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Inspired by MLK to make difference through love: Clara Ester

NASHVILLE PRIDE — That day at the Lorraine Motel shaped her ministry.

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By Joe Lovino

“I have come to grips many, many, many years ago that only through love can we make a difference,” said United Methodist deaconess Clara Ester.

“We can actually change things if we love.”

Ester learned this important lesson from the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

“Love takes a lot of effort and work,” Ester said, “but that’s the way God wants us to go, and that was the life that Dr. King led.”

“Being clergy he knew the importance of love,” Ester said, “and he wanted to deal with major issues and concerns that people were going through in a justice way. But he did it through love and nonviolence. That was his life.”

Growing up in Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church in Memphis, Tennessee, then pastored by civil rights leader Rev. James Lawson, Ester saw a connection between King and her faith.

“He led the life and stood up for things like Jesus did when he was on earth,” she said. “The marginalized people were the people Jesus hung out with. People that were not your favorite folks to be around were folks you found Jesus with. Dr. King stood up and spoke out for the same marginalized people. He tried to change structures that would make that world better.”

Ester hadn’t always seen things that way. “I had a lot of hate within me when I saw how people could be treated,” she said. Love and nonviolence seemed a slow way to affect change.

“I was a junior in college,” Ester said. “I heard both sides. But being young, 19 or 20 years old, I wanted everything to end as rapidly as possible.”

On the evening of April 4, 1968, things changed. Ester had just arrived at the Lorraine Motel when King came out of his room and started talking to people in the parking lot. A shot rang out. King’s assassination was a turning point for Ester.

“Witnessing his death, seeing him on that balcony, hearing him the night before say: ‘I may not get there with you, but we as a people will make it to the Promised Land.’ Recognizing more and more about his commitment to the nonviolent process. There was something about being over his body that said, ‘You need to change your hate. You need to love.’”

Reflecting on the call to love our neighbors, Ester references Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan where a man is mugged and left by the side of the road (Luke 10:25-37). Two religious leaders approach, and Jesus’ first listeners would have expected them to be the people to do something—but they each cross the street to avoid the injured man. The third person who comes down the road is a Samaritan.

This is not the person anyone would have expected to help out. The gospel of John tells us “Jews and Samaritans didn’t associate with each other” (John 4:9). Yet in Jesus’ story the Samaritan goes to extraordinary lengths to care for this stranger.

After concluding the parable, Jesus tells those who’ve head the story, “Go and do likewise.” On the balcony that day, Ester heard that same call.

“Witnessing his death made me recognize that I had a responsibility not to ever step over anybody, or walk on the other side of the road. If there were people that I was aware of on the path that I was going, I had a God-assigned responsibility to reach out and try to help make their world better.

“That’s where we all should be. If we all did that through love and compassion, we would be living in a greater society than we live in today.”

Immediately following King’s assassination, Ester left college. She went to Marks, Mississippi to work on the second Poor People’s Campaign, a march from Mississippi to Washington, D.C. planned by King. Marks was chosen because it was considered “the poorest town in the poorest county of the poorest state in the nation” (Mississippi Stories).

Later, Ester would return to school and finish her degree. She served as a deaconess in The United Methodist Church, working for people in need throughout her career. In 2006, she retired as executive director of Dumas Wesley Community Center, a mission institution in Mobile, Alabama supported by the United Methodist Women. Today Ester serves as national vice president of the United Methodist Women.

That day at the Lorraine Motel shaped her ministry.

“This man was willing to love until this moment when a bullet took his life. He was willing to work and stand up and fight in a nonviolent way,” she said. “That was the least that I could do.

“After that, it was strictly nothing but, ‘What can I do to help somebody else? What can I do to make life better? What can I do or what can I give to change the narrative of what’s taking place in this person’s life today?’ It was a turning point in my personal life for me to reflect on the direction I could have been in, and the direction I needed to go.”

This article originally appeared in the Nashville Pride.

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Black History

Arthur Bertram Cuthbert Walker II: A Space Science Inspiration for Generations

For young Arthur Bertram Cuthbert Walker II (1936–2001), the only love in his future was science. Born in Cleveland, his family relocated to Bronx, NY. It was there that he, with the support of his parents, would begin studying what would direct his future.
Arthur first attended an elementary school of which his mother, Hilda Walker, disapproved.

