Human beings need to be appreciated

Published 10:22 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2017

It was Labor Day. I was laboring at my Selma office. The cell phone vibrated in my shirt pocket. I pulled it out and looked at the number. I did not recognize the number, so I decided not to answer. Then I thought it might be a Georgia number although not the well-known numbers in the Atlanta area. I then decided just as quickly to answer. I was so glad I answered.

“This is Grover Jackson,” the voice said. The voice hesitated as if to give me a chance to recognize the name. I didn’t even know how many Grovers I knew. I just could not immediately place Grover Jackson, so I went silent. After a moment or two, the voice said, “I’m Norma Jackson’s son.”  The mention of Norma Jackson brought it all back to me. I knew Grover Jackson very well, but I had not spoken with him in a couple of decades.

The voice continued,  “I know you and Mrs. Sanders get so many calls like this, but I just want to say it for myself. I just have to say it.” I immediately decided that he must want something. The voice continued, “I just called to tell you and Mrs. Sanders how much I appreciate all you did for me. You all made a great difference in my life, and I just want to say thank you.” I was so wrong about him wanting something. I didn’t apologize immediately, but I apologize now.

I remembered Grover clearly. I tried to recall what I might have done for him. I remembered that he got in some trouble many years ago, but got his life back on course. Grover said, “No matter what I did, you and Mrs. Sanders were there for me.” In my mind, I could see his smooth brown skin face that was still so young.

I remembered Grover mostly from 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement, which started in 1985. In the 32 ensuing years, thousands of youth leaders from all across the country have gone through the leadership program. These former youth leaders are now working all over the country with some working in foreign countries. Some of these 21st Century Youth Leaders are now in their forties. Twenty First Century, which the youth call 21C, started in Selma. The initial 21st Century Leadership Camp was held at Selma University. Faya Rose Toure was the moving force in starting and building 21st Century. Grover was one of thousands of youth that have gone through 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement over the years. But this was about more than 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement.

Grover reminded me: “I stayed at your home for a long time. So did many others. When I run into others who stayed at your home, we talk about how you all impacted our lives. It meant so much to us.”  I did not remember Grover staying at our home. I do know that thirty-some youth have stayed at our home over the years. This doesn’t include my three children by birth and four by foster relationship. My children by birth say it was a lot more than thirty some. I am sorry, but I do not remember the names of most of the children who stayed in our home.  However, I am glad that they appreciated it even if they do not say it to us. Grover was speaking for all of them.

I said: “Grover, I really appreciate what you have said, but I want to say two things: First, you are wrong that people call us all the time to express appreciation for our role in their lives. For your information, that hardly ever happens. Second, you need to call Faya Rose because she spent so much more time with you and the other young people. I just kind of helped out.” Grover said: “I have already called Mrs. Sanders but I could not get her. I really want to talk to her.” I told him to text Faya Rose and then call again. I wanted to make sure he talked with her because Grover had a critical message.

Grover’s mother, Norma Jackson, had given him my cell number. Norma Jackson was not one of the original founders of 21st Century back in 1985, but I know she has worked faithfully with 21C since the mid 90s and continues to do so to this day. I know that Dr. Carol P. Zippert of Greene County and Barbara Pitts of Lee County are two of the original founders who continue working with 21st Century to this very day. I hope Grover calls them as well. They also need to hear this appreciation for it is not easy to work with children for 32 years.

I have a tendency to diminish anything positive that people say about me. When I made statements that diminished my role in Grover’s life, he said, “It meant so much for me and other boys to have you as an example of a man to look to. It was also important for the girls to see your good example of a man. We all needed your example.” I quit trying to diminish his heartfelt words. I was being “something,” but I don’t know the word for it. My friend, Senator Vivian Figures, says I should quit deflecting appreciation and just say thank you. I am now saying, “Thank you, Grover.”

Let me tell you a little bit more about Grover. He grew up in Tuskegee and entered the Navy after his trouble.  He now lives in Georgia and has his own trucking business. He is 36 years of age and settled down with family. Grover is doing good, and that makes me happy. I am especially happy when I hear that a 21st Century Youth Leader is doing well.

Grover did talk with Faya Rose Toure. He expressed essentially the same words of appreciation he had shared with me. She was just so thankful and appreciative. It meant so much for her to hear from Grover. I know firsthand that she really took in any child who needed a home, and Grover was just one of them. I truly appreciate Grover’s phone call. It made my labor on Labor Day joyful. 

Human beings need to be appreciated. That is true of males and females, young and old, rich and poor. However, we don’t always know that we need appreciation. But when it comes, we know we needed it.