By Norma Adams-Wade
Are New Year’s resolutions still in order? Mine is a request and suggestion.
Could we, please, celebrate each other while we live? I’m weary of attending funerals of persons I thought I knew well. But after the praise comments begin, I learn more than I could ever have imagined about how great they were.
My request and suggestion: Let’s use our birthdays, literally, as our day of celebration – real celebration … like a Kennedy Center Honors Ceremony. You may have watched the December 4, 2022 CBS broadcast.
BIRTHDAY OR OBIT HONORS?
As it does each year, the Washington D. C. center presented a star-studded celebration applauding artistic achievers. This year, five artists — actor George Clooney, singer-songwriter Amy Grant, singer Gladys Knight, composer/conductor/educator Tania León, and the four-member rock band U2. Various other televised awards programs have variations of similar ideas – the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, and even White House Presidential honors including the Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal.
A Center press release quoted Kennedy Center president Deborah F. Rutter as saying that many past honorees describe the Center honors as “ the pinnacle of awards because it recognizes…an artist’s cumulative body of work and influence over many decades.” I was just thinking… That pretty much describes the rebooted obit-turned-Birthday Flower Ceremony I envision for each person beginning this year.
Even the nonprofit The HistoryMakers[cq digital oral history archives has set a similar mold. Harvard-educated lawyer Julieanna Richardson of Chicago can be lauded for founding the archive 23 years ago as a tool by which researchers and students may learn about unheralded African-American achievers who have climbed heights, out of the spotlight, in their various careers.
There is a classic gospel song “Give Me My Flowers” sung by James Cleveland and others. Unfortunately, the lyrics author could not be substantiated; a message in itself about not valuing someone’s contribution that ultimately is lost in time. But here is the lyric’s poignant yet clearcut message.
Give me my flowers while I yet live
so that I can see the beauty that they bring.
Speak kind words to me while I can hear them.
So that I can hear the comfort that they bring.
Friends and loved ones may give me flowers
when I’m sick or on my sick bed.
But I’d rather have just one tulip right now
than a blanket full of roses when I’m dead.
LEGACIES LEFT IN 2022
As a reminder, here is a sampling of some the hundreds of noted individuals who left us in 2022, likely adorned with many flowers: Queen Elizabeth of great Britain; actors Sidney Poitier, Bob Saget and Angela Lansbury; American Indian Movement founder Clyde Bellecourt ; songstresses Loretta Lynn, Olivia Newton-John, and Naomi Judd; Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, Stat Trek’s Nichelle Nichols; sports stars Pelé and Bill Russell; Autherine Lucy Foster who was the first Black student at Alabama University, Pope Benedict XVI; trailblazing broadcasters Barbara Walters and Gloria Rojas; pastor of historian Abyssinian Baptist Church, Rev. Calvin O. Butts III; Dr. Donald Pinkel who developed a childhood leukemia cure, and Brent Renaud, an American journalist killed while reporting in Ukraine.
Then there are persons like the controversial Albert Woodfox. He was part of the three-man group Angola 3 and died this year of COVID-19 complications. He made his life memorable by doggedly surviving nearly 44 years in solitary confinement –said to be the longest solitary in U. S. history – at the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, LA. Prosecutors said he was a former Black Panther and convicted of the 1972 murder of corrections officer Brent Miller.
Woodfox reportedly made positive changes while in prison, properly counseled other prisoners during 1-hour daily release from his confined cell, and always maintained his innocence. Amnesty International investigated his many claims of inhumane treatment and finally orchestrated a deal and lesser charge. He was released in 2016 and died in August 2022 at age 75.
Under a Birthday Honor/obit reboot, what tributes do we give Woodfox? His distinction is surviving over more than four decades in solitary, while uselessly claiming inhumane treatment. No easy answers there.
FLOWER CEREMONY SCRIPT
Still, the Birthday Flower Ceremony script – pretty much the same as a funeral program — remains for the New Year. There’s an opening scripture, pray — if your faith allows it — and song. Then the tributes begin. The difference is that the person that you are lauding is sitting there very much alive in front of you, proudly grinning at the speaker instead of lying cold and unknowing in a casket.
The only tears are tears of gratitude and joy. After their comments, each speaking presents a beautiful bouquet, flower arrangement, or single rose to the birthday person. When all comments are done, the honoree gives remarks. Either a dinner or reception will follow with a photographer capturing the revelry.
So, that’s it. Let’s begin our New Year in this new way. Flowers BEFORE dying. Not “a blanket full of roses when I dead.”
Norma Adams-Wade, is a proud Dallas native, University of Texas at Austin journalism graduate and retired Dallas Morning News senior staff writer. She is a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists and was its first southwest regional director. She became The News’ first Black full-time reporter in 1974. firstname.lastname@example.org