Sean Kirst: At ‘floor zero’ for civil rights, Buffalo educator helped change nation | Columnists

McVay told Cardina that she had just learned of the death of Barbara Johns, the close friend at the center of the Farmville strike. Cardina, thinking of that connection, now dreams of seeing a mural in Buffalo depicting McVay and Johns together over a memorable McVay quote:

“I’m not trying to move mountains. I’m just trying to move people. “

Irene McVay

Irene McVay explains to visitors to the Robert Russa Moton Museum in Farmville in 2019 her role in a country-changing strike. At right are John McTigue and Margaret Cardina, McVay colleagues in the Buffalo Schools.

Photo courtesy of Cainan Townsend

While that sense of greatness has only grown since McVay’s death, two of her children – James and Joy McVay – speak of a more intimate loss. James said he still misses the opportunity to just pick up the phone to tell his mother about quiet events in his life, remembering her innate ability to make you feel better right away.

Joy misses shopping with her mother and most importantly working together to prepare meals like Cornish Hens. Before McVay’s final illness, they had reached the point where they were not just mother and daughter, but also close friends and companions. The kind of bond Joy knows can never be replaced.

Seventy years ago this month, her mother and Barbara Johns smuggled notes back and forth during school, not to lament the everyday worries of the 16-year-olds but to plan a high-stakes protest. In this way, they sparked changes in this nation that still cascade across generations.

If there’s one lesson that Joy hopes will stick with teenagers today, in a pandemic world that can be overwhelming, it’s the idea that silent belief and courage – in places where change or movement seem impossible – lead to possibilities no one would believe in.

Comments are closed.