When my father set out from Monroe, Louisiana almost 100 years ago in search of a better life, it was unsafe for a Black man to stop in the South when travelling. He loaded up his car with enough food and water so that he could drive for three days and three nights without stopping. He also carried with him a copy of Psalm 121, the traveler’s prayer. My father’s story, and that of so many others, are documented in Isabel Wilkerson’s incredible book, The Warmth of Other Suns.
Today, I am so proud to be back in Louisiana to join approximately 18,000 women at the 54th annual Delta Sigma Theta convention in New Orleans, as we celebrate, reflect on, and recommit to a more than century-long tradition of sisterhood, sacrifice and service.
Furthermore, I am so proud that my son Cory is with me. So many of the qualities that define the sisterhood we celebrate today are the ones I see in Cory — fearless leadership, commitment to community, and a deeply rooted dedication to service.
When Cory graduated from law school 20 years ago, he could have gone anywhere in the world, but he moved to Newark, New Jersey, to work as a tenants rights lawyer and help families fight slumlords. He went on to serve as city councilman then mayor of the city, and is now the Junior Senator from New Jersey. All the while, Cory has stayed in his same community in Newark, which might surprise those who don’t know that Cory’s commitment to service is something of a family tradition.
I myself was raised by parents who were active in movements for social justice. My dad who left Louisiana so many years ago went on to become a union organizer while working at the Ford motor plant in Detroit, and my mom was active in the Urban League.
It is that tradition that led me to become a member of the Alpha Beta Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta at Fisk University during the civil rights movement. It is that tradition that led me, 56 years ago this summer, to volunteer to help with the March on Washington and to be there to hear Dr. King tell the world about his dream.
And that is why I didn’t rest on my laurels when I became one of the first Black women to work in the offices of the software company IBM over 50 years ago. During my first days at IBM, it was not an uncommon occurrence for executives to stop by to tell me “how you do here will determine what we do,” as it pertained to increasing diversity at the company.
I took their missive as a challenge — not just to work twice as hard, or to be the first to arrive and the last to go home, but to work over many years to change the culture of the business and lower the barriers for those who would come after me.
My husband and I raised Cory and his brother Cary to understand the work, service, and sacrifice it took to create the opportunities afforded to them, and the importance of making that same commitment to others in their own lives.
After I began work at IBM, and right after Cory was born, my late husband Cary and I tried to move to suburban New Jersey to make sure our children would have access to great schools. But we were blocked by real estate agents who refused to sell us a home because of the color of our skin. We refused to give up and we enlisted the help of housing rights activists and volunteer lawyers who were part of a group called the Fair Housing Council. They helped us set up a sting operation so that we could purchase the home Cory and his brother grew up in. It is not lost on me that Cory’s first job after law school was to help other families stay in their homes.
That is why I am so proud of Cory, not just in his campaign for the presidency, but because of who he is and always has been. Throughout his career in public service, I have watched Cory take on the toughest fights with an unyielding faith — not just in himself, but in what people can achieve together, and in what is possible when people work and struggle together.
I have watched Cory fight against injustice and hatred with love. I have watched him stand up to bullies by standing up for people and for his community. I know that Cory is the kind of leader that our country needs now more than ever.
Cory is running for President not just to win an election, but to continue the legacy of service that has been passed down through generations, with a faithful commitment to the work we have left to do.