by Ever Lee Hairston
From the Editor: Given that February is Black History Month, what a wonderful time to get and run this article. Many who read this will know about Ever Lee’s struggles and the significant accomplishments she has lived. She grew up as a part of a sharecropper’s family, got an education, taught business education in Camden, New Jersey, and then spend a couple of decades as an administrator in the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center located within the Department of Health and Human Services in that state. She is a member of the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors and has served both as the vice president and president of the National Federation of the Blind of California. In all these capacities, she has made being of service to her fellow human being her top priority because this is that the core of the identity she sees as Ever Lee Hairston.
These are her external accomplishments, but the more important and internal affirmations often come from somewhere else. Frequently, we measure our success by what our children and grandchildren think of us, and what follows is not only a testament to Ever Lee; it is also a testament to the reverence her family feels for her. Here’s what she says:
Some of you know about my family history. My family lived on a plantation, and though we were anything but poor in spirit, we did know poverty, did know what it was like to be treated as second-class citizens, and did know, whether we called him by that name or not, the experience of living on the master’s plantation. I remember struggling with dreams: what was something to cheer me during the day and what might really come to pass in my life. Adjusting those expectations was molded by my experience in the civil rights movement and the phenomenal leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King. I had the pleasure of marching with him and absorbing his words and dreams into the fabric of my soul. Dr. King helped me define myself as a black woman, but what about also being blind? Would I have a future including children, providing a home, and one day being the matriarch of my family? Through its pioneering work, the National Federation of the Blind helped me live and clarify the answers to those questions.
All of this flashed through my mind when, on June 14, 2021, my granddaughter Breanna and her fiancé Anthony and his parents drove from Northern California to Los Angeles. They invited the family to lunch. It was very quiet as we sat waiting for our food to be served. I suggested that we have a table topic for discussion. Everyone laughed at my idea, and at that moment Brianna stated, “I have a topic.” Then she asked the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question: “Grandma, will you officiate at our wedding?” I was extremely shocked, but I knew how important it would be to achieve this extraordinary opportunity. It didn’t take me long to realize I could not bask too long in the glory of being asked because we had only six weeks between that extraordinary lunch and the equally monumental wedding over which I was to preside.
I experienced many thoughts as I began to plan: what will I wear? What about my nails and hair? What shoes will I wear? How will I use my cane to remain independent? Will it work in the sand? Do I want it in the picture or out of the way for the moment? Can I hold it and still read the Braille for my presentation? How can I ensure that the color of my Brailled cards doesn’t conflict with the colors of the wedding—the answer was clear: use clear plastic cards. Then came perhaps the most important questions: What do I have to do to obtain a license, and how long will that take? Dealing with these issues one at a time, finally I was ready, and imagine my relief when the license arrived one week before the wedding.
On July 26, 2021, I had the honor and privilege to officiate at my granddaughter’s wedding. The ceremony took place on the beautiful beach at Half Moon Bay, California. There I shared with the couple some of the requirements for maintaining a happy and fulfilling marriage:
Love is patient. Love is kind.
Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not rejoice in wrong things, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
(First Corinthians 13: 4-7)
The bride and groom recited their thoughtful vows to each other, followed by an exchange of rings as a symbol of their love and commitment. To seal the marriage, they jumped over a broom, an African American tradition. By the authority vested in me in the state of California, I pronounced Anthony and Breanna husband and wife. A long kiss ensued.Their original plans for a destination wedding were cancelled because of the pandemic, but the wedding was a success. And, for my part, I could walk away with a supreme sense of gratitude; Preparation, preparation, preparation. The hard work paid off; Mission accomplished with love!