Both of my parents are products of sharecropping in Mississippi. I was born the summer before Mississippi Freedom Summer, 1963, in the small town of Columbia. To put things in perspective, Columbia, Mississippi, is the hometown of the famous and late, Walter Payton (Chicago Bears). Payton’s belief in Columbia was challenged by the manner in which law officials handled the arrest of his father. Payton’s father’s diabetic disorientation led law officials to assume intoxication which led to the senior Payton’s ill-fated death without the benefit of appropriate medical attention.
Due to the culture in which I was raised, I believe that from the day I was born, the second of four children, our parents taught us to never give up. We were told “a winner never quits and a quitter never wins.”
From Jim Crow, lynching, and sharecropping, to other acts of citizenry discrimination, the winner credo has stuck with me. This credo was particularly important when I was diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy, myasthenia gravis in my adolescent years.
The website for the national Myasthenia Gravis Association defines it as the most common form of MG is a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disorder that is characterized by fluctuating weakness of the voluntary muscle groups. The Latin name means: “grave muscular weakness.”
Common symptoms can include:
* A drooping eyelid
* Blurred or double vision
* Slurred speech
* Difficulty chewing and swallowing
* Weakness in the arms and legs
* Chronic muscle fatigue
* Difficulty breathing
As an adolescent, I experienced all of the symptoms above and I was often teased by my peers. Their insensitivity hurt tremendously. As a teen girl, I believed several things that society defines. Teen girls are supposed to have pretty eyes and my self-defined… portraits of the world were not. Girls are supposed to smile, and I could barely smile. Girls are not to have moon faces; I had a moon face. Girls are not to have difficulty speaking; I often had a rhythmic, slurred-singsong way of communicating. The medication, prednisone has a double-edge effect. It helped my symptoms and yet made my face bloated and cause irritability. I made a concerted effort to say time and time again, “A winner never quits and a quitter never wins.” I used the music therapy in lyrics to songs like Melba Moore’s the other side of the Rainbow” to empower me. Lyrics: Don’t let anybody tell you what’s impossible for you. Remember if you don’t follow your dreams you’ll never know what’s o the other side of the rainbow.
My journey with MG has been filled with challenges and yet, I remain determined. At age 40, I decided that I would adopt a 9-week boy. Five years later, my son is a handsome, well-adjusted, and smart African American. My son is encouraged daily to see the beauty in the credo: “A winner never quits and a quitter never wins.” This often works to my disadvantage, when he is attempting to persuade me to buy a Nintendo WII (and other toys). He asserts, “If I keep on asking you and I don’t give up asking you, I might just win and get it.”
But on a more serious note, it is important that my son learn about and understand some of the challenging statistics according to Race, Ethnicity Healthcare fact sheets developed by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The fact sheet reveals the leading causes of death for all young men ages 15-29, regardless of race or ethnicity, are unintentional injury (e.g. car accident, firearm, or drowning), suicide, and homicide. For young African American men, more deaths are caused by homicide than any other cause. The fact sheet reveals that homicide death rate for young African American men is three times the rate for Hispanics, the population group with the next highest homicide mortality rate . Although the rate declines for older African American men, death rates for homicide among African American men ages 25-44 are still 3 times that of Hispanics and American Indians of that age group. Homicide rates also are higher than the HIV death rate for African American men ages 25-44.
My son is (as he says) “technically five-years old” but he is told and thus vocalizes that he is “setting a standard not existing as a mere statistic.” Last but not least, my son vocalizes, “a winner never quits and a quitter never wins.” I want him to always, always believe that this credo is true.
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