City News

Giving thanks: Help yourself by helping others

In two days, the campaign season will culminate in what is likely to be a record-turnout voting day. The vitriol, misleading ads, mudslinging, rumors and outright lies will finally be a thing of the past. Perhaps it was the malicious tone of the campaigns, up and down the ticket, that caused two men in line at the Plaza-Midwood Library early voting station on Oct. 22 to get ugly.

Apparently, an older white man had asked a younger black man who spoke with an accent where he was from. In another situation, this question, born of curiosity, may have elicited a simple answer – the young man was born in New Jersey of African parents – but in a voting line in a state with a history of Jim Crow laws, it was explosive. When I arrived halfway through the argument, the young man's backpack was at his feet, along with a half-dozen IDs – including one for his service in the Navy. He had apparently flung them at the curious man.

Rather than apologize for giving unintended offense, the curious man dug in his heels and defended his question, imploring those around him for support and threatening to call the police. Instead, four women, including myself and three African-American ladies, maneuvered ourselves between the two, each of us murmuring a version of, “Step back. We do not need this. Nobody needs to get angry here, and the police have better things to do than sort out this foolishness.”

Eventually, a voting official calmed frayed nerves and the voting process continued as quickly as the cramped quarters inside the community meeting room would allow. Somehow, somewhere on the way to do our civic duty, some of us lost our civility. We need to reclaim it right now.

So I propose the following: starting today, make sure you do something for somebody else – not just for your family, but for your neighbors, your community.

Thanksgiving is coming, and the need for emergency food is higher than ever this year. Second Harvest of Metrolina distributes food to needy families. Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont transforms cast-off clothing, furniture and household goods into job training and placement assistance, giving goods and people a second chance at a new life. The Salvation Army offers a host of services to those in need, including drug rehabilitation, disaster assistance, community development and care for the elderly, among others. All three groups could use both volunteers and donations.

Cold weather means children need warm coats as they stand waiting for the school bus. Start a coat drive for kids. The cankerworms will soon be emerging, and every tree needs a protective band. Perhaps a neighbor needs help banding trees? These opportunities present themselves every day. Seize them.

By giving, we will be getting back whatever recent times stripped from us – that essential thing that made humans the most successful creatures on the planet – our society.