on philanthropy, fried green tomatoes & the fight for civil rights
I'm back from my trip to Greensboro, North Carolina, and I'm not sure I've ever been hosted by more warm, welcoming people. I met so many women who were truly committed to positive change in their local communities, and their stories were incredibly inspiring. Also? They gave me a gift of moonshine. Moonshine, people! I was so incredibly moved (and a little stunned). It was awesome. So, to say the very least, I'm so grateful to Lynn MacDonald, Jennifer Gipp, Keith Barsuhn and the amazing women of the United Way of Greater Greensboro for inviting me to speak at their wonderful luncheon. It was a lovely experience I won't soon forget.
After I spoke on Tuesday, I had a few hours to amuse myself, so decided to do a bit of sightseeing. My friend Rachel Fox (one of my travel companions to Kenya) had driven in all the way from Wilmington to hear me speak -- a good three-hour drive. (Now that's a good friend.) I talked her into joining me for a quick tour of the city before heading back out of town, so after I changed into some comfortable shoes, we were off.
My first order of business was getting something to eat (I can't eat before I speak -- mostly nerves, but also because I live in fear of getting up in front of an audience with spinach between my teeth). We followed the directions of at least three different people who didn't seem to have any clue where they were (maybe tourists like us) before we finally stumbled into Fincastles diner.
This place was the real deal: soda drinks and tons of burgers, and dear Lord in heaven, fried green tomatoes. Like the movie! I'd never had them before, but I loved the movie and I love tomatoes; besides, as they say, when in the South, do as the Southerners do:
They were delicious.
We finished up our meal, and headed outside. Across the street there was a bright shiny Woolworth's sign. Huh, I thought, I haven't seen a Woolworth's in years. And the sign's so new! Surely it's not actually open? We wandered over to take a look.
Turns out, it wasn't a Woolworth's: it was the International Civil Rights Center and Museum ...
... and -- get this -- it was built on the site of the very first student-led lunch counter sit-in, a peaceful protest by four young men who were students at the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina, beginning a movement that swept the United States, and was an instrumental and critical part of the fight for African-American civil rights. I had, of course, heard of the lunch-counter sit-ins, but I had no idea it began in Greensboro. Rachel and I immediately bought two tickets to the museum to have a guided tour of the exhibits.
Unfortunately, photography inside the museum was prohibited, but this does not dim my enthusiasm for what I saw. The museum is beautiful -- stunning, really -- with amazing exhibits of every aspect of the African American civil rights movement. Even the Woolworth's lunch counter where it all began was preserved as it was at the time of that historic sit-in. But the true star of the museum was our tour guide, Anita Johnson. I am telling you with full certainty that Anita Johnson is the best museum tour guide that has ever existed in the history of museums anywhere. And to those of you who are silently protesting as you read those words, I say this: unless your favourite tour guide screams "WE FIGHT! WE FIGHT! WE FIGHT!!" at the top of her lungs while talking about the Tuskegee Airmen, before swooning and swaying and describing how Mahalia Jackson "could put a hurtin' on a hymn," your argument will likely hold little water with me. Ms. Johnson was full of joy and passion and pride and I had to resist the urge to hug her many times during the tour. One day, my friends, if I work really hard, I will grow up to be her. But I'll have to work really hard.
The end of the tour featured a
video montage of all of the civil rights struggles that have occurred
all over the world since the African-American civil rights movement,
citing events like the fall of The Berlin Wall and the protests at Tiananmen Square. The video was very hopeful, and it reminded me of that awesome quote by Margaret Mead:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
And in this day and age where there are still so many battles for civil rights currently being fought around the planet, from Syria and other areas in the Middle East, to Africa, to, very recently -- and I'm going to be rather blunt, here -- right here in North Carolina, these are some wonderful words to keep in mind.
Thank you so much, Greensboro. Visiting you was one of the most rewarding trips of my year.