RIP: You Beautiful Sister

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"It is not heroin or cocaine that makes one an addict, it is the need to escape from a harsh reality," Shirley Chisholm once said ever so insightfully of the escalating drug problem. As a product of the 'hood, she knew firsthand how easily life there could grind up first a child's potential, then dreams, then future. Back then, the mainstream media conspired to marginalize Chisholm

Simply stated, Shirley Chisholm arrived ahead of her time. Regrettably, she came of age in 1968, in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, a turbulent era when most African Americans my age were angry, discontent, desperate and contemplating armed revolution. I was only 15 when Chisholm became the first Black woman ever elected to Congress. And I am half-ashamed to admit that even though my father recognized her value and had the sense to work with her, I was more attracted to the macho Black leaders of the day I could only see on TV.
Back then, the mainstream media conspired to marginalize Shirley, setting her up as an easy target to be caricatured without ever really taking her ideas seriously. Yet, the press daily relayed the suicidal messages of firebrands like Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown and the Black Panthers with an unearned reverence, as though they were supplying more of the answers than that very intelligent, well-spoken little lady with a clipped West Indian accent.

Note that none of those radical rabble rousers I admired ever ran for office or was able to establish practical programs to help alleviate the dire conditions in the ghetto. By contrast, Chisholm was elected seven times to represent the district where she was born in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant, until she decided to retire after 14 years. When not advocating on their behalf in Washington, she could always be found among her constituents, proof of her undying commitment to her people.

Most people of very humble origin tend to abandon their roots at the first opportunity to escape. Not Shirley. Her dad had been a union organizer, and he instilled in his daughter, at an early age, a lifelong loyalty to the  disadvantaged. As a result, she would toil tirelessly and selflessly alongside anyone sharing that dedication, never blaming society’s victims for their plight.

"It is not heroin or cocaine that makes one an addict, it is the need to escape from a harsh reality," she once said ever so insightfully of the escalating drug problem. As a product of the 'hood, she knew firsthand how easily life there could grind up first a child's potential, then dreams, then future. And as a graduate in education of both Brooklyn College and Columbia University, she also knew never to give up on the next generation.

So, as we all mourn Shirley Chisholm's passing, I pray that her legacy be revised and upgraded to a status more in line with the contributions she made while on this Earth. For her was a brilliant, beautiful woman, so woefully unappreciated in her day. Sister Shirley, rest in peace.

Black Star columnist Lloyd Kam Williams, Jr. is a member of the NJ, NY, CT, PA, MA & US Supreme Court bars.

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