As I was seated in the near-filled to capacity sanctuary at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church-Westwood, listening to the many dignitaries from all across this country speak of Bernal, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own memories of and encounters with him. Most recently, I had the opportunity to be present in Maryland during the National Publishers Association Annual Meeting where Bernal was appointed to the Executive Board. We spoke before the conference about the future of the New Tri-State Defender, its role in education, and how we could leverage the paper’s voice and impact in an area that affected us all.
He talked passionately and intensively around wanting to partner with more educational organizations (both locally and nationally) to ensure the community and city of Memphis at large were up to date on everything occurring and if nothing else, the paper could be used as a vehicle to spark conversation and change.
That inspiring conversation would be one of many I had the privilege of holding with Bernal, never straying from the tough questions or being challenged on what to do next as a publication and publisher of our black newspaper here in Memphis.
Though the sudden passing of our dear brother and hometown hero is tragic and one that has brought mixed emotions, I can smile about the contributions Bernal made during his time on earth. I can thank God for his welcoming spirit and tenacity to see this city improve and the spirit that led him to lead some amazing movements to celebrate Black excellence in the city and to empower the community towards the improvements he’s always envisioned and talked about. He didn’t just talk or write about better, but he made prevalent moves towards that better as well. And for that, one can only celebrate his life and legacy and pray that we all take notes from his book and strive to continue that same pursuit in seeing this city and country change for the better.
If I could echo the sentiments of Senator Lee Harris who spoke eloquently during Bernal’s homegoing celebration, “Bernal was one who spoke loudly in a city that’s way too quiet.” That deserved a resounding applause. In Memphis, none of us can afford to continue to keep quiet and dependent upon a select few to raise their voices for us all. We all have a responsibility. If at least half of us that were seated in the near filled to capacity sanctuary on Friday afternoon would lift our voices loudly, mimicking the tone and volume of our dear brother, how far could this city actually be?
We should take moments like Friday as reminders and a call to action. A reminder that life is indeed fragile, according to James 4:14, “but a vapor; and while we are afforded the time and opportunity do, we should indeed do.” The call the action rises from that truth in taking each moment that life grants as a moment to change, to seek change, pursue it and/or be it!
In a city like Memphis, we just simply can’t afford to remain quiet. Prayerfully, Friday can be deemed this city and community’s epic cry to wake up and begin speaking loudly in a city that’s way too quiet.
Thank you, Bernal, for your contributions and impact to both Memphis and this entire country! We are continuously praying for and with the family and friends of Bernal E. Smith II.