Sunday, June 7, 2020

Difficult days...gentler ways...André Thomas

Dr. André Thomas, Me, Dr. Allen Hightower

In the above photo, you see two men who have served as my choir directors in my lifetime. While at FSU, I sang with André Thomas, and I sang in Allen Hightower's church choir in Waco, Texas. Both men are incredible musicians, and I was constantly inspired to be a better musician, choir member, choral singer, and yes...a better person.  It was a privilege to sing for both of these wonderful men. They both are extraordinary musicians and people.

This week, my thoughts have been on the contributions to my life by André Thomas regarding  inclusiveness, awareness of racial inequalities, and openness to dialogue. This has been a tough week for many, but most of all, for the family of George Floyd. With Floyd's death has come renewed visibility and protest of racial discrimination, along with a renewed commitment to ensure that justice and change come about soon. Thank God for cell phones and videos, as citizens are now able to document acts of violence, injustice, and racism in our society so that evidence exists. It is time for these horrible acts of injustice to end. It's easy....just STOP. These acts have never accomplished one good thing. I've noticed over my lifetime that anything that emanates from a place of hatred and bigotry works that way. It is bad in every way, so it must STOP. There is no need for hatred. There is no place for hate.

When I look at my friend André in the above photo, the timing of the photo was only a few months after my husband's death. We took photos, because in his words, "Portia needs to know that you are okay." Portia Thomas is André's wife, whom I consider a dear friend as well. André and Portia care about me and my well-being. We have been in touch with each other throughout our lives, each cheering the other on in every way possible. André and Portia know I am always "for" them, and I know the same good wishes are there for me as well.

When I look in my Bible, I find a letter André wrote me a couple of days before I had some serious skin cancer surgery several years ago....back in the 90s. Why don't I take it out of my Bible? I really don't know, but it comforts me to this day to remember the kindness of my friend. He was busily conducting Texas All-State,  but he went back to his hotel room and wrote a comforting letter to me. He is for me in every good aspect of my well-being.

In a private conversation during my doctoral years, Dr. Thomas discussed with me the fact that someone is unable to understand the effects of racism in our society, unless one has walked in the shoes of those on the receiving end of such. Isn't that interesting? As an educator, I have a need to understand. As a choral director, conducting African-American spirituals, I want to understand how one would feel to sing these songs as an African-American, but I will never know...because I am not an African-American. I will never know. It is sobering to realize that fact. have I proceeded? First, I acknowledge that fact. Then...I do whatever I am able to do to make a difference in my corner of the world. Sometimes progress begins with a conversation. This week, I have called, texted, and emailed African-American friends from Jacksonville to Los Angeles. One of the things that the situation this week has made incredibly clear to me is that silence must not be the response from the Anglo community. We don't know what to say, so we say nothing! No wonder our brothers and sisters are thinking their lives don't matter at all! We do not say anything! We just let it "play out." Really? That is not the way I was treated by Dr. Thomas.

This week has made me commit in a huge way to the fact that I will not be silentWhen injustice is present, I will not be silent. It will not happen. We are in this together with our brothers and sisters, and the truth is that my friend André Thomas has never stayed silent when I needed him. He was there. He was supportive. He listened with the most gentle tone in his voice, and he often encouraged me to think about a new way, a new day, a new beginning. Dr. Thomas has done this one person at a time, and I am certain that hundreds of choral singers in this world have unique stories to tell of his kind benevolence.

We give thanks for all of those teachers in our lives who taught us more than notes, rhythms, expressive elements, historical facts, stylistic elements. We give thanks for those teachers who cared enough about us to help us become better human beings. They teach us how to love and care, simply by demonstrating gentle kindness.

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