A Good Name

by Harriett V. Bennett

Left to right: Popeye, Mr. Lerone Bennett, Jr., Mr. Sidney Poitier.

Okay, I’m sure somebody is looking at this collage and asking what in the world do these three have in common. Hang in there with me.  This topic had me definitely thinking outside-of-the-box, but, hey, it’s what I do, and have a little fun with it too.

I always enjoy it when my pastor amplifies a great point in his sermon, bringing Bible and, in this case, brawn together, especially when he quotes that famous sea-faring cartoon character, Popeye, the Sailor Man (Google him).  You know, when Popeye reaches a boiling point and shouts, “That’s all I can stands ‘cause I can’t stands no more!” 

It can take a lot to get to that “no more” point, and then search for a response that sufficiently deals with a bothersome situation.  That’s where I am as I write this.  There are times I find the pattern of interacting by phone, computer, in-person, and even snail mail, with “public-facing” operations of any type, a little prematurely chummy.  For instance, providing your full name on a call with, let’s say, a customer service rep, and then having the person on the other end proceed on a first name basis presumes a level of relationship that hasn’t been reached yet, if ever. 

How long has it been since customers/clients were extended the courtesy of choosing a preference?  Whoever conducts the “Steps to Effective Customer & Client Engagement” training class (I made that up), do as a friend once said, “Kill this automatic practice. . . and kill it dead!”  Sure, some speak up, but I don’t think we should be put in a position to have to do that no matter who/where you are.  Am I keenly aware of this now that I’m a little older? Not really.  Taking liberties with someone’s name, and more, started generations ago with a blot on the country called slavery.

Historically, in Africa, names and titles stood for something significant there. And then the people were brought here. Once sold into bondage, as slaves they were only called by a first name given by their oppressors to indicate they were merely counted as property, not as people.  Once freed, Blacks were able to establish their own identities, once again representing, and valuing the family heritage with a proud name that meant something.  If I remember nothing else of what my father, Ernest A. Bennett, born 1896, taught me, my brothers, my sisters, he said, “When you conduct your business, conduct it as Miss(es) and Misters. Bennett is a good name.”

I vividly remember an interview I did in 1990 with one of my writing idols, Mr. Lerone Bennett, Jr. (no relation). He was an author, social historian, and then executive editor of Ebony magazine.  We were talking about the challenge health professionals faced, at that time, approaching Black families about organ donation.  Their challenge wasn’t just an incredibly difficult subject, but a disconnection in understanding a culture that honored the names of its loved ones first, and considered an approach of doing anything less, disrespectful and opportunistic.  In time, this became a reachable moment because of the teachable spirits on both sides.

Mr. Bennett recalled a personal incident meeting a prospective new doctor.  Upon entering the doctor’s office, there was one professional misstep after another, making this encounter doomed from the start. The doctor not rise from the desk chair or extend his hand for a proper introduction. The final blow — the doctor called him by his first name.  Mr. Bennett walked out and never looked back.

I challenge you to find anyone on this side of heaven able to deposit a classic moment in your memory bank as masterful as the one delivered by the great actor, Mr. Sidney Poitier, delivered in 1967.  In this short clip, he embodied a people’s anger and determination not to be broken.  He made people remember this name.  We remember it still. One line. One name. Check it out! https://youtu.be/ymrW7bZWTag

Why a good name?  

The Bible says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” (Proverbs 22:1 ESV)  

Finally, above every good name of human origin, reverence the name of God.  Nothing oppressors, past or present do can reduce, control, or manipulate a born-again believer’s royal heritage as a son or daughter of the Most High.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 ESV)







Left to right: Popeye, Mr. Lerone Bennett, Jr., Mr. Sidney Poitier.

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