Reflections and Prayers

Reflections for Life

"One Family with Amazing Grace"

January 18, 2015

During the 50th Anniversary Year of The Selma-Montgomery March 1965

The flow of laughter, prayers, discoveries and dreams of my childhood would not have been as deep and grace-filled without Vivian Harris. Vivian, a mother of nine, had been an integral part of our family since my early years. I would spend hours with Vivian, learning from her how to handle everyday challenges. Vivian -- straight forward and selfless, kneading the dough of life while listening to Bible lessons on the radio - one day up and left L.A. for her home state South Carolina. She wanted her children "to grow up knowing where they stood." I did not understand what she meant since our black and white families were intertwined and colorblind. Vivian preferred the Deep South because she felt there was less hidden race tension and it would be safer than South Los Angeles was for her children. Her departure ruptured the innocence of my vision of America's race relations at the time.

Vivian came back to California some years later when her children were grown to help raise our seven children. Vivian and I lived together for some thirty years. Our families are "one family." In 1996 Vivian was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer. That is how we came to know Dr. Keith Black who successfully removed her brain tumor but the lung cancer was just too advanced. Vivian loved smoking her "Kool lights" until the day she collapsed and was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. She never picked up another cigarette when she saw the x-ray of her spotted lung.

For her 74th birthday on July 6, 1996 we held a "one family" party with her at Will Rogers Park in Los Angeles and the turnout was phenomenal with friends and family sharing their love for Vivian. So many lives, hearts and souls indelibly touched by her.

By fall, Vivian fell into a coma and I took her home to Andersen, South Carolina. We found the local Catholic priest and asked him to give her the "Sacrament of the Sick." Instantly when she was anointed Vivian sat up and yelled out, "Get me some pancakes and grits!" Amazing grace, how sweet it is! The power of prayer is inexplicable and awe-inspiring. "Thank you Jesus!" all her children, grand-children and great-grandchildren exclaimed.

By the "amazing grace" of God, Vivian had a few more months of happy time with her family including celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year, before she was brought home to God in January 1997. Even until her last breath Vivian was selflessly thinking of others, her last words were, "be sure and watch out for Patrick," our youngest child. She was another "living saint," always helping others and I know she is watching over our "one family" and our country from heaven. I miss her laugh, her wisdom and her love.

On November 2, 2005 standing alongside then Senator Barack Obama and Congressman John Lewis with an array of political and religious dignitaries, I was invited to eulogize Rosa Parks at her funeral service at the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit. Each told a poignant story about Rosa's human dignity and courage. When it was my turn to speak, I thought of Vivian and how when she passed, her daughter Brenda (my God-sister) and I drove around in search of a cemetery where she would be laid to rest. After driving for hours, we finally found one that had the tranquility and elegance worthy of Vivian. Brenda interrupted my excitement by quietly pointing out that the cemetery was for white people only. We have come far, with the courage of Rosa Parks, I said at her funeral, but not far enough. It will take a whole lot more "amazing grace" through prayer and desire for the "Gospel of Heart," loving God and loving our neighbor, to help our country do what is right and just for all life.

The caring legacy of Rosa Parks and Vivian Harris inspire The NoŽl Foundation's programs for inner city youth. On April 29, 1992 after the verdict was announced in the Rodney King trial and a black teenage girl was killed by a Korean convenience store owner, riots broke out in Los Angeles. We could see L.A. burning from every window of our offices at LAX Airport. Even in the distance one could see that exclusive Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills was not immune to the mayhem that transpired. But it was South Los Angeles, where I grew up, that was hardest hit. I drove our son Timothy there in our family SUV and it felt like we were on a reconnaissance mission in war-torn Beirut. Timís words were the inspiration for creating our "Education Through Travel" program. He said, "Mom, there is so much to be done in our own cities in America, to make it right and safe. Letís try to make it better, start with the kids." He generously donated part of his hard earned salary, putting his money and his mouth together for action to be taken.

Working with various inner-city student organizations we began organizing and hosting trips to teach multi-ethnic American youth to appreciate the various cultures, the diverse heritage and the unique opportunities for them as good citizens of America. We established the Vivian Harris Memorial Scholarship for young women in high school honoring Vivianís desire for each American child, regardless of race or religion, to live the American promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.