Community//

How Black History Shapes Us All

Dorothy Counts-Scoggins: Trailblazer In My Passenger Seat

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“Sandwiched Between Legends”: Pictured Dorothy Counts-Scoggins, Me, Stephanie Counts/Credit: @abrewandyou

“Oh, Miss Dot. It all feels so heavy. Please bestow upon me your magical wisdom.”

I attempted to hide the request’s urgency & emotion with a light-hearted joke. That behavior seemed to be a pattern in our relationship. I find humanity’s wit end, and then turn to the “Jedi of Mentors” for counsel.

That well of wisdom is my good friend & beloved mentor, Dorothy Counts-Scoggins. Dorothy became a national civil rights legend in 1957 when at the age of 15, she was one of the first black students to attend Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. The images of white students harassing her attracted national media attention, and later became 1957’s World Press Photo of the Year.

Our relationship began several years ago when I asked her to be the guest of honor at an event I was hosting. At the time, she couldn’t drive so I offered to be her transportation.

We became quick friends on the ride to the event. She shared a bit about her current life, family, and how she was now spending her time. I didn’t pry on the legacy of her past. It felt too sacred. But I was well-read & researched, and had spent days carefully crafting questions for her on stage.

Although, I didn’t need them. Ms. Counts-Scoggins had mastered her story and knew how to retell every detail with poignancy & grace. The audience soaked it up like a sunflower seeing the sun for the first time.

After the event as we were repacking the car, she made an offer that changed the way I see the world to this day.

“Stacy, you know,” she paused as if she knew the magnitude of the next lines, “if you don’t have to get back home right away, how about I show you Charlotte as I lived it?”

I jumped at the opportunity to spend more time with her. Not completely certain what it meant at the time.

And so we took the “long way home” where Dorothy Counts-Scoggins introduced me to the history of my city. She shared how the introduction of the highway system devastated the black communities of our city. We drove passed through her old neighborhoods, schools, & places of work. Many of which had been replaced by “new Charlotte”, but her memories were so vivid my imagination filled in the gaps.

By the time we reached her home, we had spent hours in the car together. I felt like I had been empowered by a million history books. A new appreciation and deep respect for my city was coursing through my veins. I fell in love with the “Queen City” on that car ride.

As Ms. Counts-Scoggins collected her belongings to exit, she pulled a magazine & a sharpie out of her bag and started to sign it. As we said our good-byes, she handed me the magazine and said, “Stacy, please call me ‘Dot”.”

There, inside a magazine titled “Charlottean of the Year 2017”, she wrote “To Stacy: I feel I have made another friend. Thanks for what you do. Dot.”

Not only did I make a new friend that day, I also learned that sometimes it’s not about the destination or journey, but rather who is in the passenger seat.

Epilogue

We’ve stayed friends since that day. One week after the killing of George Floyd, I called upon Dot to be a beacon of light in a sea of racial injustice & unrest.

“Oh, Miss Dot. It all feels so heavy. Please bestow upon me your magical wisdom.”

She chuckled at my request and I could almost hear her smile through the phone, and then effortlessly replied,”Dear Stacy, you mustn’t take on the pain around you. You must understand it, and use it as fuel to create change.”

And suddenly, I felt like I was back in the driver seat being guided by mentorship.

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