I know this saying is usually regarding death or disaster, but for me it also means good things, sometimes great things. Since last Thursday I have been inspired, not once, not twice, but three times. Three inspirational people. Three inspirational moments.
Beginning with this man:
This is the button I received last Thursday at the WSU Alumni Breakfast Series featuring Linwood Sexton. For those of you unfamiliar with this gentle man, he is a 1948 graduate of the University of Wichita, a standout Shocker football player who holds WSU’s career rushing record, was named All-Missouri Valley Conference First Team three times, was a charter inductee into the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame, an honoree of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, and a new inductee into the MVC Hall of Fame. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education, taught school at Wichita’s L’Ouverture Elementary, became a sales manager for Hiland Dairy, and is a lauded community leader who has worked tirelessly for equal opportunity and social justice. And that is just a hint of the man.
At the breakfast, he didn’t speak of his famed college football career, his local icon status, or his many community awards. He told a story. A story of a young black kid who lived in the segregated neighborhood of Wichita who could have easily grown up a bitter and angry man. He shared his experience as the only black athlete at WU and how the university took a chance giving a scholarship to a young black athlete when no one in their conference would dare. He described what it felt like to not be allowed to stay with his teammates on road trips, to be asked to leave the hotel or the restaurant because of the color of his skin, to stay at the “black only” hotel or with host black families, and how his teammates rallied around him. His teammates learned from him and he learned from his teammates. When Tulsa and Texas told the WU program not to bring their black athlete with them because they couldn’t guarantee he would make it back on the bus, the team battled harder, winning for Linwood and the injustice of it all, taking their safety into their own hands to bring him the game winning football. He spoke of what it felt like to be invited into their homes and especially their small white towns, while he in turn invited them to his neighborhood, his home, and introduced them to his mother’s cooking. He spoke gently, with a bit of humor, and he spoke reverently, at times his voice heavy with nostalgia, and at other times he spoke firmly, punctuating his words, driving home how far we have come.
I met Linwood many years ago, introduced to him by my father, and I wrote about their relationship on my sports blog. I knew they shared a love of sports and I knew they shared many of the same obstacles in life, so hearing Linwood’s story was like listening to my father. Their experiences were similar, especially the part where they became compassionate, gentle, yet strong men.
President Beggs declared March 10 as Linwood Sexton Day and I wore my button proudly everywhere I went, even taking the time to share Linwood’s story with those who inquired, in the check-out line at Target, with an afternoon golfer in the parking lot, and with three people at my salon. And each person I spoke with was equally touched by Linwood’s story. I already respected the man, liked him immensely, but on a crisp Thursday morning in March I loved him. Loved him for all he endured, for all he became, and for all he continues to do to ensure others understand what truly makes a man.
Now I jump to number three, which happened today. Again, at a WSU function, this time the scholarship luncheon for the Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Our guest speaker was a woman, an alumna of the university, but not just any alumna. This incredible lady earned her degree at WSU at the age of 80. Elaine Mann returned to WSU at the age of 74 to pursue her degree, something she had longed to do for many years. After a full and successful life as a teacher, a wife and mother, and an assistant to her husband and his business, she found herself at an unlikely place following his death. She found she wasn’t ready to slow down. She found she was still eager to learn, eager to experience new things, so with the support of her son and his family she enrolled at WSU. She shared how supportive the staff of WSU in the returning adult program were to her, never dismissing her. She told the story of when she called her high school and requested her transcripts how the gentleman on the other end of the line fell into a long silence when she told him she’d graduated in 1942. But when he finally spoke, he said, “Congratulations.” She laughed as she described her first day of classes and getting lost on campus and how she’d dressed in blue jeans and a sweatshirt, hoping to fade in with the rest of the students, forgetting her gray hair might give her away. And she reminded a former professor, who was present at the luncheon, how she had stopped after class, a sociology class where they’d spent the hour discussing sex, and told him “I should’ve taken your class 30 years ago.” She was energetic, passionate, and genuine. And she reminded her audience to never stop wanting to learn, to never think they’ve run out of time or are too old, that it is never too late to pursue a dream. By the way, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis in literature and a minor in psychology. Not too bad for a woman who feared she might not be able to remember the lectures.
Now a few steps back to Friday evening. It’s rare I am brought to tears at a concert, the kind of tears which begin in your heart, permeate your soul, and leave you in awe. But that is what happened Friday evening at Abode Venue where we met up with relatives and friends to enjoy some live music and celebrate a birthday. The David Mayfield Parade blew us away. Words cannot describe their performance. I can say they were entertaining, they were fun, they were talented, were excellent musicians, but none of that seems right. None of those words are big enough, emotional enough, descriptive enough. None.
So I leave you with a blurry video shot by one fortunate attendee who stayed for the entire show, as did the rest of the 20 or 30 remaining. We were asked to surround the band on the dance floor for the encore, which we gladly did, never anticipating what was to come next. We were blessed. Truly.
To feel that way not once, not twice, but three times. Blessed.