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Arthur Bertram Cuthbert Walker II/ Wiki

For young Arthur Bertram Cuthbert Walker II (1936–2001), the only love in his future was science. Born in Cleveland, his family relocated to Bronx, NY. It was there that he, with the support of his parents, would begin studying what would direct his future.
Arthur first attended an elementary school of which his mother, Hilda Walker, disapproved. Teachers there, she alleged, left their classrooms throughout the day to run personal errands. She soon had Arthur transferred to a school outside of their district, where he began to blossom as a student.
It was a combination of the library and his science-related studies that defined Arthur’s goal: to study the universe like Albert Einstein. His mother began to work with him to prepare for the Bronx High School of Science entrance exam. But not everyone would embrace him as a thriving, ambitious student.
While attending high school, his first interest was chemistry. His teacher though, did his best to discourage him from studying any genre of science because “the prospects for Blacks in science were bleak.” Hilda Walker again stepped in, warning the teacher to back off, adding that her son would study whatever he pleased.
By the end of high school, physics had won Arthur’s heart. Hilda then encouraged him to apply to the Case Institute of Technology (now part of Case Western Reserve University) in Cleveland. 
There he earned a bachelor’s degree in physics with honors in 1957, and master’s (1958) and doctorate (1962) degrees at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
After completing his education, Walker joined the Air Force as 1st lieutenant. He was assigned to the weapons laboratory, where he developed instrumentation for a rocket-launched satellite to measure Van Allen belt radiation in Earth’s magnetic field. This opportunity and exposure piqued his interest in space-based research.
Post military (1965), Walker joined the Space Physics laboratory of the Aerospace Corporation in Southern California. There, he began investigating the sun’s atmosphere, first at ultraviolet wavelengths, and then X-rays, using rocket-launched instruments.
In the late 1970s, Walker became interested in multilayer technology for making special telescope mirrors that could reflect that radiation. At that time, it was thought to be “a risky and untested concept.” 
Technology he researched and helped develop then is now in wide use, and is aboard two major NASA satellites: the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory and the Transition Region and Coronal Explorer.
He also became a professor in the Applied Physics department at Stanford University in 1974.
One of nation’s top scientists in solar research, Walker shot innovative telescopes into space, giving scientists a view of the sun they had never seen before, and from 1987, developed telescopes that have ridden satellites into space, capturing the first pictures of that corona.
Walker spent his lifetime helping women and minority students find careers in science. This resulted in Stanford having more minority graduate physics and applied physics students than any major research university in the country.
Walker died of cancer at his home at Stanford University in 2001.

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Black History

Ambassador Ruth A. Davis Pioneered Diversity in Foreign Service

UC Berkeley Grad Continues to Bring International Economic Empowerment for Women

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Ambassador Ruth A. Davis (left) is meeting with Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Ambassador Ruth A. Davis was recently named as a distinguished alumna by the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. 

She also has been honored by the U.S. State Department when a conference room at the Foreign Service Institute in Virginia was named in honor of her service as director of the Institute. She was the first African American to serve in that position.

Davis, a graduate of Spelman College received a master’s degree from UC Berkeley in 1968.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, also a graduate of the School of Social Welfare, now chairs the House Appropriations Committee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. She praised Ambassador Davis as “a trailblazing leader and one of the great American diplomats of our time. Over her 40-year career, she had so many ‘firsts’ on her resume: the first Black director of the Foreign Service Institute, the first Black woman Director General of the Foreign Service, and the first Black woman to be named a Career Ambassador, to name just a few.

“She served all over the world, from Kinshasa to Tokyo to Barcelona, where she was consul general, and to Benin, where she served as ambassador,” Lee continued. “ I am so proud of her many accomplishments. She has represented the best of America around the world, and our world is a better place because of her service.”

During Davis’ 40-year career in the Foreign Service, she also served as chief of staff in the Africa Bureau, and as distinguished advisor for international affairs at Howard University. She retired in 2009 as a Career Ambassador, the highest-level rank in Foreign Service.

