My Mother the PhilanthropistGeorge Thorney Worcester
My mother, my stepfather, and I lived in a small room with a bed and a dressing table as furniture. We had no electricity and had to fetch water from a communal water source, a “standpipe,” with the water stored in metal barrels. I never knew that we lived in poverty. My mother and stepfather worked seasonal jobs and from my position as a child all things went well. We were living well. Countless times throughout my childhood I saw my mother being the helpful, kind and good neighbor who was always giving to others who were less fortunate than us. You see, growing up I never knew that the lifestyle we lived was classified as being poor. Looking back as I write this essay, I now realize that my mother was a philanthropist who was involved in civic engagement. And it is this realization of a personal experience that motivated me to become engaged.
My lifelong engagement in the life of the community was also inspired by the older people who used to hold weekly senior citizens’ meetings in my town. As a ten-year-old boy, I would stay back after school every Wednesday to listen as the older folks came up with plans to improve their lives and discussed who they needed to connect with to ensure that their needs were met. I never recognized it then but now I understand that was my launch pad into an existence of almost five decades of civic engagement.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change… Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.” My time spent with my mother and with those older folks, all women, afforded me the opportunity to learn how to “stay awake,” and as a result, for the rest of my life I’ve been able to participate in actions that bring about meaningful change.