Friday May 24, 2013
Social Justice Indelibly Sewn Into My SoulBarry Lee Coyne Salem-News.com
My interest in political affairs became the ideal outlet for being heard and respected.
(SALEM) - This being written on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, I deem this the optimal occasion to tell the true story on how Social Justice and my soul became an emotional umbilical cord. It all began in my native town of Brooklyn, NY.
This writer was the first grandchild on both ends of my family and represented a new generation, a hope for the future. I was readily loved and appreciated by all the adults in my family at that point. We might call that "positive reinforcement". When my dad was drafted for service in WW II and soon shipped off to Italy with the Army Air Corps, the household changed. Instead, Mom and I moved in with my paternal grandparents and joined my then-single Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Harold.
In short order, my presence was felt as a young, very curious toddler. Questions were highly encouraged.
Listening to war news on the radio at a tender young age became ritual. Even newspapers were part of my daily visual diet and I soon learned to read maps that traced the advances of the Allied Forces in Europe.
Meanwhile, all I saw of my father was a photo or two in a GI uniform, and later on letters from the front.
By default, my grandpa and my uncle became my joint father figures.
It was probably a child's "dream come true" to have the attention of all those grown-ups and they tried hard to treat me like a future adult at every turn. I recall playing with jigsaw puzzles and being read poems by Robert Louis Stevenson and being given new words almost daily to build up my vocabulary. What you read this very moment is the by-product of those years.
However, due to adult concerns of falling out a screened 2nd-floor window, I was kept "prisoner" in a child's playpen till roughly age 3. This made me feel caged in: it was something that I bitterly resented. One day my frustration level reached its peak, and I tossed a wooden block toward Grandpa. It nicked him on the hand and he came to put me on his lap. Thus I felt rescued. This lesson empowered me. When the pop cowboy song of "Don't Fence Me In!" was played on the radio, it became my personal anthem.
Fast Forward: WW II ends and Dad returns home. However, all the hero image suddenly disappears as he becomes brutal as he shows his trigger temper. He beats me with a leather strap almost daily as well as screaming and humiliating me in front of friends and relatives. Tension fills the air. I feel suppressed in being told "not to answer back" or raise questions about anything, at the risk of still another beating!
That represented yet another kind of imprisonment.
This is especially devastating because I had been told that American GI's had fought that bloody war to be certain that the US remained free from dictators like Hitler and Mussolini. Why was my household turning into the kind of concentration camp those grown-ups had described?
I turned to writing as my refuge, This allowed me to express my ideas on paper. Soon a fantasy world was developed on paper as I created "Coyniana", a mythical country with its own alphabet and currency and a host of other goodies. The art of self-empowerment was at my doorstep.
The fact that my new baby sister, some four years younger, was punished far less because she was a girl, made me believe that my situation was unfair. I began to use the phrase of "double-standard" and accuse my father of that. He chafed at that accusation and only abused me all the more.
When I was a young teen, I read many library books. One dealt with the new practice of running public opinion polls on different issues. That really intrigued me. Motivated by this, I decided to conduct my very own survey of the parents of my friends. The topic was the form of discipline they used with their children, since I had long felt my Dad was an extremist. I posed imaginary trouble situations and asked just how they would respond as parents.
Their answers proved my suspicion: my Dad was indeed a tyrant.
Around this time--maybe age 14--I began trying out writing "letters to the editor" and was enthused in seeing my remarks in print. That made me feel more of an equal, In high school, I developed the habit of writing to my legislators about current events issues that smacked of unfairness. Before long I had set into motion a personal friendship with my moderate Republican congressman as I began to follow the activities of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the WW II hero who seemed far more into seeing social justice done than I could expect in my own home.
My interest in political affairs became the ideal outlet for being heard and respected. This was even more the case when I read Plato's Republic in school. Its theme was that every citizen has a right and indeed a responsibility to speak out and have a voice in public affairs. It was a message that deeply resonated. My school chums even encouraged me to run for Congress someday, an idea I visualized but never pursued.
I'd be content to be a voice from the sidelines, with a love for logic in fine-tuning existing policies.
Mine was the role to speak out but never to put down. I'd be in essence a committed problem solver.
And that's the story of how my childhood discontent at being a survivor of abuse prodded me to seek out a positive outlet to help others. Yes, my soul is linked to Social Justice, and shall never be severed.
NOTE: B. Lee Coyne first emerged as a Caucasian cub reporter for the Black weekly NY Voice and was assigned to cover numerous civil rights struggles. It has left its indelible mark on his mindset. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.
B. Lee Coyne, a NYC native, blends three careers: Journalist, Counselor, Educator. His writings have appeared in newspapers and magazines on the East and West Coasts and the Southwest. He loves the art of the interview and has covered such persons as Dr. King's 1963 "Dream" speech and Sen. William
Proxmire as an advocate for the environment. A global traveller to some 30 countries aboard, he speaks Spanish semi-fluently and very rudimentary Russian, Tagalog, German, Arabic and Hebrew.
Lee's legacy here in Salem includes launching the Salem Peace Mosaic at the YMCA and doing a radio talk show for KMUZ/88.5 FM. It airs Mondays and highlights lives of proactive, productive senior citizens. He invites you to contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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