Ralph E. Moore Jr.

By Ralph E. Moore Jr.,
Special to the AFRO

All Souls Day is observed on November 2 of each year in the Catholic and other Christian traditions. It is a day of remembrance with prayer, meals and visits to cemeteries. Those who have gone before us are honored fondly for the lives they led; they are our ancestors.

Of course, we honor parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and deceased siblings whose spirits we hold deep in our hearts. But what about those who were not blood relatives and who encouraged young persons to do great things with their lives? These are the souls I happily commemorate in today’s column.

There was Mr. Bernard Caesar, the janitor-maintenance man at St. Pius V School in West Baltimore’s Harlem Park. My siblings and I were taught by the Oblate Sisters of Providence there, but Mr. Caesar taught me and my brothers many things during the out of school hours of weekends and summer days. He told me many times between repair lessons that I was a “natural born leader.” So, he inspired my brothers and me and he taught me practical things such as: how to use one of those big, heavy, silver, floor buffing machines, how to plaster before wall painting, how to repair a broken window pane (first measuring the space for the glass, then carefully removing the push pins and glass shards and then replacing the pane securing it with new push pins and putty from a can with a putty knife). He taught me and my brothers how to tile a floor.

Mr. Caesar was a jack of all trades, a genius at what he could do, and he took the time from his very busy agenda of chores in the four-story, combined school and convent building to encourage me. His confidence in me never left my mind though he is long gone. I learned to respect, befriend and listen to the everyday persons in any workplace or school—the service workers. Be polite, I learned from the folks in food service, housekeeping and security. They know things and will kindly share their wisdom and encouragement. And they will help you whenever they can. They will let you back into your room at no charge at the hotel or the dorm; they will give you an extra help in the cafeteria and give your room cleaning a little extra attention. Bless your soul, Mr. Caesar, and all that was within you.

Ms. Mamie Brown worked in the cafeteria of Levering Hall at Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus. When I would get lunch, between undergraduate classes, a classmate and I would get the chili she made for every noon meal. She would stand there, greet us, smile and give us an extra and encouraging scoop. That was for my college years between 1970, when I started and 1974, when I graduated.

Now, 25 years later, Ms. Mamie Brown was still working in the cafeteria of Levering Hall when I stopped in for a quick noontime lunch. There she was practically standing in the same spot. I leaned over the counter (food hygiene rules suspended) and gave her a big hug. We were happy to see each other. Within a few minutes, I asked her how long she had worked at Johns Hopkins. She replied, “Thirty years.” But, by that time, she was working for the Sodexho-Marriott Food Service Company. And although I learned she was severely underpaid, it was eventually realized that Ms. Brown was the longest serving employee of anyone at the Johns Hopkins institutions: Homewood, East Baltimore campus or Peabody. She was honored at a graduation at the Homewood campus one day. She very well deserved the recognition. Ms. Brown was a better person than all the people “striding the halls of their importance” to paraphrase poet Gwendolyn Brooks with PhDs and Nobel Prize nominations. Her kindness meant much.

If you search your memories, you might realize there are many little noticed people who helped you get along your way. They were everyday people. They were helpers. They were good souls doing what they could from where they were to advance our race. We must teach young people not to look down on the housekeeping staff, those in food service and the security guards. We must look up to them and the good souls like them who’ve gone home to heaven before us.

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