It’s Jan.20, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The college is closed, so I go down to the local YWCA. I’ve been wanting to hear what John Titus has to say. His daughter, Alicia Nicole Titus (June 11, 1973- Sept. 11, 2001), was a flight attendant on United Airlines Flight 175 in the terrorist attack on the New York City World Trade Center Towers.
I scribbled words on the teal-blue program as John and his wife Bev, Alicia’s mother, spoke of the day their daughter died, that other day which lives in infamy: “Life became insufferable,” grief is a desolate journey,” “God on high, hear my prayer,” “murder,” “night devoid of stars,” and “ revenge or justice.”
I stare at the beautiful blonde-haired girl with the big smile and the bright eyes featured in a brochure as John says, “She totally opposed violence, hate, prejudice, killing or any unkind act against another living thing. Her true nature and human existence were totally opposite of the evil forces that took her life.”
He tells us that when he and his wife went to San Francisco to retrieve Alicia’s belongings, they found the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi on her night stand: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”
Before the ceremony, I had introduced myself to John, trying to place him among all those students I taught at Urbana University when I was a young professor. There were several others in that standing-room-only crowd whom I greeted before and after the event, getting and giving warm hugs and knowing that I was in a good place on a special day.
On Tuesday, I was back in my American literature classes discussing African American voices to groups of all-white students. I found myself telling them how blessed I was to have African American voices in my life: Osam Williams’ sons, Norman and Sonny, as playmates on Parker Street in Cumberland; of my memories of their sister, Jewel, teaching me the fine art of blowing bubbles; and of their mother bringing baskets of clothes, starched and ironed to perfection, to my grandmother’s house.
I didn’t mention it to them, but I was thinking also of our class president Jerry Harvey at Woodward High School in Toledo and of my best male friend in that same school, Keith Eubanks, who died as a young man after exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
And my list goes on of African Americans who have entered my life and given me special gifts: Carolyn Sundy at Southeast Community College, Laura Shepherd and Marvenia Hill Bosley at Urbana College, Susan Moore-Fontenot at Lee College, Regina Stanback-Stroud at Rancho Santiago College.
Neither did I tell them about going to the Memphis hotel with Parker Boggs and Cathy Creech Whitson where Dr. King was murdered, before it became a museum.
In my classes next week we will study MLK’s most famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” As we view the new King monument and watch the video of the speech, my hope is that my students will be as fortunate as I have been to have diverse individuals who come into their lives and leave footprints on their hearts.
I, however, have no hope for peace in this world even as I endorse Dr. King’s words “Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”
Peace comes only as we invite it into our lives, into our families, and into our communities. We should dialogue with civility about our differences and acknowledge that cooperation, collaboration and compromise are cornerstones of our lives as we struggle with those differences. To John and Bev Titus, I wish you acceptance and peace. To Alicia, may you rest in peace.
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