Words have meanings. Ask me. I should know. Using a football analogy, I am in the fourth quarter of my life. So, as a beneficiary of longevity and with decades of hindsight, I have witnessed how words can be radioactive. Heck, I have even been on the receiving end of some words that were so lethal I often debated if life was still worth living.
However, words can also be a one-way ticket from misery. Ask me. I should know.
The person who changed my life met me in my 12th grade year. By then I was the product of parents who married a total of 15 times, lived in a dysfunctional home, was frequently abused and rarely had enough essentials, including food, love and self-esteem.
My teacher wrote some words on my book reports that shattered any negative thoughts I had harbored about myself. She was convinced I had potential and represented the “Talented 10th” of my race. Each morning for the past 38 years, I have begun my day by re-reading her words, which has served as the fuel for me to work in the spirit of excellence. Mrs. Ruth Davis predicted that I would be successful and she was right. I have had a prolific career in corporate America, I own a consulting services firm and I am considered a renowned motivational speaker and trainer. Imagine this much success coming to a broken-spirited girl who had internalized other people’s negative and defeating words.
Will you agree that the symbolic effect of words is enormous?
I am about to introduce you to some other words. I am waging a courageous battle to fix an egregious wrong that exists in Sasser, Ga., outside Albany. Perhaps you are unaware of a confrontational road sign, “Chain Gang Road,” that is prominently displayed in that community.
When I first saw that sign, a tsunami of feelings erupted within me as I could not believe that government officials or citizens would want to resurrect a powerful and shameful imagery that symbolically meant racial oppression and atrocities rendered to convict laborers who were primarily Southern African-American men.
Most Americans know that the phrase “chain gang” is a grim reminder and a throwback to the days of slavery and is akin to servitude and exploitation. Recalling how my teacher’s positive words were instrumental in awakening my spirit, I launched an investigation into the genesis of that sign. I was incensed to learn that a majority of the residents who live on that road are black and that the county has a majority black population. I questioned why the blacks were socially conditioned into accepting a road sign that is despicable and does not reflect our rich heritage.
Finally, I had to explore why Southern traditions and narrow-minded customs could run amok without being challenged.
In November 2011, I wrote two letters to express my sentiments. The first letter went to the Rev. Ezekiel Holley, president of the Terrell County NAACP. He immediately offered advice and volunteered to assist in petitioning the elected
officials to remove that sign. He has contributed endless hours on behalf of this cause and has been unwavering in his support.
Rev. Holley’s solutions were also instrumental in avoiding any stonewalling as he collected signatures from African-American residents who reside on Chain Gang Road. They have given 110 percent support and enthusiastically want to replace that sign with something that is more befitting their community. I salute his tenacity and the residents’ solidarity.
Recently, Rev. Holley honored me by comparing me with the late Rosa Parks. Thank you for those words.
The second letter was sent to the five Terrell County commissioners, two black and three white. Trying to appeal to their better angels was useless. The white power structure and ruling class was vindictive and released its hatred on us and toward our request by poisoning the atmosphere, of course with words, and by further instigating racial hostility, racial overtones and racial dissension. They used every trick in the Southern playbook to defeat this motion.
Despite the outcome, the black commissioners are to be commended for their vote and vigorous fight.
The struggle now has a high moral purpose. With fierce determination I plan to stick with this issue until it becomes a non-issue but I need additional take-no-prisoners persons to help bring more attention to this matter. I am in need of others who are not afraid to expose and confront this issue. If you are one of them, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 904-742-6105.
Andrea Giggetts, a Jacksonville resident, is president/CEO of Giggetts & Associates.
Photo: Andrea Giggetts