It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old; they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.
― Gabriel García Márquez
Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Mandy Carter. There were many, many reasons I enjoyed the meeting, but perhaps the one I am savoring most is that we are age mates; however, Mandy seems too quick to point out that I am her senior by three months and a few days.
Although Mandy was first introduced to social justice activism when Quakers visited her high school in Schenectady, New York, I know her from her significant efforts to continue the legacy of Bayard Rustin, a personal hero of mine. She was with Walter Naegle, Rustin’s surviving spouse, when President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously on the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington which Rustin organized. Mandy is also a former Executive Director and one of founders of Southerners on New Ground (SONG), which was birthed in 1993. SONG integrates work against homophobia into freedom struggles in the South.
On Thursday, Mandy joined some colleagues and me for lunch at the Milwaukee Art Museum. We started our get together with a brief visit to the featured exhibit, Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair. Buoyed by the tour, lunch was light-hearted but special. One-third of our group was 20- or 30-something. The rest of us are 50- and 60-somethings. The conversation, like the fashions on display, was exotic history for some and fond memories for others. One cohort is asking, “What now?” My cohort is asking, “What’s next?”
Thursday evening, Mandy Carter gave a keynote at my agency’s annual Bayard Rustin commemoration, Reviving the Dream. A local journalist read quotes from Rustin throughout the evening. Rustin’s works appeared throughout the venue, on tables, on signs, and on the screens that projected his image along with pictures of other lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Wisconsin. Mandy’s talk was wonderful and we all enjoyed it.
But perhaps what I enjoyed more than what she said on Thursday over dinner or lunch – even better than her remarks to a community gathering on Wednesday evening – was how she consistently communicated another deeper message. She remains hopeful. She sees our work of liberation in the period from 2013 until 2018 to be potentially as important as the work 50 years earlier. She holds plans and ideas in her head that are so vivid that they seem to shine from her eyes as she listens to those around her, ready to enlist anyone with a glimmer of hope to match her own.
After hours with Mandy over a two day period, I cannot recall a single word of cynicism or disillusionment from her. It is certain that in her decades of activism she has known considerable disappointments and numerous setbacks. Still, one would not know it from her words, her tone, or her expression. There is no naivety about her. She has known hurt. But, faces the world with the eagerness of the brave.