HUNT COLUMN: The Foundation and the Cornerstone

Published 11:00 am Saturday, July 9, 2022

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On this Fourth of July, as I reflect on decades of Independence Day celebrations, the memories are a swirl of fireworks, cook-outs, music, and Peachtree Road Races (as a spectator, not a runner!). And I realize that my most memorable Fourth was the one when I was the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.

As a much younger woman, I had the opportunity to spend six weeks of my summer vacation in South Africa and Zimbabwe, the latter known as Rhodesia only months before, until it gained its independence from British rule after years of turbulence. Our group of 12 were LaGrange College students who had formed a contemporary Christian band, and our leader was the son of Baptist missionaries who orchestrated a musical mission trip for us.

It was a life-changing summer for me. Fortunately, I kept a detailed journal of our travels in Volkswagen vans up and down the countryside. Our concerts took place in schools and churches and were mostly segregated in Zimbabwe and completely segregated in South Africa, which was still under apartheid at that time. Having one Black singer in our group, we experienced some blatant bigotry. But, by and large, the people who fed us and gave us places to sleep were kind and generous, no matter their station in life.

Our first group meal after we hit the road was hosted by a Black family in the then officially separate township of Bophuthatswana. The small home had no electricity. We didn’t know what to expect, but then the ladies of the area brought in platters of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans. They had asked someone what kind of food from home we might be hungry for, and they made it happen. What a lesson in true hospitality.

The second most memorable meal happened on July 4th.  We were about halfway through our trip at that point and were beginning to feel homesick. My journal tells me that we all wore red, white and blue that day. Our hosts, knowing that the date was meaningful, treated us to a lunchtime braii (cook-out) between the morning and evening concerts. It was a beautiful day, though winter in the southern hemisphere, and we were served kudu (akin to venison) steaks and an American flag birthday cake.

My diary also reminds me that when we had one opportunity to visit a local movie theater, all of the previews were of American movies, which made us feel more homesick. On that day I wrote, “We find that American influence is very strong abroad. It makes you very proud. And it seems like everyone here wants to go to America someday. I think that if every American could be shipped abroad for about a month, everyone would really learn to appreciate the good ole USA, and our country would be a much nicer place all the way around.”

I still stand by that last sentence. Too many people have no real idea of life in a place where they definitely wouldn’t want to live, whether in this country or abroad. My experiences so far from home all those years ago lay the foundation for a belief that ensuing life lessons cemented: I am blessed to live in America. Even with all her current problems, America is still the land of unfettered opportunity for those who, with the right work ethic and attitude, want to change their lives for the better. And here’s something else I stand by: free public education is the cornerstone of a good life here, and we must do everything in our power to keep it viable.