I read the story by Register reporter Laura Collins on Bill Wright and his new book celebrating eight decades of his life. My heart was warmed leaving a slight smile on my face as memories of conversations with Bill throughout the years dashed across my mind. Then on the very next day to my utter surprise Bill's book arrived in the mail with a note written by Bill himself: "Dear Rufus, Many memories of the struggle, Love Bill." I will cherish not only the book but the friendship for the rest of my life. I read the book in one sitting. I sent a note off to Bill immediately; "great life, great work; thanks for the memories." Love Rufus.
I remember the first time I met Bill in the early 1980s. My how time flies when you are having fun. I had not been out of college to long, but had finished my days as a teacher and was involved in ministerial work full time. As a young idealistic priest/politico my goal was not only to give back to this community which had been so good to me, but to be an agent of change as well. I choose to become involved in issues surrounding the schools and the youth. I was attending a meeting about what to do about the Scottie May Park situation. There had been a serious of fights which involved black and white kids. The conventional thinking of the city fathers at the time was to close the park down. Their fear, of course, was the possibility of a full-fledged racial uprising. I can remember the conversations being very heated.
After a number of comments were made which tended to be accusatory and some threat-like rants were offered, this completely white-headed, grandfather-looking little white man rose and began to speak.
I still remember how initially he was ignored, surprisingly, by the white powers-that-be; especially when he talked about how closing the park would be detrimental to the black kids who really had nowhere else to play basketball. He talked with such wisdom, clarity of perception and compassion until I asked someone sitting next to me; "Who is this guy?" I was told, "Oh, that's just Bill Wright."
Of course after the meeting I got the chance to meet him. I came to realize that this little man epitomizes what it really means to be a true citizen and civic servant. In the simplest kind of way, this man of passionate concern for the good and the betterment of his fellowman has lived a remarkable life. Bill has been a selfless fighter for equality and true freedom and real democracy. The 93-year-old activist has made the hard choices for eight decades and has steadfastly lived a life of devotion dedicated to creating the "beloved community." The shame is that his work will not be more widely known.
But it is Bill who has said:
"So live life that upon your leaving whether recognized or not ... the world will be a better place because you lived."
Bill is part of a vanishing body of civically minded, self-sacrificing public servants who care about the people more than they care about their own riches, popularity or public visibility. He exhibits the qualities of true leadership. He possesses one quality that is fast waning in this country: personal, familial, and communal relations. These relations, though always under attack and difficult to sustain, are needed to create the crucial balance for development of a collective consciousness which causes moral commitment and the kind of courageous engagement needed for change.
Bill has been a visionary in the true sense of the word. He sees things not as they are, but as they should be. And then he tries to bring them into being. He has been the overcomer, always becoming.
He lives by a higher calling. He comes from a time when tradition bred people who had a sense of credible political involvement. He came out of a generation that understood the crucial important of political struggle and social adjustment. There is something almost mystical and even spiritual about this Bill Wright. Every senior government class at Sandusky High should have the privilege of listening to a lecture about civic involvement given by Bill Wright while he yet lives as a requirement for graduation.
He is the last of a generation. He is a true American voice. He is our Thoreau with a little bit of Martin Luther King Jr., Daniel Berrigan, Robert Kennedy, Dorothy Day and Eugene McCarthy all mixed together.
In his poem, "Paul's Legacy," he writes about a friend of his, but actually the last stanza can be said of him:
"... Here and there,
the way you lived your life.
Where ere your steps were tread
You left a living message:
That far and wide will spread
Through all the hearts
That with you on your journey met.
Your goodness lives,
This part of you
That is your soul,
Will never die."