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Monday, February 22, 2016

The world she fought for


Ellamae Simmons, age 9

That was her school picture, taken in 1927. A version of that photograph is being used on the cover of her book, Overcome: My Life in Pursuit of A Dream, which will be published in just a few more weeks. I love this photo of Dr. Ellamae Simmons as a schoolgirl. She looks so confident and open to the world. Her best friend in tiny Mount Vernon, Ohio hadn't yet told her that she couldn't play with her anymore because her mother didn't want her playing with coloreds. That was still two years in her future.

The thing I love most about Ellamae, now on the verge of 98 years old, is she didn't ever become bitter. Or lost. Or defeated. She refused to curl up in a corner, licking her wounds, no matter how justified she might have been. After graduating her mostly white high school with a 96 percent average, she was expected to become a domestic in a white family's home. That was the horizon for black girls in her time and place. But Ellamae yearned to study medicine, and she set about creating a world that would enable her—and others like her—to do just that. Her life wasn't easy. But she refused to believe she wasn't worth the fullness of her talents and her dreams. And somehow, there was always that dancing light in her eyes. Everyone I interviewed to write her life story spoke of it. She humbles and inspires me.

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In other news, Donald Trump is starting to seem unstoppable, taking all the delegates in the South Carolina primary on Saturday. I saw the movie Race this weekend, about Jesse Owens' triumph at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (Jesse Owens, by the way, has a cameo in Dr. Simmons' story). I was chilled by the scenes with the Nazis, the malevolence and hate, and the stadium-wide straight-armed salute. Interestingly, the photo that many news organizations ran with the story of Trump's South Carolina win was of him at the podium apparently giving the same straight-armed salute. Maybe the camera just caught him mid-wave, and the news outlets decided the image went quite well with his rhetoric.

An op ed in The Washington Post this morning captured my feelings about this moment almost entirely. Titled We Must Stop Trump, it argues that we are at a crossroads, and we cannot afford inertia. Trump is a buffoon and a clown, yes, but he's also dangerous. I swear, he makes Jeb Bush look like a statesman. I think Jeb, who was the first to take on Trump, understood that they need to reduce the field, stop splitting votes. Don't get me wrong: I'm not a fan of any of the Bushes, but there was a decency about Jeb, especially juxtaposed with Trump, Cruz and Rubio. I'm actually sorry to see him go. 

They say what you focus on multiplies, so I'm going to focus on the courage and resilience of citizens like Dr. Ellamae Simmons, and I'm going to focus on Trump's appeal to the forces of hate shriveling in the glare of a nation willing to shake off the stupor, willing to stop laughing ruefully at the reality star who smears Mexicans, Muslims, black people, brown people, everyone who is not physically like him, with the broad brush of hatred and contempt. Hell, there's even a verb for it now—to otherize.

You can read The Washington Post piece by Danielle Allen here.





14 comments:

  1. What an incredibly powerful article! Thank you so much for sharing it.
    On another note, will Dr. Simmons' book be available on Amazon? Kindle? I'd like to read it first, but it sounds like just the right book to share with the remarkable young woman who does my blood work every week. She's an avid reader and we share book titles on a regular basis. I'd like to buy her a copy.
    Thanks for everything.

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    Replies
    1. Jan, the book will be available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other retail outlets in hardcover, and subsequently in paperback and ebook formats. I will let you know here when it is published. Thank you!

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  2. I may be naive, but I CANNOT believe that Americans would elect Donald Trump. I also can't imagine that Hillary Clinton couldn't win against him -- she may have weaknesses, but I think the vast majority of moderate voters would choose her over Trump. I just can't believe that he could win.

    I think the Hitler analogy is interesting, though.

    I strenuously disagree with the columnist's assertion that the media should not report Trump's controversial, hateful comments. It is the media's job to report what he says; if voters respond to those comments, that's a deeper problem.

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    1. Steve, I totally agree with you that the press SHOULD cover the outrageous things Trump says. We definitely need to know who we're dealing with. That's why I said the piece almost fully captures my thoughts. I also don't agree that Cruz or Rubio are much better. It's a choice between nativist hot headed megalomaniac, cold steely brutalist, and shape shifting charlatan as far as I can see. Give me Hillary, flawed as she might be, any day. You know, I like that Hillary is tough. In this environment, tough is needed.

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  3. My husband and I were discussing Trump this weekend and have decided that we won't likely visit the U.S. if he gets in. He has so much hate and I find him and his ideas terrifying. He will have the ability to start WW 3. But the question remains. How can this man be stopped? And if he doesn't get in what is stopping him from running again in 4 years. He has the funds.

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    1. Birdie, my only hope in the event of a Trump win is that he'd be too bored to really take on the obstructionist congress.

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  4. Oh, I love that look on Dr Simmon's face; what a wonderful portrait of the innocent confidence of a nine year old girl!

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  5. I don't need to read The Washington Post to know that I am sick by what is happening in this country. The reality show clown can't find a way to shoot himself in the foot enough to wake up the zombies who are mindlessly following him. If calling all Latinos rapist and murders wasn't enough, claiming he could shoot someone in the head and get away with it should have been. It seems that the only thing he hasn't been able to fail at, at least once, is showing his followers what a fool he is. Right now, I really fear for this country.

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  6. "Otherize." Yes. That is it exactly and simply.
    I can't even begin to say how I feel about the popularity of Donald Trump. There is NO WAY to look at this situation and find anything at all to explain it except pure hate, fear, ignorance and anger. All of the things that your Dr. Simmons fought against her whole life, I am certain.
    I don't know. It just makes me feel so horrible to think that this many American citizens are so fucked up. I'm sorry, but that's how it is.
    And how DO we stop him? It is just frightening that he's not been stopped yet.

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  7. She is a light in this world, and I am so proud of you!

    I'm not going to comment on that awful man. You said everything I feel.

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  8. That is an excellent piece in The Washington Post. It occurs to me that maybe those who make their living by writing could create an onslaught of articles like this to counter Trump's lies and hatred and stupidity, using repetition of what is right and good as a push back against the repetition that Trump is using to spread his dismaying dirt and convince people he should be elected.

    Regarding Dr. Simmons' book, please do let us know when and where we can find it. And what the best way is to buy it, so that the most money ends up in the hands that deserve it.

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  9. Interesting that Dr. Simmonds and Trump appear in the same post as one is the complete antithesis of the other. She looks older than nine in that photo, something about the eyes...As for Trump, you have articulated my feelings and fears brilliantly...

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  10. Anything is better to focus on than... that man.

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  11. Can't wait for the book. Can't wait for the Trump nightmare to end. Thank you for linking to the Post article. I was just quoting it at Elizabeth's page.
    Please, somebody stop the madness.
    xo

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