An Opening Lifetime

Virginia McLaurin was born in 1909 in South Carolina. She grew up in the Jim Crow era in the south and only went to school through the third grade. She was needed in the fields, working with her parents.

Virginia married when she was 13. She was part of the migration of African Americans to the north and relocated to New Jersey. Her husband was killed, and she relocated to Washington, DC to be near her sister. She had two children with her husband as well as an adopted boy.

Virginia worked as a seamstress for most of her life. In her 60s she became an active volunteer. When her extensive service to others became known, she was invited to the White House by President and Michelle Obama* (see below). She was 107 years old at the time, but that didn’t stop her from dancing with the President and First Lady.

Virginia died in 2022 at the age of 113. She left behind 50 descendants, including a great-great-great grandchild.

Just imagine the opening of society in Virginia’s lifetime. Women earned the right to vote. While African Americans theoretically could vote after the Civil War, their voting rights were effectively opened in Virginia’s lifetime. People gained the right to marry who they loved, and for part of Virginia’s lifetime, reproductive rights were granted to women.

During Virginia’s life, basic rights were extended in employment, education, healthcare, and in other areas. We became aware of our impact on our climate. We welcomed those from other countries who have made remarkable advances in our society. We defeated a fascist dictator and saw democracy open former Soviet Republics.

In a span of one person’s life, we have opened our society. Just imagine the lifetime of a child born today who lives for 100 years. Will that child see a continuing opening of society? Or will that child see hard won rights reversed? Will we still believe in democracy, or will we see demagogues using misinformation to lull us into an authoritarian society? Will we value the contributions of all of us, or will we once again let status-threats divide us as a nation? Will we be open to facing our challenges, or will we use denial as a political strategy? Will we foster kindness as a human trait, or will we view benevolence as a weakness, as a survival of the fittest mindset? Will children born today experience openings or closings in society? The answer to all of these questions is up to each of us.

*“What’s the secret to still dancing at 106” – Wikipedia

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“The future depends on what you do today.” – Mahatma Gandhi

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