After more than 42 years as a member of the Rome Bar and the State Bar of Georgia, I am still able to say that the law has given far more to me and my family than I could have imagined when my career first began. I have been privileged to work alongside the best lawyers ever to pick up a legal pad, right here in Rome, Georgia, and have been afforded a standard of living by this community that has educated my children, providing them a foundation for the future that has seen them become great parents and citizens of this community.
My arrival at the Bar was preceded by being able to attend Shorter through the generosity of Rome businesses. The chances I was given, and the shoulders I stood on, to succeed in life, considering the poverty into which I was born, are too numerous to list. I have come, at this late age, to realize the chances I was given were not available to the children who were born at the same time to black parents less than one mile from my house on Cooper’s Knob in East Rome.
I had never heard of the term “white privilege” until this past year and now realize that this very thing determined my chances to graduate from Shorter College and from the UGA School of Law, and denied that chance to my black friend Milton Slack and so many others.
Sure, things have changed, and these changes allowed Milton to move up the corporate ladder from custodian to store manager at Sears Roebuck and Co., where I also worked before law school. Even as remarkable as his story is, the fact remains that the hill Milton was required to climb took twice the effort it would have required had he been born to white parents.
I knew Milton’s mother, as did many of the old lawyers like me. Knowing her, we learned he could not have had a better lap from which to launch life’s journey. Nevertheless, I started ahead of him in the race for life’s success due not to my character or ability but from an accident of birth.
It took me far too long to see that the starting lines for Milton and me were at different places. For all of my career, I was comfortable in my good fortune of “white privilege” and gave little thought to the fact that my society was constructed so as to offer far fewer opportunities to Rome and Georgia’s black population. As I said, changes have been made but far more are needed.
A friend recently told me that racism did not exist any longer, and that the playing field was now level. You and I know this is not true and, without an intentional effort by people like you and me, it will not be for many years to come. The recent report in the Rome News-Tribune that white supremacists have chosen Rome for a rally in April is enough to put that belief into the category of fantasy or make believe.
We have seen far too much of nightly news horror over the past three years, from the death of a young man named Trayvon to repeated police shootings in cities whose names are now infamous. Our purpose is to do all that is possible to ensure Rome does not fall victim too. We can make Rome a city that is a beacon to the world in how to bring its people together as truly one people, eliminating all those things that have historically divided and embarrassed us — but it will take effort on all our parts.
I ask your help in moving the conversation about race forward in Rome and Floyd County by helping our local citizens group, “One Community United,” in an event it has planned for Thursday at the Wilder Center of Rome First United Methodist Church.
At 6:30 p.m. on that Thursday evening, we will meet with a multitude of Rome citizens of all races, creeds and origins to celebrate the community’s diversity. All the pizza and soft drinks you can eat will be served, and we will be entertained by the popular local band “LIFE.” The event is absolutely free to all, due to the generosity of Rome’s merchants who know how important it is that we do something to bring our community together across all the lines that divide us.
The event will be led by two dynamic young motivational speakers who are renowned for their high energy and moving program. They are nationally recognized as among the top 30 Young Leaders in America. The Rev. Robert Brown, senior pastor of Rome’s First Methodist Church, has dubbed the event a “Hearts United Gathering” or HUG. Let’s take a stand for equality and justice for all people. After all, it’s our calling.
What can you do to help make this a success? First, mark it on your calendar, then come and bring your family. Second, invite others to join you in participating in this historic event. The statement we will make on Thursday will say to the world, especially to those who obtained the permit to demonstrate hate in April, that Rome is a city of love and respect and has no ears for hate.
If you wish to contribute, tax-deductible contributions may be made to Rome First Methodist Church, but be sure to write “HUG” on the memo line. If you have questions about how you can become involved, or if you would like more information about the event, please email me or call me at 678-899-9594 or email the Rev. Robert Brown at email@example.com or Charles Love at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kenneth Fuller, a retired Rome attorney and former state senator, writes for the website MOVE GEORGIA FORWARD. Readers may contact him at MoveGeorgiaForward@gmail.com.