[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #7 in December 2008]
In 1968, a well-dressed African American gentleman appeared at my Irish Catholic grandmother’s front door requesting that my grandmother subscribe to his magazine. My grandmother, impressed by this gentleman’s kind manner and sincere work ethic, invited him in and offered him lemonade. They had a nice visit, during the course of which she subscribed to Ebony magazine. I was living with my grandparents at this time as my mother had died when I was four. The subscription to Ebony was a life-changing event, because it became my magazine.
I was eight years old and an avid reader. I learned incredible stories of the struggle for civil rights. I marveled at the clothes, the music, the hair gels—like Afro Sheen. That single subscription had a profound influence on me from using Afro Sheen to choices that have selected the course for the rest of my life. I sobbed when Martin Luther King was shot and killed because I felt I knew him, like a kind older relative. I knew that he had made his famous “I have a Dream” speech on my 4th birthday, as that was the last birthday I celebrated with my mother. I was one of the only white students in Alphine Jefferson’s African American history class at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb in the late seventies chanting “Black Power!”. My Grandmother’s subscription to Ebony altered the course of the rest of my life.
My family is among the few white families who go to the DuSable Museum on Dr. Martin Luther King Day. I have written a number of plays with multi-racial characters that live in an ideal world, unsullied by racism, yet have human issues to resolve. These plays have been produced at the Chicago Cultural Center and at the Pine Avenue Performing Arts Center on our great city’s west side, among others.
This is a reminder to always keep an open mind, as I am grateful that my grandmother invited that gentleman in and subscribed to Ebony. You just might change a person’s life.