When one considers “legacy”, site pill inheritance, illness birthright and history come to mind. Families pass down genetic markers, there talents, preferences with regard to regions of the country or state they want to live in, affinity for certain political parties, religious convictions and even types of cars they drive. Businesses and economic concerns are also passed down through generations, as are educational or vocational interests and abilities.
The impact our family of origin has on us is significant and can often set us up for guaranteed success on one hand and predetermined failure on the other. No matter the type of legacy that we inherit, there comes a point where each of us must make the best of it. We must take it as a springboard to move us to the next level or as a motivator not to make the same mistakes or choices that those who came before us made. Either way, we must take responsibility for the legacy we inherit one way or the other.
A man named Oscar Pettiford was my maternal grandfather. He was not the famous jazz musician by the same name, no. He was a big man with big hands and a big heart. He smoked a big fat cigar and always wore a cap on his head. He drove a made-in-America pickup truck and he believed in GOD. He was quiet and soft spoken. He was a man of great stature, tall and substantial. He always looked elegant in his silver blue suit and grey fedora with a small red feather cocked to one side. He didn’t use a lot of words but when he said something, he spoke volumes. He sopped up syrup from a saucer with Wonder Bread, and he taught me how to sop it too. His integrity was unquestioned and his character impeccable. He was a man who fathered and raised eight children, lived in a house he owned and worked every day except Sunday when he rested and served as a deacon at Bethlehem Baptist Church. My grandfather was the epitome of love, and every day he demonstrated that love by living the golden rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He did this amidst the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the oppression of Jim Crow, lynchings, church bombings, segregation and the visceral hatred of a nation that claimed to be the land of the free and home of the brave.
Oscar Pettiford left an incredible legacy of courage and grace. He loved people, even when they hated him. He taught us by the example he set as a father, grandfather and citizen. He left a legacy that those descended from him have a responsibility to honor. He was an honorable man. I remember him on this Father’s Day, as I honor all the men who have left a legacy for their children and children’s children to follow. This week, we celebrate Father’s Day. I want to honor my grandfather as I embrace the legacy he left me. You should recognize your own legacy and join with me in encouraging all the young men who are in the process of building their legacy for their children to inherit someday. HAPPY FATHER’S DAY TO YOU ALL.