in honor of Martin Luther King day, I would like to tell a story about my family--specifically my grandfather. I learned this story at Christmas this year.
In my family's home, civil rights pioneers of the time
were in pictures all over the house. Martin Luther King, Kennedy, etc.
There is an awesome picture of my family with a picture of Dr. King
"photobombing" the photo. I will post it in comments.
grandfather Stanley is a very principled kind of guy. He's the kind of
guy who will strike up a conversation with you, and if he finds out you
have nowhere to go where you are loved, cherished, and appreciated, he
will bring you to the next gathering at his house. It doesn't matter if
that's Thanksgiving, Christmas, or somebody's birthday party. There is
an open door policy at my grandparents' house for anyone who is
struggling to come have tea. I know, I know, in the middle of New York
My grandfather is a New Yorker. He has lived
on the same block for the majority of his life. He taught me what
integrity and openness really were, not just once but about a million
times. At Christmas, he had another lesson to teach me. He engaged me
in conversation about the 1960s. He told me about sneaking into the
back of NAACP meetings and hiding in the very back row of seats. He
told me about the day that it was decided by the people presiding over
the meeting he attended that he should be allowed to come to the front,
with them. (My grandfather is white.) Soon, my grandfather was a very
active participant. He was so active, that he was bringing the entire
meeting into his house. He was also conducting research in which he
would be paired with another woman (not my grandmother) and try to get
an apartment as a white couple. They could always get an offer of the
apartment, even if a black couple sent from the ranks of the NAACP
meeting could not receive the same offer. (i.e. every time.)
Although it took some time for him to get there, my grandfather later
took this same basic belief in human dignity and applied it to GLBT
rights. As of my last understanding, he has two GLBT children plus me,
his granddaughter. I can honestly tell you that it completely meant the
world to me when I saw my grandfather see the light on GLBT rights. I
am extremely grateful to have witnessed it, from both sides, even though
he is not my father. Technically, I am not sure what my grandfather
knows or doesn't know about my status as a GLBT American but I can tell
you that what is important is what I know about my grandfather. We don't
agree on every political issue but he taught me to always be warm and
welcoming to people, even when you might be struggling that day
yourself. I do not always uphold this--I can have visceral "no way"
reactions to people, and I will honor those too. I have been through
enough in New York, Boston, and online, that to not honor my "inner
ding" on that stuff would be really, really detrimental. But that said,
I try to keep an open mind about most people, and I have people around
me from a variety of political persuasions and religious or spiritual
As long as you respect me, I respect you. My
grandfather taught me that. I've honestly never met a more respectful,
genuine guy. On this Martin Luther King Day, I am honoring Dr. King,
but I am also honoring my grandpa Stanley because he deserves to be
known as a guy with deep and abiding principles who has done a ton of
good in the world. I am honored to be a part of his family because he
showed me how to demonstrate pretty much unconditional love to any New
Yorker he could find.
That's what New York is about to me, and
it always will be. NAACP meetings in the home of a white family at the
dawn of the civil rights movement. How much more melting pot can you
Stanley Rygor, I salute you.
Happy Martin Luther King Day, all.:)
ETA: As a postscript to this entry, it came to my attention through the retelling of this story that in addition to doing this activism in 1960s NYC there are also stories of my grandfather doing comparable activism in Rhodesia, where we have family. Although I haven't heard the full story yet I hope to one day soon.