I grew up in a small town very similar to Statesboro... which may be why I fell in love with this town when we moved here. It had about the same population size, but the land mass was much more compact.
As a child of the 60's and 70's, I remember almost always feeling safe in that little town. My parents always taught me to make smart choices when I was out riding my bike or walking home for the bus stop, and we knew everyone around us so it created a sense of community and a safe haven in which to grow, play, and explore.
My mom and dad also instilled in me an appreciation for people. All kinds of people. They taught me to recognize a person's character and not to base my opinion of someone on their religion, color, or nationality. We had people from all over the world come and stay with us from time to time. I met wonderful young college students from China, and also a married couple from Africa whom I still remember very well.
All of this helped to shape the way I viewed people. I learned to get to know a person and to appreciate their character and integrity. Sometimes, but not too often, I would determine that this was not a person of good character and therefore I should not associate with them. But most were wonderful people.
One such individual whom I will never forget, was Lieutenant Gill. He was a local police officer who was given the job of visiting all the schools and talking to the children about safety and many other topics. He was the nicest man and all of us loved him. He made it clear that if any of us ever got into trouble, we would have to sit before him, and none of us wanted to do that because we loved him and we didn't want to disappoint him.
He eventually became Sargent Gill and went on to be the Chief of Police in our little town, but he always, always spoke to the children and invested in them. He was a man of Good Character and we all loved him.
Now, remember... I said I grew up in the 60's and 70's. Sgt. Gill was a tall man who looked like he probably played football in high school. He demanded your respect just because of his sheer size. However, her earned your respect because he genuinely cared about each of us and we knew we could go to him and talk about anything. Sgt. Gill was a black man, married with young children, during a time when there was a lot of racial tension. But there was none of that with him. He loved people based on their character and we loved him based on his character.
Over the years he has been recognized many times for his service to that little community, and he is still highly respected in his old age. When you see him, you know it's him and you recognize him just by the way he carries himself.
Looking back on my experience growing up, I realize that I didn't view people by their color, or by any other trait. I viewed people by who they were and by how they treated others. This can sometimes be a tender topic, but it so desperately needs to be addressed.
We are all people. We may have different backgrounds, different cultures, different thoughts on every topic imaginable...but we are all people just the same. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed firmly that we should not judge by the color of one's skin, but by the character of the man. He was very wise and I believe he was not only a man of God, but he was given a mission by God. We ought to all listen to it. He did not believe in violence against each other, and he believed firmly that we ought to all be able to live together and get along.
I experienced this growing up so I know it can be done. If we believe in God, then we ought to follow His word when He says, "Love your neighbor as yourself". There are many lessons we can gather from the word of God to help us live amongst each other with love for each other. There are also many lessons to help us deal with those who are not living right.
Each one of us can choose at any moment to care for others and get along with others based on WHO they are, instead of WHAT they are. It may take a little effort for many. it may require letting go of issues that really don't even belong to us anymore. As long as any person hold on to unforgiveness, or bitterness for any reason, they will struggle to live happily with everyone around them. Not only is this sometimes hurtful to others, but it is mostly damaging to the person with the unforgiveness.
When my mom died in 2007, many people came to her visitation and funeral. She was very well respected and loved in her community. As I stood there greeting people, a tall black man entered the room. He had on an overcoat and a hat...and a scarf draped around his collar. My eyes lit up as I realized it was Sgt. Gill! I hurried to him and gave him the biggest hug I could muster. He smiled and he remembered me...even though he hadn't seen me since I was a very young lady. All I really wanted to do that evening was sit and talk with him, but I had too many others to greet.
I am thankful for people who have touched my life such as Sgt. Gill. With a humble heart and a genuine love for people,he taught me (and many others) how to value others for who they are. He taught us to have integrity and self worth. He taught us right from wrong, and he loved us unconditionally. I am still convinced today that we can have this kind of atmosphere in our communities. We need more Sgt. Gill's, and we need parents to instill these types of values in their children. The way in which we educate our children at home either keeps them in bondage to our bitterness, or fills them with freedom because of our love.
I can only hope that I spread even an ounce of the love Sgt. Gill shared. He was my childhood hero.
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