lection Night Celebration!
By Gregory M. McCaw … 11/04/2008
I'm so excited! I'm back and forth between shouting and crying! I'm so surprised by my reaction right now, because for a long time I've been relatively comfortable that Barak Obama would indeed be our next President of the United States of America; in fact, I've projected to many of you that I even felt it would be by at least somewhat of a landslide. So, I really kind of thought that this evening would be for me somewhat ho hum since I didn't think it would be that big of a surprise. But, wow! Even though pretty much all that I expected to happen did indeed happen, I find myself in almost a bit of shock! I have really truly been so amazingly and pleasantly and emotionally surprised and quite simply engulfed in this uncontrollable desire to worship! to praise! to celebrate!
I know many of you must feel similarly. I remember my young childhood when I began to realize that I was significantly "different" somehow from my other male friends, and how that "difference" somehow made me afraid. I still don't know how I knew it, but somehow I knew that if others found out about how I felt "different" that I would experience rejection and exclusion on many levels. So, I made heroic efforts to hide and cover my "difference." I remember that as I entered into puberty and I had a significant hormonal imbalance that caused me to physically develop differently from other males my age in such a way that was easily noticeable and I began to receive more and more public teasing and experienced threats and was often called names by other kids. So, I made every effort to hide this unsightly "difference" as best I could, usually to no avail.
These two significant battles and struggles in my life, however, provided a special opportunity for me to get a taste of what life is like for those persons who do not fit the expectations of those who hold power in our world. As frightened as I was at the time, as a young white boy, because of "busing" (or the government mandated integration of public schools), and because I was the son of a poor evangelical preacher and therefore could not afford to go to a private school like the majority of my white friends, I was bused across town to Harding Middle School, in Oklahoma City, OK, an historical African-American school, then on to Northeast High School, also an historical African-American school, both located in the "African-American" section of the city. During those seven years, from 1972 through 1979, in the very early days of the social experiments of racial integration, I had the great honor of experiencing close up the struggles, the pain, and the suffering of "otherness" through many dearly loved African-American friends. I was able to overcome my fear and embrace them, first of all because they embraced me, and also because I found solidarity with them in my own pain and suffering. Interestingly, nearly all of the teasing and name calling and threats that I received during these years came from other white males. Very little came from white females and almost none came from black males or females. I was embraced, I now know, as a fellow "other." In addition, because of this significant connection with black students and teachers alike, I was also able to see their hope and their desire to rise above the systems that sought to keep them down. I was able to learn from them how to find hope in myself.
I will never forget the significance of one particular elder black student, Cassell Lawson. Barak Obama reminds me of Cassell. As I began my freshman year at Northeast High School, I was a shell of who I am today. I was a frightened, somewhat self-defeated, very self-conscious kid. I didn't feel very good about myself. I was a nominal Christian because I had little real faith of my own. I wore my hair long, straggly, and didn't care much for overall cleanliness. I dressed the part of what we called in those days, "greasers," or "druggies," a careless disheveled look. I was trying to be a cigarette smoker, and was coming very close to experimenting with illegal drugs. Cassell was a junior and was highly respected throughout the school, very popular, and the President of the Marching Band, the pride of Northeast High School. I was, above all else, a lover of music, and a dedicated trombonist, so I could not resist the call of the band. The Northeast High School, Mighty Viking, Marching Band was known throughout Oklahoma as one of the finest show bands in the state, modeled after colleges such as Grambling and Florida A&M. A true "black" show band. Of the other 16 white students who came into the band as freshmen with me, all but 4 had dropped out by the end of the first semester. It either proved too much for them, too "different" for them, or, in many cases, too "frightening" for them. We white people have little or no experience being in the minority, and we usually don't do very well when we suddenly find ourselves in that situation. I, however, loved music too much to quit. I was determined to stick it out.
One Friday early in the second semester that year, Cassell asked me to take a walk with him around the track of the school's football field, just he and I. As we walked, Cassell talked and I listened. I knew it was an honor just to have him choose me to spend time with. He told me about the band, and our notorious director, Dr. Alvin Jernigan, a tough, creative, black, former marine. He explained to me how difficult it had been to keep white students in the band. He expressed appreciation for me, and most importantly he expressed respect for me for having stuck it out so far. He told me that he really wanted me to stay with the band. He said that he was highly impressed by not only my musicianship, but also my ability to stick it out in the face of difficult odds. He said that this showed that I had real true character. He also said that he was impressed by my sense of rhythm and ability to move, "for a white guy!" I took that as a very high compliment. I was elated; I can still remember the feeling I had throughout my entire body and soul hearing these kind and encouraging words from this guy that I respected so much. Then, suddenly, Cassell turned very serious, and stopped me there on the track where we stood and looked me in the eye. He said, "Greg, here's what bothers me about you... you don't act or carry yourself like the kind of guy I just described. You come to school looking like you just crawled out of bed, didn't shower, and put on whatever clothes you touched first. You smoke cigarettes and hang out with some guys of questionable character who are known to smoke weed and do other drugs. You mope around with your head hung, no smile on your face and no apparent joy and sense of destination. Greg, the way you look most of the time and act most of the time doesn't jive with the character I think is really there inside of you." He said, "Greg, I've heard the names those guys call you and what they mess with you about. But, man, they don't matter; and what they think about you doesn't matter either. You have to take responsibility for your life and decide whether you're going to listen to idiots like that and let them determine who you are, or whether you listen to the hope you know you have within you, and use the inner power that God gave you to rise above all that and be who God calls you to be." Then to drive it home to me he said, "I've heard from others that you're supposed to be a Christian. Aren't Christians supposed to live victoriously no matter what?! Listen to me, man, clean up your act and be the guy I see and that God sees! If you will do that, you will become a leader, and we really need white guys like you to lead."
Well, that weekend, I got a haircut; I started cleaning myself and doing all I could to look as good as I could. I threw out my cigarettes (I was never a real smoker anyway), and I actually started practicing walking with my head up and shoulders back and I rediscovered my natural smile. That talk changed everything for me! I decided then, and I've never turned back, that I would be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ and his true teachings and do what he actually demonstrated in his life, no matter where it took me. When the bigots would call me names and taunt me, I would just smile and ignore them. They didn't bother me anymore! You see, I had just connected for the very first time in my life, with someone I respected who had actually experienced more pain than I had ever dreamed of and was rising above it! I had experienced true solidarity with another "other." It was life-changing, no, it was world-changing for me!
I went on in my sophomore year to become the Band's first white low brass section leader. Then, in my junior year, I was elected by the Band as its first white Band President (Cassell's former role). Then, in my senior year, I was elected the first white Drum major, and not only that, but the first white Drum major of any historically black Marching Show Band, at least that we knew of. During that year I was approached by scouts offering potential scholarships in music to both Grambling University and Florida A&M, both of which were seeking to diversify their student bodies.
I know that many of you have to have stories like that. How you've chosen to rise above your pain. I also know that there are some of us who have even experienced pain caused by those we should find solidarity with. I don't know about you, but, tonight's wonderful victory has caused me to pause and recall the hope of something greater that is within each of us. I am so thankful. Aren't you? Thank you, God, for loving me and for not giving up on me no matter what. Thank you, Barak Obama, for rising above all your pain and suffering and clinging to that hope that is within you. Thank you, America, for continually proving to the world that hope always wins, eventually. Thank you, friends, and fellow "others," for allowing me to be part of your world and to help you to find hope. Thank you, Cassell Lawson, for caring enough to be honest, and in so doing, showing me the power of hope, and changing not only my life, but also the lives of the many "others" that Christ has touched through me!