i was a young nonprofit executive completely full of myself. she came into my office rattled off a list of to do’s so fast it made my head spin. i thought i was smart. i thought i was caring. i thought i understood what working for the people meant…then i met
she started ‘working for the people’ before i was people. she carved a community out of chaos and demanded that we all treat one another with love and respect. she did it with help but didn’t mind when the work become singular and she was the only one standing.
i didn’t know in all my arrogance at the time that i was standing in the wake of real greatness. she was so unassuming in her t-shirt and black pants (later i learned that was her uniform). it’s because i was raised with the common sense to not be rude to my elders, i knew not to insult her by asking her to make an appointment.
when i learned letter that she was a former county commissioner, founder and president of NEYIC-a community group that throws the largest Christmas party give-away on the planet (more than 3,000 children are sponsored each year for 52 years for Christmas through her program), and had done so much to raise her community that a mayor offered her a gift so she asked for a park…my biggest regret from that initial meeting was that i did not offer her more.
i learned that Mrs. Bennett passed away on february 7, 2017 and my heart sank. it sank not for her. after struggling with an ailment for a very long time, and not being about to command her body to work at the pace she was accustomed too, i know that i know that Mrs. Bennett is now smiling and rejoicing in her freedom. it is what i believe. it is what i know she believed.
so no, i don’t grieve for Mrs. Bennett. my heart sank for us. we have lost our patron saint of the north end. we’ve lost our mother, our mentor, our foundation, and our friend. she would want us to remember that we have each other. she would want us to remember that there is still work to be done. she would want us to get about the business of planning summer programs and organizing the biggest Christmas giveaway for disadvantaged families ever. she would want us to be more than we have been.
my fear is that we won’t.
this morning i came into my office (no longer an executive but a social worker all the same) dreading the ‘grown up’ meetings i would have to attend. i thought, ‘this ain’t got nothing to do with honoring my mentor and friend. i should be doing what she would do.’ no sooner then the thought escaped me did one of my students come traipsing into my office holding an application packet for transitional housing. i’d given them the packet 2 days ago and they’d dragged their feet about completing it, debating about life on the street (freedom) and life in a group home (rules). i grabbed the packet and went to work. i got us an appointment for after the ‘adulting meeting’. while in the meeting i dreaded i received another call from another family who’s housing application was placed on hold because there was no authorization notice for their eligibility. i was able to multi-task in my meeting by answering questions about our programs and completing their eligibility notice in time for their application to be approved. afterward, i drove my student to their orientation interview, supported them in completing paperwork, and watched them drive off into their new life as an person bound for self-sufficiency. i then walked back into my office met with my own mentee to debrief their work week and plan for next steps.
as i write these words, i realize that these things were exactly what she would have done. i honor her in this day by doing the work. i honor her on this day by being a voice for those who haven’t been allowed to speak. i honor her on this day by setting a foundation for tomorrow. i honor her on this day and i realize that my fear was in vain.
we are ready. she prepared us for this, and i know that i know we won’t let her down.