Community celebrations are powerful

Published 10:38 pm Tuesday, March 29, 2016

By Hank Sanders

Sanders represents Dallas County in the Alabama Senate.

It was truly a celebration; a beautiful celebration; a powerful celebration; a moving celebration. It was the celebration of publication of 1500 straight Senate Sketches. It was so profoundly moving and meaningful that I have to share a sketch of the moment.

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The celebration commenced with heartfelt singing of “Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on Sketches” and “This little light (Sketches) of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” From the very beginning the singing locked into my emotions and touched my spirit. The celebration continued with prayer by Rev. Leodis Strong, Pastor of Selma’s Brown Chapel AME Church. His spirit filled words infused the moment. I was so thankful.

Dr. Carol P. Zippert, co-publisher of the Greene County Democrat, who facilitated the program, also did the “Why We Gather,” another phrase for the occasion. Carol was not scheduled to do the occasion but she extemporaneously lifted the moment with profound understanding encased in poetic expressions. I was so thankful.

There was more singing as we ate a tasty meal with cake for dessert that was so moist it melted in your mouth. I think the song was, “I Won’t Complain.” Latasha Brown of Selma sang with feeling and meaning. I connected to the words and the power of her voice. I was so thankful.

Excuse me, but I must detour from the program narrative to share my lurking concern. I am always uncomfortable when I am honored. I usually want to escape. Therefore, I was waiting deep inside for that familiar but uncomfortable feeling to seize me. It never came. I was thankful.

Let’s return to the program narrative. Two youthful leaders read their favorite Sketches. Alphonzo Morton, III of Greene County read, The Difference Between Men and Boys. Shatavia Portis, a youth leader from Wilcox County, read a Sketches extolling the Twenty First Century Youth Leadership Movement. It was powerful. I was thankful.

Several leaders addressed the topic, What Senate Sketches Means To Me And The Community. John Zippert, co-publisher of the Greene County Democrat, led off. The Democrat has published all 1500 Sketches in full. His words were filled with the history of Sketches and its impact over these 29 years. He shared a special appreciation for the Daily Diary. He was followed by Dave White, a former reporter for The Birmingham News and current Senior Health Policy Advisor for Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley. Dave was very analytical and insightful as he discussed Sketches from a writer’s point of view.

Then came Judge John England of Tuscaloosa who shared he uses Sketches in speeches and the Daily Diary to inspire him to walk even when he does not feel like it. All three presentations were enlightening and lifting. I was so thankful.

Another Sketches was read by Dr. Daniel Boyd, superintendent of the Lowndes County School System. He read A Big Business Wants To Come To Alabama. This Sketches has a twist, but it does not come until the very end when it is revealed that the big business is expansion of Medicaid. I was so thankful.

The pace quickened with the Sketches Rap, “It Started With One And Now It’s 1,500.” It was written by my dear wife, Faya Rose Toure. The entire audience joined in the rapping refrain. My grandchildren were really into the rap. I can’t rap at all but I joined in as well. I was caught up in the moment. I was thankful.

More singing followed. Twenty First Century youth leaders sang, “I Will Not Violate Your Dignity And I Will Not Compromise Mine.” They also sang, “I Am A Leader, I Am A Leader, What Shall I Give?” The singing filled the room, enveloping all of us. I was thankful.

Scott Douglas of Greater Birmingham Ministries, read An Open Letter To Mr. Charles Barkley, which went super viral over the world wide web. It responds to Barkley’s allegations that “slavery was not so bad” and “he was tired of people bringing up slavery.” I was so thankful.

There was more singing in the Senate Sketches Skit. The skit involves two women in dialogue, one very proud to read Sketches and another scared to be associated with Sketches. One woman, Yomi Goodall, sang, “You Can’t Win The Game From The Sidelines.”

The skit closed with the other woman, Catrena Norris Carter, singing, God is Not Pleased With Me. At the end she said, “Senator Sanders, I believe God is pleased with you.” I was thankful.

Sharon Wheeler stood in for her mother, Carolyn Wheeler. She read a Sketches that eulogized Kirk Wheeler, her mother’s husband and her father. It was deeply moving. Sen. Vivian Figures closed out with a Sketches reading that revealed Faya Rose’s and my fighting for voting rights over 45 years. It was a powerful reading. I was so thankful.

There was more singing. Sarah “Cookie” Jones sang, Every Now and Then, God Sends Down A Special Child. She ended by saying, “Senator Sanders, you are a special child.” I fought back tears. I was thankful.

In my closing remarks, I expressed my deeply felt thanks to those who organized the celebration; to all who came; to all who participated in the program; to the Greene County Democrat for publishing all 1,500 Sketches in full; to my various assistants who helped with Sketches over the years. But that was not the closing because there were presentations of awards and resolutions and gifts. The most notable gift came from Kay Doherty of Braintree, Massachusetts, in the form of a donation for a non-profit of my choice. I am donating it to the Selma Center for Non-violence. These presentations were followed by a fun filled auction of autographed Sketches. It was truly a great celebration. So much so that I did not even think about getting away. In fact, I stayed on even after the program was over. The evening ended with a toast of bubbling grape juice. I was just so thankful.

Community celebrations are powerful. They call upon members of the community to lift up others before the community. It’s a community lifting and validation.

I never feel that I deserve such a celebration, but I accept them in thanks. I joined in this celebration.