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The Legend of Carneice Brown White Speech This speech was written to tribute my friend and soror Mrs. Carneice Brown White. The study of Greek mythology provides a multitude of seemingly all powerful gods and goddesses who possess a myriad of unearthly virtue, strength, intelligence and wisdom; heroes of epic proportions. But no matter how gargantuan these gods and goddesses proved to be, how mighty their strength, or great their prowess they had nothing on Mrs. Carniece BrownWhite. I often pondered if THEE Mrs. Carneice Brown White was part goddess in a human form, sent to improve Mother Earth, because it seemed that in her 40 years of educating, 8 decades of encouraging, 4 scores of loving and lifting up, and dedicated lifetime of service, there was nothing she couldn’t do. The magic of Mrs. Carneice Brown White was of such epic proportions that the only reasonable explanation seemed to be that she was of mythological origins. She was an AllAmerican author, culinary connoisseur, transformative teacher, devastating diva of Delta Sigma Theta, heartfelt humanitarian and mesmerizing muse. She made conquering the world, in style, look easy. Surely, a mere mortal could not possess all of the most desirable human traits: beauty, brains, integrity, courage, commitment, kindness, confidence, discipline, generosity and humility. All in one person, it just didn’t seem fair. I’d like to think that when God was passing out a pinch of “something special,” he accidently spilled over the entire box into Mrs. White, because she was just too dynamic to be mere mortal. I met Mrs. White during what was a very routine holiday activity almost four years ago. Annually, the Denver Deltas provide thousands of holiday cards to older members unable make the monthly trek to sorority meeting. It is a kind gesture to show appreciation during the holidays. This year in particular, I decided to deliver a bag of handwritten cards to an unknown Carneice Brown White, being that her living facility was very close to my home. During that initial meeting, I introduced and told her a little about myself, to include that I crossed into Delta in 2008 and some other pleasantries. She smiled, accepted our sorority gift, leaned in and with a twinkle in her eye, stated: “I pledged in 1948.” I guess she was trying to one up me (SMILE). We chatted a bit longer and I went on my way. Weeks and even months went by with no contact. But there was something about Mrs. Carneice: perhaps it was her bright, gracious eyes, kind demeanor, or gentle spirit, that compelled me back to her. The next four years would open for a very gratifying friendship. My bimonthly visits to 102 Heather Gardens consisted of a general framework: I’d take her dinner, usually Boston Market or, once she got comfortable enough to make “special requests” a 2piece from Popeye’s, coke and rice and beans with no rice. I also have to give my mother, Debra, a lot of credit, as she would support my efforts by buying and preparing meals to take to Mrs. White.
We’d talk about her family, and try to guess answers on Jeopardy (which was usually on and always too loud). She’d share about the accomplishments of her children, Drusel, Cecelia and Wade and regularly bragged on how proud she was of her grandchildren: Omar, Saleh and Amir. She also shared about the accomplishments of her artistic and talented sister Lucy. And, I couldn’t forget to mention the sparkle in her eye when she would whip out her smartphone, navigate that touch screen, and show pictures of her only greatgranddaughter, Kaylani. Y’all didn’t know? Mrs. White was hip. Time brought us closer, and so our conversations deepened into my life and career. She shared seemingly endless stories about her life’s work: Retired Teacher of the Year (2011); Living Legend Award, Sisters in Service (2009); Published Biography, Special Teacher, Special Mission; Delta Great Teacher (1990), presented by then national Delta president Dr. Yvonne Kennedy; First African American woman in Colorado to have her own televised cooking show; and as many older Denver residents came to know and love, her fictional educational character, Mrs. Goober. Every time I spoke with her, I seemed to uncover another part of her artistic, innovative, dynamic and leading person. One of my strengths is organization, so the past two years, I spent a lot of time working to try and capture for her even more recognition, to give her her flowers while she lived . I submitted for local and national awards in political action, education, honorary doctorates, recognition from the Mayor, proclamations from governor’s office. I guess you could say that my motivations were partly selfish. This woman had accomplished a lifetime of accolades before I was born, and I wanted to personally see her receive some more. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the annual Martin Luther King symphony awards at Boettcher Hall. Well, it is one of my favorite events where awardees receive various awards for community service in the spirit of MLK and my mom and I go every year. It is just phenomenal. In 2014 I nominated her for the MLK humanitarian award. Unfortunately, she didn’t receive the award, but Mrs. White still embodied all of the characteristics and qualities of a humanitarian. Here are some examples: She committed her life’s work to the education of special needs children. For 40 years she taught in Denver Public Schools, committed to ensuring that children with special needs received an excellent and equivalent education. From 1974 1988, fourteen years, she ran an annual holiday banquet, “Elegance in Dining for the Handicapped.” She enabled her children to dine at fine restaurants like the Brown Palace, with the purpose to elevate their expectations about what was achievable in life. One trip in particular, she convinced Continental Airlines to charter a flight for her students to fly to the premier Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs cheered on by the Denver Broncos. Now I don’t know about you, but I can barely get the airline to give me a comped ticket after THEY have screwed something up on a trip (SMILE). She was a contemporary to the likes of then a Coretta Scott and the budding revolutionary Martin Luther King, she knew them personally. In college she served tea to the likes of Mary McCloud Bethune and Halle Q. Brown, women not only eminent figures in the African American community, but American society as a whole. SHE received letters of thanks from world famous chef Julia Childs and the singer John Denver, for HER accomplishments. Mrs. White didn’t meddle with changemakers of the day she ashleyrankin.com 3
was change. She didn’t associate with the elites she was elite. And in it all, so humble. Infact, as I read this, I’m asking myself why I didn’t get her autograph! What I will miss most about Mrs. White is to see the joy in her eyes every time I would come and visit. She was so ingratiated by my support and time and regretful that she could not do more. But I told her that I was the one who was privileged to serve a woman who had dedicated her life to a lifetime of service. She encouraged me to keep writing and pursuing my God given gifts. Her support encouraged me to launch my own writing website, www.ashleyrankin.com, where I will publish this story. I am left with many funny memories, like the time she insisted on giving me some of her clothes to wear. (Lean in toward audience) Between you and I they weren’t really my style (SMILE). To have known her was to come in contact with a rare enchantment, like a shooting star or double rainbow. Surely, Mrs. White, you were more than mere mortal. Mightier than Zeus, lovelier than Aphrodite and more herculean than Hercules himself. I don’t need to look toward Greek mythology for a heroine of mythological proportions. God blessed us with one here on earth. Rest in Peace.