She believed her job to be as important as that of doctors, nurses, firefighters and police. Back then, people called the operator for emergencies. She'd tell me about having to stay on the line with someone while they waited for an ambulance or a police officer to arrive, her voice a lifeline in a desperate situation.
In 1967, the Governor of Ohio, Jim Rhodes, declared a state of emergency in Cincinnati. The boundaries of the city were blocked, including the bridges from Kentucky. Emergency vehicles the only way in or out.
From our small Kentucky town, where black people were afraid to visit, I watched my mom get ready for work. She told me to pack a back and go to my aunt's house, she didn't know when she would be back.
An air of excitement swirled around her, a rare smile, an uptick in her otherwise sad face. "I have to take a bus to the bridge. The National Guard will take me from there." I imagined her climbing into the back of an army jeep, guys in green uniforms, rifles tucked in the crooks of their elbows.
My mom had her faults, but she wasn't afraid of anything. She walked dark alleys, head bent, because it was the shortest distance to the bus terminal. She marched into a hotel and demanded that they replace the tattered American flag atop the building. And when the telephone company replaced switchboards with computers, she broke with the union, was blackballed for getting trained.
It's no surprise that I am who I am; outspoken, bent toward social justice, and constantly reminded that fear has no place in my life. It's been an exhaustive year on the national scene. I rallied with friends in Cincinnati on January 20, 2017, made phone calls nearly every day to my representatives, and traveled to D.C. for the March for Science. I helped to form a committee to bring awareness to everyone's rights and responsibilities to vote, and have continually supported and invited women to run for office.
My mother was a single parent all of my life. When my friends went home to a mom, I went home to cans of Chef Boy R Dee and cultivated a fierce sense of individualism.
Today, I feel a shift in the energy. Are we there yet, no. There's still a long way to go. But, from the time I was a ten-year-old kid watching my mother disappear down the street, headed for a violent city, I've known that standing up for what is right is the only thing to do.