James A. Garner

On September 29th 2018 I celebrated, along with the residents of the Incorporated Village of Hempstead in New York, my dad James A. Garner. My last name Garner was definitely the inspiration for my blog. As mentioned before garnering greatness is a blog that encourages and motivates people to find that greatness in themselves. My dad is from small town USA if you will. He was born and grew up in a place called Garysburg, North Carolina. According to the 2010 census the population was 1,507. But I know many years ago it would have been fewer people than that I could imagine. However, don’t quote me on that. My dad came from a large family who grew up on a farm. His father Ernest Garner was a sharecropper who had an elementary school education. However, he worked hard managing a farm and providing for his family. My grandmother who later lost her sight raised my dad the best way she knew how. That’s with love, instilled hard work, and faith. I remember my dad telling me a story that when he would go to the store with my grandfather to get things he would remember the store clerk speaking in a demeaning manner to my grandfather. Many times calling my grandfather, who was a grown man, the word “boy”. The store clerk knew that my grandfather was a sharecropper and often times he had to come into the store to get other items for the home such as flour and sugar. However, some stuff will be bought on credit because the proceeds from the crops were not brought in yet. When my grandfather tried to get things for his family it was sometimes difficult and the store clerk would continue to talk down to my grandfather. When my father shared the story with me as a kid he always said that he would never be placed in that position that due the education and other circumstances my grandfather could not  have challenged this person at that particular time due to many factors. That was one of my father’s driving forces to do great things in his life. My father went on to get his education, graduate high school, and went on to earn undergraduate degree. But before my father earned an undergraduate degree he had already accomplished many things. My father held many jobs some including airline baggage handler, Park and Recreation employee, and a truck driver. What I most remember is growing up all my life my father was an entrepreneur. My father was one of the first black owned pest control companies on Long Island. I saw my father work very hard and hustle hard to provide for his family. This hard work prepared him for one of the greatest positions he held in public service. In 1989 he became the first African-American mayor on Long Island, New York. He also became one of the few black Mayors in the state of New York. He was the mayor of the Incorporated Village of Hempstead from 1989 to 2005. He served 16 years as a mayor and a few years previously as a trustee of the Village of Hempstead. I remember when I was younger the amount of support he had from the community to help him achieve this great thing. I know in politics you can’t always please the people. Some people would like some things that you do and some people would disagree with some things you do. One thing I know is that he made history in the local community and in the state of New York. On September 29th 2018 my dad was honored by having a street named after him, James Garner Way. This was such an amazing experience watching the community come together not only to celebrate him but to celebrate the community in which he led. People came from near and far to help celebrate him. I can’t help but reflect on his roots as a small boy in North Carolina. I remember a couple of years ago I went back to my dad’s hometown. During my visit there my uncle Tommy took me and my daughter to the first family farm which at this point is just a large grassy field. My uncle pointed out where the old home was on the land and he told us about the different crops that was grown on the land and the livestock they had on the land. I got out of the car that we were driving in and walked from the road to the middle of the field. I stood there imagining where all these things were placed on the farm. I imagine my grandfather working the land and my grandmother taking care of the home. I imagined a grandfather with an elementary school education and a grandmother who later became legally blind due to cataracts. After leaving the farm we took a  drive a few miles out to where my father went to school. When we first approach this small green colored house structure that look rundown, I saw a man standing at the door with keys in his hand fixing a lock. I got out and I asked the man what was he doing. The man said he uses the old school-house as storage for some of his things. I was so excited when I asked the guy if I could go inside and take a look around. The man unlock the door and let me and my daughter in. When I stepped inside it was a three-room school house. It had an old wood-burning stove in the middle of the school house. When I looked upward the roof was barely there and you could see to the sun above. When I looked below I could see the dirt below the wooden slats that was holding up the structure. I look from room to room being careful not to slip through the floorboards. This is where my father received his kindergarten to 5th grade education. As I talked to my uncle who again shared the story that as a kindergartener my dad had to walk many miles to school to get his education everyday. After school he had to walk many miles back home to the farm. I reflected thinking that if I had to be in the same position would I even consider walking that many miles at that age. Determination was all I could think about. Determination of getting his education against a lot of odds that was stacked against him and his siblings. He didn’t have a lot of money, didn’t have the  finer things, or a lot of luxuries, but he had love and support.  My father also shared a time when he couldn’t afford school lunch from the cafeteria. Therefore he would have to take a fat back sandwich in a brown paper bag dripping with grease to take the school to eat. He said that sometimes the lunch ladies felt bad for him and gave him a school lunch. I say all that to say, no matter what you’re beginning circumstances are doesn’t determine your outcome. Greatness is within all of us. We just have to recognize that greatness and how do you garner that from within you. I am sure that during the name change celebration my father thought about that little country boy the grew on the farm watching his parents provide and work hard for their family to eventually build their own brick home. You see sometimes people may not know your story but you do. You know from whence you came to where your headed now. That’s the great part about life is that you have the ability to change the trajectory of your life. Be great at who you are. I am proud of the name that was given to me. I to reflect on standing in the middle of that farm field thinking about what my ancestors had to go through. I think about the little education they were given, I think about resources they used to make their life better. I don’t think they had a lot of excuses, because if they did I don’t think they would have changed their circumstances.

How do you see yourself now? You are great and you are worthy. I am sure many people have told you along the way what you’re not, know that you are somebody and that you are destined to do great things.

Yolanda ❤

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