"We carry stories with us." That simple statement of truth from Ms. Rogers one day got me thinking about the many stories of people’s lives. Some of these stories are shared across generations while others go unheard and forgotten. The thought of having valuable lessons and years of wisdom deleted from memory, led me to take action. I quickly reached for my phone and called my great grandmother.
Decades of change
Born on December 9, 1929, and raised in Butts County, Georgia, my grandmother Christine Key lives just almost 10 years shy of a century. From whipping her Kia Soul around the streets of Atlanta to tearing up the dance floor at my going away party, to straight up telling you how it is with no sugar coating, Christine Key never ceases to amaze me. With almost 90 years of experience on this earth, my grandma has watched it change from movement to movement and from era to era.
Her story starts in the home of my great-great grandparents, Willie and Emma Hardwick. Christine was the only child and came from a well-structured household. She was a solid student throughout her academic career, as her parents stressed the importance of education. My grandma attended Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, Georgia, which is a majority black high school. I asked Christine about the environment of a black high school during a time period in which the country was racially divided. My grandma went quiet for a few seconds. As she thought through her high school career, the word “alienation” seeped through her lips.
Though her high school afforded her some opportunities, they could not compare to the opportunities that were afforded to those at white schools. My grandmother and her schoolmates were placed in a bubble separate from the rest of the world, confined to its margins. After graduation, Christine, attended Morris Brown College, another historically black institution, located in Atlanta, for two years. As she aged into adulthood, my grandmother gained firsthand experience of life during the civil rights movement in the south, from riots, to restaurant sit-ins, to not being able to grab the first vacant seat on a bus after a long day of work, only because the seat was not in the parameters of the designated “colored” section in the back of the bus.
Perspective on the Civil Rights Movement
Growing up I was taught about these events, like I am sure most of you were, but hearing it this time was different. I vividly visualized my grandmother enduring these struggles. The thought of having the sweetest person I know mistreated for reasons beyond her angered my soul.
However, my grandma confidently explained, “The pains of my experiences were overshadowed by my happiness of our people’s strides. I looked to my brothers and sisters like Martin Luther King and was overcome with joy and excitement… it was the time to regain our freedom.”
Making a difference one child at a time
Though my grandma was not always on the front line of these movements, she still did her part as an upstanding community member.
My grandma worked in several school cafeterias as head cafeteria manager. At these schools, she would come in contact with abused and underprivileged kids and welcome them into her home. Many of these kids, like her own, went off to college and were successful. Christine also took on active roles within her church, Mt. Nebo Baptist. She was church secretary, served on the usher, deaconess, and other boards, and was also instrumental in opening Mt. Nebo’s Christian Academy. Her activism spread throughout her community and has helped many people for generations, and I am living proof of that.
Guiding future generations
Never in a million years did my grandma imagine having a great-granddaughter who attends an elite boarding school six states away from home with all different types of people from across the country and world. I am the true definition of what it means to be your ancestor’s wildest dreams. Nine decades filled with stories of laughter, pain, hard work, joy, tears, dedication, trials and tribulations, has guided me to where I am today and where I’ll go tomorrow. Her story informs the path of our generation. We must recognize the significance of the generations before us. As James Baldwin said, “Know from whence you came. If you know from whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”
Amaris Calhoun '21 is a boarder from Jonesboro, Georgia. Calhoun is a three-sport athlete (soccer, basketball and softball) and a member of the Black Student Union.