Columbia, SC — Most members of my generation cannot fathom the unjust environment of the Deep South in 1965. Yes, the landmark Brown vs. The Board of Education ruling was groundbreaking in 1954, but in states such as South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, segregation was still king into the late 1960s.
I often count my blessings for living in a time where I can dine where I please, vote without being first required to read the U.S. Constitution in Russian and send my child to a public school where the books were printed within the past 25 years.
And especially during Black History Month, I embrace the experiences of those people who came before us, who left us powerful examples of courage, endurance and sincere faith. People such as Lisco Thomas Jr.
In 1965, 15-year-old Lisco Thomas Jr. got word that one of the white high schools was planning to enroll African-American students. Lisco thought long and hard before deciding that he wanted more out of life and that a new experience could give him an edge.
He left the comfort zone of his all-black Booker T. Washington High School and successfully enrolled in the white Columbia High School. Lisco went on to be in the first class of African-American students to graduate from Columbia High School in 1967. He was the first in his family to attend college and became the very first African-American to graduate from Spartanburg Methodist College in 1969 and among the first African-Americans to attend Furman University.
Lisco was not embraced with open arms by everyone along the way. There was lonely isolation, being shunned, being ignored and having racial epithets yelled at him. There were cruel teachers and students, but he also recalls the students and teachers who brandished warm smiles and extended handshakes and hugs.
There have always been people who stood against the standard, who wanted more from both themselves and society. I proudly salute those individuals. I am so honored to know Lisco Thomas Jr. as a pioneer, as my mentor and as my father. He is a real-life hero.
As I see President Obama walk out of the White House on my television set, I am grateful for those who walked before him, who said no to the status quo, who stepped outside their comfort zones and helped foster the opportunity.