Make America Work For Us Featuring Brenda Harker

My mother, Brenda was born in New Jersey in the 1940s to Gertrude “Gert” and Joseph “Joe” Herbert. Mom has an older sister, Dolores, seven years her senior, and a baby sister named Carmen. I enjoy listening to my mother when she speaks of her childhood because she describes an enchanted world where everyone lives on the same block and people have funny nicknames like Boo, Bunk, Coochie, JimmyJack, and Nookie. Recently, I sat down with Mom over zoom and she took me to this enchanted place.

By the time our conversation ended, we were back in the present and I understood why Mom taught us to march, protest, and fight against injustice. She taught us to make America work for us. I encourage you to join the fight against injustice. But first, you must enter into Brenda’s enchanted world. The complete conversation, (Un)Hidden Voices Episode Two, airs on Monday, June 22 on YouTube, Anchor, and Spotify. Read, listen, learn, share, amplify, and Make America Work for Us.

It’s 1949 and World War II ends. Brenda’s family moves from Lawerenceville, Virginia to a home in Atlantic City, New Jersey on the same block as her paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Brenda’s mother Gert works washing laundry in a hotel and her father paints houses. Brenda does not realize she is black because everyone in her family, friends, and other children at school are a part of this interconnected community. The first time Brenda learns that her family lives in a poor neighborhood is when she is bussed to an integrated school in a predominately white suburb. She is in art class when the teacher asks her to draw whatever is across the street from her house. She draws a vacant lot. Her white friend asks, “Brenda, you live in the ghetto?”

Brenda is surprised because she was never limited or thought of herself as being poor or unable to achieve her dreams. She credits her mother Gertrude Herbert, “when we were growing up she was telling us you can. You can. Go after it. I said I want to be a movie star and she asked, who do you want to be like?” Brenda encouraged my siblings, cousins, and me to be American the way that her mother Gert encouraged her. Brenda always told us that we had to work for our rights.

You have to demand privilege. You can’t say they are privileged. You are privileged too. Perhaps, in many cases, you have more privileges, because you have achieved more in your life. Sometimes when people take their privilege for granted, they lose sight of trying to achieve anything. As a result, they just stay stagnant.

Part of demanding privilege is fighting against injustice including antiblackness, racism, and discrimination. Brenda encourages us to march, protest, and speak out.

So, I mean, we’re here. We have to make the most of it and we have to keep struggling to make America work for us.

Listen to the entire conversation (Un)Hiden Voices Episode 2, Make America Work for Us, with Special Guest Brenda Harker Monday, June 22nd on YouTube, Anchor, or Spotify.

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