By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette — Helen Coleman leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that she is capable of loving people.
Despite all of the hardships through which she has gone, ‘love’ seems to be the theme of her life; be it love for God, for country, her city, her people and especially the love for her husband that has flowered over the 50 years of her marriage.
Both Helen and her husband, Willie James Coleman, are, like many of their era — the children of hardworking and under-employed Alabama sharecroppers. Helen’s father once even worked as a lumberjack, and for him, that was a step up.
While her parents were denied and couldn’t produce much in the way of money and other material things, those things that fade soon after they are purchased, their parents did give to them the things that could not be purchased; and those were values — most important of which was a love of God. Helen believes that nearly all of her other smaller values have come as a result of that larger one.
Fifty years is a long time to be married, especially in today’s world. But Helen attributes that to her husband’s and her commitment to never go to bed angry. This, she said, is done by “... learning to compromise and to fix the rest with prayer.”
Helen added, concerning her marriage, “It was no bed of roses. We had hills to climb and some valleys to cross, but we made it 50 years later.”
She is disappointed, though, when she looks around and sees the conditions of people around her. Her words about not holding anger, to compromise and to pray, to her, seemingly applies to those woes, too.
Listening to her, one can easily get the feeling that marriage and life in general mostly follow the same rules, and yield the same results.
“Now a-days,” Helen says, “when things go wrong, (young people) want to go to the divorce court, but our parents told us to go to God and pray.”
Helen also cites that in the current generation, though marriage is not as common as once it was, young people are just as apt to dissolve friendships and kinships, just as easily as they want to dissolve relationships, instead of simply working things out — hence we fight amongst ourselves.
Helen’s concerns, as they are with most people, are greater for her own community than for others.
“The hope for Niagara Falls,” she says, “is for African Americans to come together, quit turning on each and start to love each other.”
Though an intentional exaggeration, she cites one division in that, “We have 100 churches in Niagara Falls and there are six people in each of them.”
It is clear that coming from hardworking parents, as the Coleman’s did, that they would be hard workers themselves. Both worked in the electro-chemical industry for three decades to make a better life for their children than their parents were able to give to them. Upon asking her if one of the problems with youth is that we have given them too much, she said that she is one who don’t want to say that, but “The greedy gets more than the needy.”
Tying that in with the former conditions of the American south for African Americans, Helen responded to question on which was her greater priority, voting or education. She said that when she was back in Alabama, it was, “Voting over education, because if you could vote, then you could get a good education. But a good education for blacks meant little because there were no good jobs for black then. Today, I would go for the education because you are now allowed to vote. As they talk about raising minimum wages, it doesn’t matter, [without an education] you will still be just above the poverty line.”
So then, what are the things that preclude children from getting a good education? Helen believes that it is children having children. “Our young children are having children — and if they don’t know anything, how are they going to teach their children?”
Alas, one of the things that they know least, the thing that would make them want to become educated, are, as Helen have stated, are values – the kinds of values that kept her husband and her together all of these years. Both were raised in church; and that was because their parents took them there.
“But, today,” she says, “the kids don’t seem to want to have a good education. Too many of them come from broken homes. Not enough of them have the values that their grandparents had. They are now worldly people.”
The solution, she said is to instill in our children the value of an education and to teach them to love by putting others’ needs before their own.
An important one for her is buckling down and looking past race. As it is in the 18th Chapter of the Bible book of Jeremiah, Helen says that, “We need to reshape ourselves, as the potter would with marred clay, instead of just throwing each other away. Don’t give up and give in.”
I think that there are ‘value-tines’ in her words that we all can keep; don’t you?
Contact Ken Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.Contact Ken Hamilton at email@example.com.