helen A. Shaw Worthy is the eldest of “The Shaw Girls” of Wilmington North Carolina. She returned to Wilmington after a long career with various government agencies. In “retirement” she has become a political and social power house in the Wilmington area. She became the first woman and the first black woman to become the Chair of the Democratic Party and President of the local NAACP among many other achievements. She worked directly with Vice President Al Gore and led many political and social organizations in the Greater DC metropolitan area. The following is from her acceptance speech as Party Chair.
“At this moment I am standing on the shoulders of many who blazed the trail of service to others. People who were committed to a purpose and fulfilled it without regard for their personal feelings.” Helen A. Worthy Chair, New Hanover County Democratic Party
The PERSONAL and the POLITICAL question are inexorably linked: “WHAT DO YOU CARE ENOUGH ABOUT TO STAND UP AND FIGHT FOR?” The fight starts within your house – with your personal decisions. Helen A. Worthy Chair, New Hanover County Democratic Party
Charles E Worthy Sr. (the “F” in his name above is a typo) served his country with honor and distinction as a Navy Hospital Corpsman. He served during the cold war and in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. He saved many lived on the battle field and in the operating room. He was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal with the Combat “V” designation. The Commendation Medal is a United States military decoration which is presented for sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service. For valorous actions in direct contact with an enemy force. Sadly my father passed away 8 years ago due to exposure to agent orange in Vietnam. I miss him terribly, he was my anchor.