Good Use of Privilege

My mother, Lodie Mae Cherry, passed away four years ago to this day – May 3, 2014. She was a month short of 90. I was teaching a Mindful of Race training in Charlottesville, VA, when I received the call, and it took all I had to complete the last day of training before catching a plane home.

Last night, I spent some time reflecting on my mom’s life. My grandfather owned a plumbing company in Los Angeles. He trained my father in the business and my mother ran the office. My father then trained his sons in the business.

Born in 1924, my mother was a musician at heart and a civil rights activist out of necessity. And with 8 children, she had to work many jobs to care for us. In reviewing the pile near me that now speaks of her life, I was reminded of her work with the Urban League back in the 60’s, where, because she was a light-skinned black person, she was able to gain access to jobs darker-skinned blacks did not have access to, due to structural racism. However, because of her skin-color privilege, she was able to gain access and then advocate for other blacks to be hired. From what I can glean, it was an intentional strategy and a good use of her privilege.

My mom taught me that it is not enough to just care for yourself and your family; you must also use whatever privileges or blessings you have to lift others up. It is her voice that whispers in my ear, her music that plays in my heart, and her proud example that keeps me in service to us all. Thank you Mom. I love you. I’m grateful. Your life sustains me.

12 thoughts on “Good Use of Privilege”

  1. Aimee Bernstein

    Beautiful Ruth,. No wonder you smile so brightly. You were raised by a special woman. And yes, your Momma was right. We all need to lift each other up.. no matter our race, gender, religion, culture etc.

  2. Lovely tribute just b4 Moms Day and a wonderful example of a lesser known skin privilege. Understanding my own white skin privilege as a Jewess has been a life long lesson. There are some elitist resultant behaviors that still need monitoring. But there are ways I can use that privilege that are redemptive as are any direct actions I can take to bring new, more responsible consciousness to other white folks.

  3. Dear Ruth,
    What s beautiful remembrance! Your Mother was/is a beautiful soul and her story inspires me and warms my heart.
    She was an unsung heroine of humanity and Civil Rights, working behind the scenes.
    Thanks for sharing your special memories with us.
    Jo????

  4. Ruth – Thank you for sharing this personal remembrance of your mom. I feel much admiration for her and it is wonderful that she sustains you. I am grateful for this story.

  5. That was Beautiful, Sis!! Mom was an extraordinary woman whose stories, lessons and music still fills our hearts and souls. You honor her through your truthful writing and heartfelt work. I am so Very Proud.

  6. Thank you, dear Ruth. As a white male who––thanks largely to your skillful, elegant guidance––is beginning to wake up to the cultural forces that have shaped my life, and the lives of us all. Although we worked together years ago, it is YOUR voice in MY ear that gently urges me find ways to “use my privilege and blessings to lift others up.” This is deep, delicate, humbling internal work. I bow to you.

  7. What a beautiful remembrance of your mom, and a reminder of how privilege can be used for good, no matter how it is earned. Thank you for sharing memories of your mom and her wisdom in action.

  8. Blessings to you and your mom, dear friend. I love this tribute to her, and see her love and light shining through your eyes!

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