“When you are young, gifted, and black, your soul’s intact. Young, gifted, and black, oh how long I tell the truth. There are times when I look back, and I am haunted by my youth. But my joy of today is that we are all proud to sing. To be young, gifted and black, oh it’s where it’s at!” Patrick Caple crooned to a cheering crowd at a Social Security Administration building in Falls Church, Virginia, on Wednesday. An hour earlier, he recounted his childhood in North Carolina where his house and his father’s car were shot at, his father’s effigy burned, he and his family sleeping face down on the floor with his father’s arms over them. “For a while, I felt very ashamed of myself. I felt I’m a bad person because I’m black. I’m not good enough to go outside and play. People spit at me. People burned my father’s effigy,” he said.
Caple was only four years old when that happened and had to see a child psychologist for a year. But love from his family and church helped him turn the situation around. His personal story and song captured the reflective yet optimistic mood of a Black History Month event held by AFGE Local 3615 to celebrate a century of black life, history, and culture.
Caple is executive assistant at the Office of Electronic Services and Strategic Information, DITI, and was one of the “advocates for justice” honored at the event that day. Two others were AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer Eugene Hudson, Jr. and Ralph Smith, branch chief of the SSA Office of Appellate Operations’ Congressional and Public Affairs Branch. The three advocates joined in a conversation and shared their personal stories.
NST Hudson told the audience that he rarely talks about his upbringing in Alabama because it brings back bad memories.
“I despised my name for years. I was going to change my name from Eugene to a different name, but I was named after my father,” he said. He recalled how his father tried to shield him from seeing a cross being burned across the street when he was five years old. Alternatively, he explained how his mother instilled in him the value of always looking others in the eye. She encouraged him to always stand tall and walk with his head held high. This was her way of positively reinforcing his self-worth and highlighting the fact that being black is beautiful and just as important and worthy as any other ethnicity.
Smith, too, was only a child when his world turned upside down. Born in Prince Edward County, Virginia, he was sent to a church-created school in North Carolina when the county decided to close schools instead of integrating black students. While the county created private schools to educate white kids, black kids were left to fend for themselves. Smith later became involved in the civil rights movement. To stay committed to non-violent means, he took to heart a poem Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr said in 1962: “Do not despair. Do not give up. Let’s just stand firm for what you believe in and people all over the United States will say these are black kids, black children in Prince Edward County who have injected new meaning into the veins of civilization.”
“We all carried this,” he said of him and his friends. “We had it laminated on cards. When times got tough, we pulled it out.”
Smith is writing a book to recount history and his personal story. He joked that there was one chapter he couldn’t bring himself to write and that’s the reason he hasn’t finished the book yet. Smith, Hudson, and Caple were later presented with a plaque of appreciation.
Also speaking at the event were Local officials, including President Barbara Jackson, who moderated the panel discussion, First Vice President Elaine Mitchell, Women’s Coordinator LeGloria Warrick, Union Stewards Paul Robinson, Patrick Cirbus, and Erinn Taylor. Dr. Arla Bentley, executive assistant to NST Hudson, and Caroleen Moore, supervisory legal assistant, also showed off their vocal talents by singing.