Dear Ms. June,
I know you are here with us. You sat in this lobby and all the rooms of Peaslee many times before. So your spirit is right here, right now. As it is in all the many rooms and places and organizations your body, and heart, touched. And there are many, including Bethany House, Tender Mercies, OTR Learning Center, Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, Over-the-Rhine Community Council, Keep our Courts/Do Development Differently, Miami University Urban Cohort and Residency Program, Cincinnati Action for Housing Now, Storefronts Artists Group, Imagination Alley, NKU Writing Collaborative and you made good trouble at City Hall. Ms. June you demonstrated how to be an active, participatory member of our community. I know deep down that you enriched our Over-the-Rhine People’s Movement, you told me often it gave you purpose to be a part of it. You gave us the will to carry on.
Ms. June you are alive in each one of us in a unique way. And oh how we were blessed with your warm and loving presence, your robust laughter, the colors you donned brightened any day’s drabness, your voice an invitation to sit down by your side and draw from the deep well of wisdom you imparted. You walked and talked in the footsteps of your Alabama and African ancestors. You did them proud by carrying the torch of freedom forward. We are grateful for all that you taught and challenged us on. You were profound in what you had to say, always direct and prophetic. And Ms. June, you had this special way of making people feel comfortable being uncomfortable. You showed us how to be in community with each other.
When you met someone, you held on to us, and did not let us go, or off the hook. You earned the title of Womanist Weaver of a Wide Web of connections. In these days since you crossed over, I’ve heard so many stories of how you stayed in relationship by phone, with those near and far. Your phone was a lifeline, not just for you but for us too. “I just want to hear your voice,” you’d say or “Last night I had a dream about you.” What we wouldn’t give to hear your southern voice again, and please Ms. June, come visit us in our dreams. Thank you for being a community anchor, a guiding light, leading us with love, showing us how to live with joy even as we face hurdles in righting wrongs in our personal and collective lives.
You saw beauty in each of us. Ms. June you often said “Everyone is a master piece”…and it was up to us to see and find the best in others, even if we disagreed. You had a conscious practice of loving across differences. Your life was truly a work of art. You taught us how to be good and kind neighbors. Your mantra was always DO JUSTICE, but “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Ms. June, you insisted on self-love, to love ourselves regardless of what mainstream might say about us. Speak your truth. Tell your story. You believed living on the edges is a strength. That there is power in just anger as long as we put it to good use.
Ms. June, I know you felt deeply the pains and sufferings of this world. And you were honest about your own grief and trauma. You were always looking out for the children, persons homeless on our streets, and the elderly. You were always telling anyone who needed it, “Lay your burdens on my breasts for a while.” But then, encouraged us to get up the next morning and use the gifts we were given to make our neighborhood and world a better and healthier place for all to enjoy. You told us we all have a responsibility in this freedom struggle if there’s a new world a coming. You had a vision for that new world. You saw it. You drew it. You wrote about it. You spoke of it. You inspired us to believe in it. Your life expressed that we needed a vision, even more than we needed hope.
Where you are, I hope they are serving ribs, green Jell-O, pound cake and sweet potato pie. That you are in a rocking chair on a porch breathing in fresh country air, no longer needing your oxygen tank, hearing voices singing Hallelujah from that Amen Corner you always spoke about. Ms. June, may you forever be draped with the colors of the rainbow, especially the color purple. We are so glad we had you for the time we did, which now feels way too short. I love you Ms. June. We all love you. Rest Sweet Sister, you gave to the world what was yours to give.
Delivered at Ms. June’s Celebration of Life at Peaslee on November 5, 2022