Elissa Yount: Seeing ourselves as others see us


It was a long and winding road that brought many of the graduates who finished high school 45 years ago at Henderson High School back together again last weekend for a reunion that takes place every five years.

It was great to see them, but some of them did not think what they were seeing in Henderson was so great.

One of the most touching events of the weekend was a memorial service held at the Christian Church on Rowland Street for the 24 deceased members of our class of 143.

We lost these friends to war, disease, and accidents. We remembered their talents, their contributions, their intelligence, and their gifts to us all. As we sat in church, it was hard not to wonder why their lives were cut short. As we left, many rode around the old neighborhoods and considered the demise of security and serenity on the streets where they lived.

Most people in my class 45 years ago were, and still are today, hard working and enthusiastic people of integrity. They are smart, progressive people with great insight. While it was a great joy to share all the news of siblings, parents, children, and grandchildren, there was no great joy in talking about our city.

At a reunion that commemorates an event almost half a century past, you might not readily recognize every face. However, you certainly recognize every voice, and the eighteen year-old in all of us was evident. It was a shame that the community many remembered so fondly had changed so dramatically. Old tales were told once again, teachers were remembered, and some lettermen sported their sweaters and gym shorts as comic relief. Sadie Hawkins Day and Hootenannies were recalled as well as the “Puppetts” girl’s basketball team. Talking about these old times led to talking about the sense of community that we all shared then, and seem to lack now.

There was great news of our classmates who had fought cancer, come back from heart bypasses, and overcome mental health issues. But for all the friendships and the memories that have stayed the same, much has changed.

It was not a good feeling to see our city as others see us. Hear is a little of what I heard.

“I did not feel safe riding through my old neighborhood. What has happened to Henderson?”

“Andrews Avenue is not at all like I remembered. I wondered where all the pretty houses went and then I saw that they were there but just a mess now.”

“How in the world can you stand to stay in Henderson? It looks like it is falling apart.”

“Y’all need to get somebody to do something about this place. I am trying to get my mama to leave but she can’t sell her house.”

“I am staying at ……but wonder if I am safe there.”

“I heard one class had their reunion in Raleigh because Henderson is no longer where they wanted to go.”

“Most small towns are sprucing up and preserving their neighborhoods and historic buildings, but it looks like Henderson has spruced down. It looks like you’ve given up. It’s real sad to see what has not happened here.”

These comments were not intended to be insulting or rude, but aren’t they revealing?

For those of us who make Henderson home, we need to see ourselves as others see us.

Some of these classmates will not come back to Henderson for five more years. What do you suppose they will see then? In five short years, we can work miracles. A long and winding road can bring people to a community of hope and promise instead of blight and despair.

Let’s look around and see ourselves as others see us. Then let’s do something about it.