Since her retirement, Ambassador Davis has served as the chair (and a founding member) of the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC), an organization devoted to promoting women’s economic empowerment by creating an international network of businesswomen.

She also chairs the selection committee for the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship at Howard University’s Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center, where she helps to oversee the annual selection process. Finally, as vice president of the Association of Black American Ambassadors, she participates in activities involving the recruitment, preparation, hiring, retention, mentoring and promotion of minority Foreign Service employees.

Gay Plair Cobb, former Regional Administrator of the Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor in the Atlanta, and San Francisco offices, was Ambassador Davis’ roommate at UC Berkeley. Cobb said, “Ruth always exhibited outstanding leadership and a determined commitment to fairness, equal opportunity and activism, which we engaged in on a regular basis.”

Davis has received the Department of State’s Superior Honor Award, Arnold L. Raphel Memorial Award and Equal Employment Opportunity Award; the Secretary of State’s Achievement Award (including from Gen. Colin Powell); the Director General’s Foreign Service Cup; two Presidential Distinguished Service Awards; and Honorary Doctor of Laws from Middlebury and Spelman Colleges.

A native of Atlanta, Davis was recently named to the Economist’s 2015 Global Diversity List as one of the Top 50 Diversity Figures in Public Life and is the recipient of the American Foreign Service Association’s Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award.

 

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Black History

Ruth Carol Taylor: Breaking the Sky-High Ceiling

During a 1997 interview with Jet magazine, Taylor described herself as a “blacktivist,” and admitted that she had “no long-term career aspirations as a flight attendant but only wanted to break the color barrier.”

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Ruth Carol Taylor. Fair Use Photo

It was the 1950s. The United States had been dubbed “the world’s strongest military power.” The economy was booming. Jobs were overflowing; housing was plentiful. But for Black Americans, racism was on fire, the Civil Rights Movement was gaining speed, and the best-paying jobs were for whites.

The airlines were no exception.

None of this stopped Ruth Carol Taylor (1931–), a journalist and nurse from New York City, from submitting her application to Trans World Airlines (TWA) for the position of airline stewardess (known today as flight attendants).

Her application was rejected almost immediately because she “did not meet the airline’s physical standards.”

Stewardesses, at the time, were selected because of their physical attractiveness and height/weight conformity. But the decision made to reject Taylor’s application was racially motivated. She filed a discrimination complaint with the New York State Commission and approached other airlines offering the position.

Mohawk Airlines, a regional passenger airline operating in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., mainly in New York and Pennsylvania, began advertising open positions for stewardesses. The company also announced the open recruitment of Black women. More than 800 applied, and Taylor became one of the new hires. This made her the first African-American airline flight attendant in the US. It was 1958.

When asked about being the only Black hire, Taylor said that she believes it was “due to nearly white-passing skin and features.” She completed her training in early 1959 and was ready to take on her first flight.

After a few months, TWA, threatened by the lawsuit, brought its first Black stewardess onboard: Margaret Grant.

A short time later though, Taylor was grounded. She was let go from Mohawk on another discriminatory practice: she met and married Rex Legall and was forced to resign from her position. A ban against stewardesses being married or pregnant was not uncommon at that time.

Due to the decisive court case of Diaz vs. Pan Am., the no-marriage rule was eliminated throughout the US airline industry by the 1980s.

Taylor and Legall traveled and lived abroad for a few years. After their divorce, Taylor, in 1977, returned to New York City and nursing.

Best known for breaking the color barrier in the airline industry, Taylor was also an activist for minority and women’s rights. In 1963, she covered the March on Washington as a journalist for a British magazine, Flamingo.

By 1977, she began to focus more on her work as an activist. In 1982, she cofounded the Institute for Inter-Racial Harmony Inc. There she developed testing designed to measure racial bias in educational, commercial, and social settings.

During a 1997 interview with Jet magazine, Taylor described herself as a “blacktivist,” and admitted that she had “no long-term career aspirations as a flight attendant but only wanted to break the color barrier.”

Today she lives in Brooklyn.

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