I spent some time with Meems' BFF, Leonard, last week. As we were driving to his appointment with his eye doctor, he turned to me and asked, "Who's your city councilman?" I ain't gonna lie. I had no idea. "Well, what district are you in?" Again, crickets. "I'm in District 5, and my representative is Karen Gibson. She's very nice. I think that she's doing a good job."
Wait. He knows her?
Why would I even give it a second thought? The man has met four presidents and Martin Luther King, Jr. When he told me that he had attended a Lubbock city council meeting and met Ms. Gibson, I was not surprised.
Later, I googled the district map for Lubbock. Alan and I are also in District 5 which is a good thing because Leonard has our backs when it comes to communicating with our councilwoman, KGib.
Leonard is an activist. If you haven't read "The Man Who Stands," you might want to take a minute to do so. If he could find transportation, this 91-year-old would attend every citywide PTA meeting, city counsel meeting, water board meeting and planning and zoning meeting. It's important to him to be a good citizen.
From time to time, he tells me stories about his past. The story I'm about to tell you has haunted my heart. It makes me angry. It helps me understand why he continues to be plugged in to civic duty.
Leonard served in the Navy during WW2 in the Pacific Theatre. On August 6, 1945 at 8:15AM, the Enola Gay flew over Hiroshima and a bomb nicknamed "Little Boy" was dropped down with a parachute. That very morning, Leonard's ship lay at anchor in the dark waters off the coast of Japan ready to invade. After Little Boy destroyed the city, a message was sent to the US ships telling them to stay put. They waited. Three days later, "Fat Man" was dropped over Nagasaki. Leonard's ship was commanded to turn around and head back to the base in the Philippines. Leonard says that if the US troops had invaded Japan, he would not be here in Lubbock, Texas today.
In 1946, Leonard was honorably discharged from the Navy in Norfolk, VA. The Navy gave him a small stipend for a bus ticket back home to Roanoke, VA, and, perhaps, a meal or two. Eager to see his family after being away for two years, he hot-footed it over to the bus terminal. Alas, the tired soldier missed the day's last bus to Roanoke. Leonard would not be able to travel the 250 miles home until morning.
I cannot even imagine the disappointment he must have felt. For weeks he had been dreaming of his warm bed at home and his mother's fried pork chops and creamy homemade ice cream. Standing between him and the comforts of home was an unforgiving bus timetable.
There was a hotel a few steps from the bus station. With no option of returning to the base for the night, Leonard, exhausted and disappointed, decided to seek refuge at the hotel. He walked into the lobby and up to the check-in counter to inquire about the availability of a room for the night. He was turned away.
Not for you.
Honorably-discharged-Leonard still wearing his Naval uniform was denied a room because he was a black man. He was a black man who had served his country proudly. He could sit in the belly of a combat ship in the Sea of Japan waiting to march into the belly of the beast, but he could not sleep in a comfortable bed in the hotel next to the bus terminal in Norfolk, Virginia.
Not for you.
Leonard turned from the counter and slowly walked back out to the sidewalk. He couldn't return to the base. He had no place to go. Except back to the bus station. It was there that he spent the night on a cold, hard bench in the bus station with fluorescent lights glaring down from above.
"That was the only time I cried during World War II."
Before I knew Leonard, MLK Day had simply meant that my husband had a 3-day holiday in January. The year Dr. King was assassinated, I was eleven-years-old, and my world was round and happy. I played with Barbies and my belief in Santa Claus was still teetering back and forth. Leonard, on the other hand, was part of the Civil Rights Movement serving in various leadership positions in the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP.
He took a stand. He spoke up. He marched.
Because it was important.
Leonard, because of you, I have two new heroes.
Dr. Martin Luther King, and you, my friend.