Recently I was going through old family photographs when I stumbled upon a picture of a lady who used to help my mom, and before that, my grandmother with their housekeeping. To say she was merely a housekeeper would be completely disingenuous. When my aunt was a little girl, an African American lady named Lula Bell Wilson helped my Grandmother Russell around the house and kept my Aunt Terry until my grandparents arrived back home from work. When I was three years old, I was by all accounts a precocious little tyke. There is a good reason why my mom waited seven years to have another child. My mom was almost a nervous wreck when my grandmother suggested strong reinforcements in the guise of Lula Bell.
Mama has always told me I had a difficult time pronouncing Lula’s name and instead called her “Wuda Bell.” For the next six years, Lula kept me during the day while Mom and Dad were at work. While I’m sure that many of the values and beliefs that I cherish today were no doubt passed on to me by my parents, I have no doubt that Lula herself also had a profound impact in shaping my world. While I sometimes have difficulty remembering what I did last week, I can recall with clarity sitting out in the back yard with bologna sandwiches Lula had made us or walks up to the ice cream shop, roughly a mile round trip from our house on Carey Drive. Mom said Lula would often pay for the ice cream cones out of her own pocket. I was after all – her little boy. I suppose it’s because of the time I spent with Lula that I’ve always had such difficulty seeing the contrast between black and white. The differences between races, between those who have and those who have not have always been blurred for me.
In 1994, I had the chance to attend the Junior Chamber International Japan Academy with students from approximately 80 countries. Over the next two years I would serve Junior Chamber International as General Legal Counsel and then Treasurer, traveling into Japan, Korea, Central America, and Eastern Europe. It was a rewarding experience sharing ideas and appreciating the diversity and customs of other cultures.
This month the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce launches the first of its Women and Minority Business Development programs. This is an opportunity to engage the diverse population that makes up our region. Our hope is to create programs that strengthen us as a region, to open doors of opportunity, and provide resources for our citizens to help them reach their potential. After all, we are at our best when we help others achieve their dreams.
This past Sunday, I traveled to Rock Hill to help my dad on the farm. On the way back to Huntersville, I drove to our old home where I grew up as a child. I parked the car and looked at the house on Carey Drive. I stood in the drizzling rain peering into the back yard, beyond the little fence, where Lula and I would sit and eat our sandwiches. I can still hear her laughing at my many antics. She would put her hand to her face and laugh with a sparkle in her eye. To me Lula wasn’t a black woman or a white woman, she wasn’t well off or poor – she was my Lula and I was her little boy. While she has passed on now, her laughter still warms my soul. The days we spent together, four decades later, are etched in the memories of my mind and through the eyes of a young boy I remember.