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Black History Month through the lens of Village residents – Orange County


For most of America, 2020 was defined by COVID-19: Life stood still beginning around February.

But if the pain of losing family and friends to a scourge was not enough, the Black community was dealt another blow with the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.

Floyd’s death at the knee of a white police officer caused explosive despair and outrage, resulting in protests by people of many races and ages around the world embracing the Black Lives Matter movement.

Village resident Annie McCary says she still finds it difficult to speak publicly about the deep emotions she felt watching the brutal way Floyd was killed and how she cried for weeks afterward.

Still, while her own tears subsided, she felt empathy for Floyd’s family.

“Something that probably not many people consider, ‘Black lives’ include survivors of those killed,” McCary said.

In honor of Black History Month, the Globe spoke with McCary, president of the Village’s African American Heritage Club, and club members Willie Phillips, Gloria Jordan Williams and Willie Sargent III. They shared their reactions to Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement, aspects of their personal history as African Americans, and their hopes for the community.

McCary, a seven-year Laguna Woods resident, says she was drawn to the Village by its beauty and tranquility, its amenities and its residents with positive attitudes.

Having grown up in Alabama, McCary says she knows of so many other young Black men and women killed for reasons that make no sense, but for the color of their skin.

“I know only too well of the wounds that don’t heal with the passage of time,” she said. “I know only too well how often the scabs of those wounds are peeled off with the next senseless killing.”

She praises the Black Lives Matter movement because it spans generations and brings to mind civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.

“I want that my children and grandchildren will someday be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin,” she said, paraphrasing King. “Hopefully, this is the difference a movement like BLM can make.”

The events of last summer spurred poignant memories among other Black residents of the Village, who largely see the Black Lives Matter movement as an outgrowth of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, and of institutional and social racism that refuses to vanish.

For Willie Sargent III, a pastor and 13-year Village resident, the Black Lives Matter movement is “an extension of what happened in 1963, a continuation of the civil rights movement.”

Sargent, 74, recalls the Sept. 15, 1963, bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, by local members of the Ku Klux Klan. Four young girls died and as many as 22 other people were injured in the blast.

Sargent had moved to Birmingham from more liberal Detroit in 1960 and said the transition was a shock to him. He said he lost a good friend, Carole Robertson, in the explosion.

That loss left an indelible mark on him, he said, propelling him toward the civil rights movement. He remembers meeting King, who ultimately inspired him to help Black Americans register to vote.

“That was a dangerous role, driving around, surrounded by the Ku Klux Klan,” he recalled.

These days, Sargent sees hope with the Black Lives Matter movement: “I see positive change coming with many people now contributing to it.”

As a pastor, Sargent is following in his father’s footsteps.

“It took time to get me from Birmingham to California, but the early experiences of (segregationist politician) Bull Connor setting dogs and firehoses on people turned me into a man of faith,” he said.

He said his life has led him to believe that “everyone walking on this planet is meant to be here. God makes no mistakes.”

During the pandemic, Sargent and his wife, Harriette, have taken ministry to a new level.

“We are assisting families in need with monetary gifts and are partnering with the Laguna Woods Foundation, donating at least twice a year,” he said. “We also contribute to scholarships providing books and materials to high school and college students.”

As for life in the Village, he said: “My wife brought me here. She wanted to live here since she’s so outgoing. When you enter through those gates, it’s like going into another country.”

Gloria Jordan Williams, 86, has lived in the Village for three years. The…



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