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Books are still the gift that keeps on giving

I lay back in the chair as the dentist wrestled with a rare but wayward three-root tooth.

In spite of the intense challenges presented by this extremely difficult extraction, my mind was constantly on a commitment I needed to keep.

I had set a gathering for librarians, principals, assistant principals and others representing some 21 schools.

I was looking forward to presenting 450 books specifically designed to include the African American experience.

It was important that I be at this gathering for five reasons: (1) all the people were from Senate District 23, which I represent; (2) some had traveled great distances at my invitation; (3) Kay Doherty, the ultimate source of the books, would be addressing the gathering via speaker phone; (4) reading had been so central to my overcoming poverty, racism and other challenges; and (5) the books were being given in honor of me and Faya Rose.

I just had to be there.

I had arrived at the dentist at 10:30 a.m.

It was now noon.

The tooth was putting up one heck of a fight.

When the dentist took a brief break, I could barely talk but I called my special assistant, Gloria Pompey.

“Tell Ola I will be late for the gathering.

The dental challenges are far greater than anticipated.

Tell her to just go ahead and start the distribution of the books.

I will be there before everything is over.”

Books have been very important in my life.

As a child, it was difficult to get any books, especially ones that related to blacks.

I loved reading so much I read the only books in our school library: two small sets of encyclopedia.

I simply read a little every chance I got, leaving a small piece of paper to mark my stopping place.

I still read a little every night and morning.

That’s how I recently read a large three-book series on Lyndon Baines Johnson.

I just finished Team of Rivals about Abraham Lincoln.

I’m now reading John Hope Franklin’s Mirror to America, all a little at a time.

I know how important it is for our children to read.

I know that more of our children read when they identify with the books’ characters.

It was so important that I be able to share directly in giving these books.

I remember how powerful it was for me as a child to read about people of my color.

I became a lawyer because I read about the great black attorney, Thurgood Marshall.

I returned to Alabama because I read about Harriett Tubman escaping from slavery and returning to the South 19 times to help others escape.

I am in the Alabama Senate because I read about Black Alabama Reconstruction Congressmen James Thomas Rapier, Jeremiah Harralson and Benjamin Sterling Turner.

Because I know the power of reading, it was important to me that I share in the distribution of these books.

Kay Doherty, a white woman who lives in Braintree, Mass. understands how much more powerful reading is when we can see ourselves in the books.

She is the driving force in Sharing, Incorporation.

These books, with their African American characters and themes, is evidence that she and Sharing really understand.

I didn’t hear Kay’s presentation by speakerphone, but I’m sure she explained why these books are so important.

They are important for all children but especially for the mostly African American students comprising these 21 schools.

This is not the first time Kay has given books.

In fact, it’s the fifth time.

The librarians, black and white have told me how our children hungrily seek these particular books.

When I talked to Kay on the phone after I had missed the book-giving gathering, she said more books were already being stock piled.

Kay really understands and, more importantly, the acts.

Books are gifts that keep on giving.

A school library insures that the books are read over and over by different students.

Every time a child reads a book, it becomes a gift.

Every time a child acts on an inspiration from one of the books, the gift gives again.

Books just keep on giving.

That’s why I needed to be there.

Dr. Hopson continued to work.

The third root of the tooth had grown into the jawbone.

Eventually he had to grind it out.

Twelve thirty came and went.

One o’clock came and went.

The struggle of the wayward tooth continued.

When I finally arrived at my office, all the librarians, principals, etc. had left.

Ola Morrow of the Dallas County Legislative Delegation had carried on in grand fashion.

Kay Doherty had called in, sharing the why’s and how’s of this precious gift.

In spite of my absence, everything had gone well.

Even though I could not be present, the children will still receive the gifts.

It was my loss, not theirs.