Karen Hernandez
4 min readMay 13, 2024

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So, what did you want to be, and what did you end up doing? Curious minds want to know.

When I was in the first grade in 1956, I became aware of racism on the first day of school, although I did not know it was called that. My new Black friend, Emma Ruth Jones told me what her mother said---that kids might not want to sit next to her or play with her. I was horrified. I told her I wanted to be her friend AND sit next to her. I decided in my mind at that moment (a God thing I am sure) that I would always try to help Black people feel accepted and loved.

Some years later my Mom nearly died giving birth to her 12th. child (our family is Catholic) and I made a promise to God I would become a nun if he would save her life. I could also still help Black people as a nun, right?

My love for Black people grew before high school when I heard about Dr. King's Dream of creating a Beloved Community. It was like he was reading my thoughts about how the world was supposed to be. So he became my hero and role model. Then during my Senior year, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, when I was 17. It was the single worst day of my life. I renewed my pledge to myself that I would do everything I could to keep his Dream alive during the Civil Rights Period and beyond.

After high school in 1968, I enrolled in a new program for cosmetology students of all ages, at the suggestion of my Mom who liked the idea of free hair care for life. LOL! But that didn't happen because I had already met the guy I was destined to marry during my last year in high school, and we ended up eloping to Tacoma, WA. where he was stationed in the Army--- one month before I was supposed to take my final exam and get my cosmetology license. So I broke my promise to God to become a nun ---(and my parents did not like my new husband very much---until my first child was born.) She was their first grandchild and Goddaughter.

Fast forward to 1980 when I had my 7th. child--- who had a scary heart condition that required open heart surgery at age 6. That was a test of my trust in God to keep him alive and God saved him.

Fast forward again to my epic decision to go back to school at a community college around 1988---(since all seven children were in school) and I pursued a career where I could help people with addictions. I graduated in 1991 and worked at a hospital serving the inner city residents of KCK as an addiction counselor---until the hospital closed that program several years later.

Around the year 2000, I became a member of the KCK NAACP and assisted them in attaining a new office in the same building where I had worked. I also served as the chair of the 2003, 2004, and 2005 KCK NAACP Juneteenth celebrations. Pretty rare, I have been told, for a white lady to do this. (I eventually became a Gold Life member of our KCK branch in 2014.)

Also around the year 2000 my husband and I joined a primarily Black/African church in KCMO called St. Monica's Catholic Church where I joined the gospel choir and am still there proudly serving in that capacity. Our church welcomes everyone and that is why I love it. Our motto is: "A Church Alive Is Worth the Drive!"

Around 2003, I also became a volunteer at the Intercultural Center at the local college--- which led to my running for office to be on the college board there, where I served for four years, from 2005- 2009.

During that time, the director of the Intercultural Center, some college faculty and staff, and I--- created an ethnic festival on campus that was widely appreciated by the community because it introduced the public we serve to the diverse cultures that live in, attend school in, and work in WYCO/KCK and surrounding communities. That festival has been ongoing for fifteen years since its creation ( except when COVID was a deterrent.) Our venue has changed to the Pierson Community Center as of this last year in April. Look on FB for details of the 2005 WYCO Ethnic Festival/ Human Family Reunion to be held sometime next April.

(God Willing, if America is still a democracy.)

So did I keep the promise I made when I was six years old? Yes. I am an avid antiracist and some people do not appreciate the volunteer work I do. Did I keep my promise of becoming a nun? No. I hope God understands-- and if the opportunity ever presents itself...I am still interested. Because nuns can help Black people even in today's world, right? Perhaps the need is even greater now than it was when I was a teen.

White Nationalism is rampant in America and needs activists to resist their supreme efforts to MAGA. We have to finally BECOME great before we can be great AGAIN. Can I get an "Amen?"

Read the whole history of our country---not necessarily taught in our schools---public or private. And for Heaven's sake, teach Black History inside the whole curriculum, instead of during the shortest month of the year---along with the histories of ALL people of color who were here in America before white settlers came---or were forced to come here to work for free and build America--- or are coming here now for a better life--- or are trying to escape brutal dictator-like leaders that would just as soon kill them, individually or through genocide.

At this time in my life at age 73, I can do that by speaking up when I see racism in any form or system that denies the rights of certain people.

Silence is complicity. You know that, right?

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