By Malcolm Secright

“More than “Hurricane Ethel”- A Purveyor of Lessons”

I am a freshman at the University of Washington. I was born on October 5,1998 and raised in Federal Way, Washington. Growing up, I spent time between two single- parent households. I was raised in a Christian and military family with deep roots in the Southern United States. Growing up, I was also extremely close with my grandmother, Ethel A. Secright. Her influence on me as a child still continues today. She truly embodied what it means to be a strong person, a caregiver, and a fighter.

My grandmother was born November 20, 1932 in Huston, Texas to Batt and Addie White. She  was one of four children.  Although she was a Black woman born in the south at the height of the Jim Crow era she never let the fact that the odds were already stacked against her stop her. She married my grandfather in the 1950s and together they traveled the world, going wherever the military sent them, all while raising a family. The last place that they settled was in Lakewood, Washington where they raised my uncle Clarence, auntie Lisa, and my father Michael. My grandfather continued his military duties and my grandmother worked nights as a nurse in the hospital.

Although she had made it so far from where she started, obstacles still came her way. In 1983, my grandfather passed away from cardiac arrest and she was left to raise my dad who was just 14 at the time by herself. Despite being thrown into single parenthood essentially overnight, she was able to excel and still provide for her family. She continued to work as a nurse for more than 20 years after my grandfather’s death. She finished raising my dad on her own and sent him to the University of Washington.

As a child, being with my grandmother was my favorite thing. I spent nearly every weekend and every no-school day at her house. Being that I was a kid who had to split my time between two parents’ houses, her house always served as an escape from that. When I was there, I felt truly at home. She was the one I would talk to when I was struggling. Whether it was with my parents or with school she was always there to guide me. She was a caring person and was always there for her family. She was also a very strong woman, a tough woman. She did not put up with nonsense at all and as loving as she was you never wanted to be on her bad side. Anyone who knew her as “Hurricane Ethel” could tell you that!

During my time with her, she taught me many lessons. She taught me simple ones about being a respectful person and the importance of family and community. She taught me how to take charge of a situation and that I had control over my future, my goals, and my dreams. Knowing all of the obstacles that she faced in her life and knowing that she still managed to overcome them has always served as a major source of inspiration in everything I’ve ever done. The fact that she was able to make it through the obstacles associated with racism, raise a family during the Civil Rights era, make it out of a poor family in the south, and provide for her children after the death of her husband all amaze me and inspire me.

My grandmother passed away on December 18, 2012 after a battle with dementia. The hardest part about her battle with dementia was watching the fiercely independent woman that I loved and relied on so much start to rely on me instead. The things that I had always associated with my grandmother were starting to disappear and nothing is more painful than watching someone you love lose the ability to care for themselves.

After she passed, at first, I felt lost and confused. I had no idea how to handle it, what to do, or who to turn to because that source of guidance was suddenly gone and such a large part of my life was missing. It felt as though I no longer had someone there to help me through my struggles or to go to when I had difficulties with my parents. The one thing that had stayed consistent in my life was gone. After some time, I realized how much I had learned from her and that the things I learned from her continued to help me even after she was gone.

Today, in some ways it doesn’t feel like she’s truly gone because I have enough memories of her to last me a lifetime. Who she was and what she accomplished in her life has always motivated me to do the best that I can in all that I do and when I face a problem that seems too large to overcome remembering her motivates me to take it on. Building on her legacy is what has helped me to find success and inspiration.

Sometimes when I feel like I have become too out of touch with her certain things bring me closer and back too her, such as the smell of mothballs and coffee, which takes me back to her house. Or the taste of cream of wheat, which takes me back to my childhood. Even things like the sound of her old rotary telephone ringing or the daytime soap operas on the tv. It all brings me back to a time where my grandmother groomed me into the man that I am today and the man I will be in the future. All I can say is that all of my accomplishments are because of the lessons that she imparted all those years ago. They still help me today.