I would like to dedicate this column, during Black History Month, to the idea of hope for the future. It has been stated:
“Each time a man stands for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope”—Robert Francis Kennedy.
“The prophet of despair gains a shouting audience. But one who speaks from hope will be heard long after the noise dies down”—John LaFarge, American Roman Catholic priest.
Several years ago, after speaking with a group of men who were incarcerated on Riker’s Island, I received a letter from an inmate that stirred my imagination of hope. The letter is as follows:
Dear Dr. Deas,
Please accept this intrusion upon your busy schedule as brief, yet, sincere reminder that your invaluable contribution to the enlightenment and uplifting of spirits is, and has been most appreciated. Speaking for myself, as well as countless others who have benefited your precious gifts of wisdom and time, thank you, thank you a thousand times thank you.
There is no finer gesture of “hope” and good will that could possibly be extended to those of us here at Riker’s Island than to have people of your stature invest their time and compassion to tear down the false barriers of alienation and indifference. My feelings about your February 1991 visit to C-76 can be expressed by this cut-out from an article I wrote after having experienced your presentation. I hope you like it.
There is so much I wish to discuss with you, but for the sake of brevity, I will just enclose what was to be my latest article project for the Riker’s Island Review. However I believe that with your concurrence and assistance, it (the article) might find its way to a better, more proper form. Time is of essence!
[Here is the article he enclosed:]
Gerald Deas, more that capably and earnestly lit the ignition on many of our misinformed minds and hearts.
When he displayed an actual set of manacles that probably held the legs or arms of one of our fore parents, my stomach involuntarily tightened with a subconscious rage, balanced and soothed only by my awareness of being consciously here and relatively free of them being presently placed on me. It lasted for just a fleeting moment, but the rage mixed with recognition and dread, was nevertheless present and all too real. His analogy of the evolution of those shackles to their current and equally real symbolic fitting on our collective minds, was not subtle, but harsh reality, as his captive audience chilled at the knowing irony of his message. The whole session (or lesson) was not lost in conveying the most timely and thought provoking stimulus that is all too necessary and all too lacking as ingredients to our starving and undernourished spiritual appetites.
Dr. Deas poetry, as well as his commentary on other poets and distinguished black personalities, mixed beautifully in his spinning of the spiritual and ethnic web we were all momentarily, yet emotionally caught up on. Time passed of its own accord and it was all over, too soon after it began. Yet, the message remained and hopefully, the lamp was lit so that those of us so fortunate to be present might be able to illumine for others the heart and soul of the message. “The analogy of the frog “ and “I think, therefore I am,” were spine tingling, like buckets of cold water thrown suddenly in our faces. Lest We Forget!
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