As Black America recounts how far it’s come, there is pride in culture and in accomplishments. One can see how the contributions and sacrifices of America’s Black seniors are woven throughout every part of the country’s history. Black History Month formalizes that recognition.
The MSR recently sat down with senior Arie Gipson in her home in North Minneapolis. Gipson, born in Addison, Indiana, was raised in Minneapolis and attended several schools on the city’s North and South Sides. “I bounced around a bit,” recalled Gipson as she reflected on the good times and sad times in her life.
One of the good memories was time spent with her mother rifling through second-hand stores to browse or look for things they could repurpose. “I love thrift stores,” said Gipson. She still makes those visits when possible, although she moves a little slower with a walker, the results of an overdose of medication.
One might say Gipson was recycling long before it was a social trend. “You talking about one man’s junk is another man’s treasure? Everything I got came out of thrift stores!” said Gipson.
She confessed that when she is buying for someone else she goes to Macy’s or J.C. Penney’s, but when she’s buying for herself, “I go straight to the junk shops.”
The tone of the conversation changes as she speaks about her four children and her 34-year-old son who, in 2004, was shot and killed in North Minneapolis. The early morning phone call she received did not begin by informing her that her son had been killed. “It was two o’clock in the morning! The first call I got [about her pending heartbreak] was asking for his organs. He was an organ donor.”
Her son’s case is still open. To this day, she waits for a coroner’s report that won’t be released until the case is solved. She doesn’t know what happened. “He just gone.”
Gipson is still coping with her son’s untimely death, but cannot accept that piece of the puzzle still missing: Why did he die? “Whatever he did wasn’t nothing the rest of them wasn’t doing in that group [that he hung around].”
During our visit, Gipson invited the MSR to see some of the things she’s made: The first item is a little red and yellow stuffed teddy bear sitting in a wooden chair, high atop a cabinet. She also showed us her legwarmers made from coat sleeves; a bathroom night light; a wall hanging; a stuffed baby doll made from a newborn onesie; an arrangement of dried flowers in a vase; and a beach bag made from a skirt. Each piece comes with a little story about how she came by the materials and how she assembled it.
Gipson shared her opinion about society’s changes, stating Martin Luther King, Jr. would roll over in his grave if he knew how things were today. “They’re not treating each other with love or care no more. It makes you want to cry,” she lamented.
She recalled an incident when she was boarding a city bus using her walker. She asked a young woman to please move her foot, as it was blocking the aisle. A fellow passenger repeated Gipson’s request, but the young woman cursed and said, “I don’t care about that old woman — she better not hurt my feet!”
Gipson said there are cliques, even in church. “You say hello to them, and they look at you like you’ve lost your mind.” She wants African Americans to do less blaming and more work on self-awareness.
As MSR concluded the interview, Gipson says in passing, “Did you know I was in the military? I was a cook in the Army National Guard, 94 Bravo, Fort Dix, New Jersey.” She reels off each detail of her position in the service, and, “I was the best field cook they ever had.”
Gipson’s story is Black America’s story. She is a veteran; she has struggled through — and survived — more than her share of personal hardships, but she remains committed to enjoying life and sharing her story with others.
Judith Hence welcomes reader responses at firstname.lastname@example.org.