It’s Black History Month. Let’s celebrate and commemorate all those folks who pushed or pulled us onto a path of freedom and equality.
I caught the #201 bus at the Howard Street station. I must say the bus driver was a CTA wonder. He was polite, considerate and patient. When passengers greeted him, he returned their greetings pleasantly. And when he picked up senior citizens or those physically challenged, he waited until they were seated rather than pulling off and knocking them to the floor as some drivers do. A couple got on the bus, and I gave the man a second look. He was unshaven and missing most of his front teeth and, judging from the way he dragged one leg as he walked with a cane, he had suffered a stroke. The couple sat down on the “priority” seats up front.
At the corner of Custer Street, the bus picked up two African-American women, who came on board most animatedly as they greeted, laughed and talked to the bus driver and the couple up front. They all seemed to know one another.
One of the two women came up the aisle toward me and greeted me with a lively, “Good morning, pretty lady.” Wow. That took me by surprise, but it certainly brightened my day. I returned her greeting with an ear-to-ear smile and asked how she was. “I’m just fine, thank you, just fine,” she replied as she sat down behind me. I felt I had known her forever.
The other woman sat down a few seats from the couple up-front. The couple and these two women continued to converse with each other in a familiar, caring black-people-I-grew-up-with fashion. I was flooded with warm memories of all those black people I loved, and who loved me.
As the bus approached Ridge and Oakton, the woman in the front got up to exit. She threw kisses to the woman behind me and told her she would talk to her that evening. She told me to have a blessed day, and I waved and told her goodbye in response. She stopped to hug the couple up-front before grabbing the pole near the door. As the doors of the bus opened, she told the bus driver how glad she was to see him and wished him a good day. She stepped off the bus, but her warmth remained.
As the bus pulled off, the woman behind me said: “That woman has been through a lot. There was a time she was homeless. I had her come stay with me. She’s a precious soul. I just love her. She’s doing all right now; she’s doing all right. With the Lord’s kind mercy, she’s doing all right.”
I turned to the woman and smiled. “Thank goodness there are people like you, who help others get over when they’re filled with despair.” The woman looked at me and smiled. She filled me with her grace.
“How I got over, How I got over, My soul looks back and wonders
How I got over.” — from an African-American spiritual by Clara Ward.
“It is a fool who does not love himself and his people.” — Elijah Muhammad (African-American; 1897-1975; American religious leader).