It’s Black History Month and I recently was inspired by the posting on Lori Tharps’ My American Meltingpot blog offering concrete activities to celebrate the month. But I didn’t think I’d have such a different experience to add to her list – attending the funeral of an African American friend. On Friday, the calm day before the “snowtastrophe” that dumped two feet of snow, hubby and I spent the day at The Celebration of the Life of Franklin Delano Kinder, one of our first friends in Philly. My eyes stung through the weekend from the range of emotion – laughing and crying – of that day. Pausing from our routine to focus on the life of one dear friend allowed us to honor him and what he lived for, and it also felt like a re-centering and a cleansing of our own hearts. The fact that we will miss him so painfully much only reflects how much he loved and was loved, and to remember how important it is to take time to nurture the friendships that sustain us.
Toward the end of the stream of remembrances, all with the common theme of how Frank infused love in all he did, Ethel Henderson, auntie to seemingly hundreds (including me), told the packed rows of mourners to turn around and look at the people seated in the hall and the overflow room. “What do you notice? You are like the flowers in a garden. Look how varied you are. Look at what you reflect. This is what Frank lived for. To bring people together. To understand and love one another.”
From Acel Moore’s tribute to Frank:
“When Ummuna Gebre of Eritrea telephoned the Baha’i center in Washington, DC to ask questions, Frank answered – and later said he knew from that first conversation that he and Ummuna would marry.” It’s been 37 years since they married. Frank attended Cheyney University while their two daughters, Azeb and Almaz, were babies, and graduated with an A-average and as President of his class. To his surprise, he then was accepted to the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. After earning a graduate degree, he dedicated himself to a life of service, working with Head Start programs, as an elementary and middle school teacher, and then developing after-school and educational programs for new housing projects in Philadelphia. He served for 30 years as a member of the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Philadelphia. As Mr. Moore’s eulogy described, he was sustained by the belief “that humanity is one single race and that the day has come for people to unite in peace as a single, global civilization.” And: “He died as he had lived: surrounded by prayers, laughter, song, friends and family…”
When we joined the family for the “repast” we were delighted by a range of tastes and experiences. Just inside the door, two women wearing the traditional white gauze dress and headscarf of Eritrea were stooped over, pouring sweet, dark coffee they brewed over a single flame burner and poured precisely in the dainty cups, evoking an exotic oasis. In the next room were Ethiopian spicy stews and flat injera breads rolled neatly; American fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and cooked greens; Italian penne and meatballs and more – all prepared by friends and family who pitched in to serve multitudes. While filling up on the meal, it felt good to hear the humming of conversation, a young friend’s gentle strumming on a bass in the background, connect with old and new friends, and play peek-a-boo or hold the toddlers who cheered up the room. I loved that the pure and joyous spirit of several young children was allowed to be part of dear Frank’s “home-going,” reminding me of how natural this cycle is, even though it’s never easy.
It’s hard to imagine our extended community without Frank’s bellowing singing, deep laughter, or ready hugs. I hope his family felt comfort as I believe his friends did, in the coming together of so many diverse “flowers in the garden” from so many parts of his life. The fact this took place during Black History Month also reminded me that so many ordinary people are committed to racial harmony, conveying this simply through the actions of their daily lives. We can honor the history by forming friendships that cross barriers in the present. These small steps might not make it in the history books, but embody what heroes like Dr. King and even Mr. Kinder lived for.