As an elected official, it is always a pleasure to be able to honor one of your constituents for their outstanding accomplishments.
This year, it was my privilege to introduce a resolution in the General Assembly to honor Paul Berger.
Paul suffered a stroke in 1985 at the age of 36. Initially devastated, he overcame his disability through determination and positive thinking.
While Paul still has some paralysis, he was able to regain much of what the stroke took away from him.
What never left him was his intelligence and creativity, and he was inspired to create a publishing company, Positive Power Publishing, in 1998.
Paul’s first book, “How to Conquer the World with One Hand…and an Attitude,” was published that year to inspire others through his example.
He has since produced two other books and numerous other materials. Paul’s message is that having a disability does not mean giving up.
Although Paul has aphasia, a condition that impairs one’s language processing skills, he knows how to communicate quite well.
His message of hope and encouragement has also led him to advocate for other people with disabilities.
To honor his efforts, he was named “Virginia Advocate of the Year” for 2007 by the American Heart Association.
It was because of this award and his commitment to inspiring people with disabilities that the General Assembly honored him this year.
I was able to recently present Paul with a framed copy of the resolution. A photograph of that can be seen elsewhere in this issue.
It Starts at the Top
Recently, Georgia Congressman John Lewis issued a statement in which he said that he was “deeply disturbed by the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign.“
I am sure that he was talking not just about the harsh cries from the crowd that can be heard in the video clips of the Republican rallies.
He was also talking about the choice of words used by Senator McCain and, in particular, Governor Palin in their speeches.
Governor Palin has talked to rural white crowds about them living in “the real America” and the “pro-America areas of this great nation.”
After Congressman Lewis’ statement was issued, Senator McCain said that it was “outrageous” to be compared to George Wallace.
Well, Congressman Lewis did not exactly make that comparison. If he had, then I would also take issue with his comment.
“My statement,” Congressman Lewis later said, “was a reminder to all Americans that toxic language can lead to destructive behavior.”
I agree. What’s more, he should know. Then divinity student John Lewis was beaten senseless for riding on an intercity bus with white college students in 1961.
It was at the Greyhound Bus Terminal in Montgomery, Alabama, which I visited this summer during my civil right pilgrimage.
As Chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, he was also beaten during the1965 Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March.
That was while trying to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which I also visited this summer, and being met by Alabama state troopers.
No Place in the 21st Century
Through the 1950s and 1960s, Southern leaders, including those in Virginia, as well as Governor Wallace in Alabama, made inflammatory racial statements.
Those comments, in turn, served to encourage individuals and mobs to attack people of color to prevent them from exercising the constitutional rights granted to all Americans.
I know that neither Senator McCain nor Governor Palin support such actions or want any of that to happen now.
But, as political leaders, they have to be cognizant at all times not to say anything that would encourage violent or racist behavior.
To their credit, Senator McCain and Governor Palin have toned down this type of rhetoric.
But, I believe that she still accuses Senator Obama of “palling around with terrorists” and he claims that the Obama economic plan is “socialist.”
Red baiting was used in the 1920s and 1950s, but I thought its time had passed. I do know that racially tinged comments have no place in the 21st century.
It is my belief that the issue of race is still the greatest issue facing Americans, unresolved since the first Dutch slave ship landed at Jamestown 389 years ago.
After all, we are all equal in God’s eyes. As my late constituent, Thurgood Marshall, said during oral arguments in the Brown v. Board Supreme Court case:
“Equal means getting the same thing, at the same time, and in the same place.” In the 21st century, it is the time and place for racial equality and racial harmony.