Vivian East Point, GA

We left Georgia when I was still young. Because of the military I have lived all over the world, experienced other cultures, and learned in the process, how great America really is. Military is second to family and God for me. My father, Naval Officer Isaiah Clark, reminded us, “You know who you are.”

The military gave me the platform to become color blind in the USA. There were people, of course, that wanted to call me things I never identified with. I recall my mother saying, “Your daddy and I gave you a name and they are the ones with the problem if they are not smart enough to learn your name and dumb enough not to ask.” Having that strong family foundation empowered us to ignore any other name than the one we have been given by our parents. I was able to take that mindset to the University of Georgia, where I met my husband, and we, along with a few dozen black students raised banners boasting “To Hell With Dixie.” In 1970, there were 66 black students at UGA out of the 18,000 student body population. We became each other’s family. None of us were fearful at school because we had been admitted by our own merit. It was up to us to stay or leave.

Not every professor was ready for integration, so our academic adviser kept us abreast of which professors to avoid. We played spades with Stokely Carmichael when he came to Georgia to speak about Black Power. But ours was not a movement meant to separate people - we wanted to educate those who, through ignorance, saw us as inferior. We began thinking of ourselves as connected Americans, not just individuals. The message we wanted to communicate at UGA and every other place I have had the privilege to speak is that we are one people, united under the power of the Constitution. We might never have been able to integrate had the Constitution not been enforced. Those of us who have benefited from integration are now telling kids, “You can’t do this or do that because you’re black.” This is absolutely untrue, and my life is a testimony to that fact.

After writing the poem, “I Am An American” many years ago, and reciting it to many across the country, I have decided to put the poem in book form. I have used verse and illustrations to express my heartfelt feeling.

When we as citizens have questions or see disparages in our country, it is our civic duty to find answers that empower ourselves. You cannot believe everything you hear - I have been fighting the same battle since the first time I walked on the UGA campus. But today I fight a different kind of ignorance. We have grandparents raising children, parents on drugs or working double shifts trying to make ends meet, and young people with no direction in our communities. My father built us to rely on each other. Clinton said, it takes a village, but I say it takes a neighborhood.

That use to be the purpose of the church - to fill the gap left by the neighborhood or the family. We have to get back to that place because there are people out there being led by ignorance and it affects all of us. My heart is “I have, you need - I give.” That’s the way I was taught and I passed that along to my four children. It’s time we all start recognizing that we means you and me.

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