There are two special birthdays this week, both of whom were, and always will be, extremely influential in my life. See, I grew up in the downtown Atlanta black community known as the Old Fourth Ward, a very historic place. It was there that my dad, Herman “Buck” West moved in 1959 with my mom, Elizabeth “Snooks” West. They found a quaint little house at 651 Kennesaw Avenue and bought it for $19,000. I will never forget that proud day when my dad made the last payment on that house and it officially became his.
My dad was a real model of a man. Perhaps some today would classify his masculinity as toxic, but it was that of a strong, principled man. He had a full mustache, goatee, and chin beard. And as I wear it today, dad had a full salt flattop haircut and was nicknamed the “Grey Ghost” by his close friends. Dad was respected, adored, and beloved by all. Sadly, my dad lost his life in 1986 – only 66 – to a massive stroke. Here was the man from the Old Fourth Ward, a simple Corporal who had served in World War II. My dad had challenged me when I was fifteen to be the first commissioned officer in our family. My older brother was an enlisted Marine Infantryman in the Vietnam War, wounded at a place called Khe Sanh … dad was also a disabled American veteran.
I will never forget the day, 31 July 1982 when my dad, the man from the Old Fourth Ward, stood at my right shoulder, mom was on my left, and pinned on the gold bars of a U.S. Army Second Lieutenant. I had fulfilled his challenge. Sadly, it would be the only promotion he would ever see me receive.
This week would have been my dad’s 99th birthday, and 33 years after his death, I still miss him dearly. There are times when I have dreams of my dad, as if he were still right here. He imparted upon me so many impeccable lessons about being a man, a black man. He taught me to never see my skin color as an obstacle, or a crutch. He admonished me to seek out the standard, and whatever it was, surpass it so that no one could ever deny me any opportunity. He advised me, a lesson seconded by my mom, that a man must stand for something, or else he will fall for anything. Here was a man, who had seen the worst of times as a black man, but he instructed me that there was no greater country than America.
Yes, the man from the Old Fourth Ward in Atlanta will never be forgotten by his middle son. However, this week, we celebrate the birthday of another man from the Old Fourth Ward in Atlanta. This man, like me, was born and raised there in the Old Fourth Ward. His birthday is a national holiday, as he is world renowned, even the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. His name is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
My parents decided early on that education was integral to my succeeding in life. Therefore, I did not attend any of the public schools in our neighborhood. Instead, I went to the school named after the oldest black Catholic parish in Atlanta, Our Lady of Lourdes. My little school was at the intersection of Boulevard Avenue and Auburn Avenue. Across the street was Ebenezer Baptist Church – behind my school as the birth home of Dr. King. If you had kicked a ball really well, when we played kickball for recess, you could have put the ball over the wall and landed it in Dr. King’s childhood home backyard.
Now, Dr. King was killed in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. I was only seven years of age. However, I can still remember the tears that flowed on our little street, Kennesaw Avenue, from all of those who lived in the Old Fourth Ward. It was very apparent, the impact this man from the Old Fourth Ward had made, and continues to make.
But as we remember another birthday of the famous man from the Old Fourth Ward in Atlanta, perhaps we should ponder as to whether Dr. King would be happy, or would he be shedding tears for the black community, like the Old Fourth Ward in Atlanta today?
Last week was the National March for Life, and potentially hundreds of thousands, not just 1,000s, gathered to be the voice of life for our unborn. The march is going on 45 years, and I believe that Dr. King would have been part of this march. Why? Put simply, Dr. King was an impeccable man of faith, and watching now, some 18 million black babies having been killed in the womb of black mothers would undoubtedly bring tears to his eyes. In that number, how many could have been the next man, or woman, from the Old Fourth Ward, a leader and a visionary, not just for the black community, but for freedom and liberty for all?
Just as my dad and mom admonished me, Dr. King wanted an America where character, not color, defined our being, our purpose, and our future. I do not think the whole identity politics agenda would be something he would embrace. As well, another fundamental aspect of the community of our birth and raising in Atlanta was a two-parent household. At the time of my birth in 1961, statistics show that the traditional two-parent household in the black community was between 75-77 percent. Today, that which I, and many others in the Old Fourth Ward, took for granted, a home with mom and dad, is down to 24 percent nationwide for the black community.
And just last year, during his state of the union address, President Trump announced the historic and all-time low for black unemployment in America. Of course, we all remember the camera panning over to members of the Congressional Black Caucus who sat, stoic faced, and some even looking angry. I tend to believe that that is not the type of principled black community leadership Dr. King would have aspired to.
The Old Fourth Ward in Atlanta has a deep and significant history. Nationally, we are celebrating the birthday of one of its native sons. I will celebrate that, as well as the memory of the man from the Old Fourth Ward, my dad. I am also a native son of the Old Fourth Ward, and I pray each day to live up to the example set for me by two incredible men from that same Old Fourth Ward in Atlanta, Georgia.
This column was originally published at CNSNews.
The views expressed in CCNS member articles are not necessarily the views or positions of the entire CCNS. They are the views of the authors, who are members of the CCNS.