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Anyone can succeed if they work at it

By Walter Geiger The American Dream is still alive and well these days. But, when so many make only the effort to reach as far as is needed for a handout, we have to look a little bit harder to find success stories. Haskell Ward is one of those stories. Haskell grew up in Griffin and is married to Leah Sears Ward, former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak recently. His mother, father and grandmother were illiterate. His parents divorced when he was one. His great grandfather was a slave who was rented out rather than freed when his master died. His mother and grandmother worked as maids for white families. Haskell and his sister ate leftovers from the white folks’ table. He picked plums in the summer and pecans in the fall to supplement the family meals. Occasionally, he would jump onto a passing watermelon truck to purloin a melon or two as treats for him and his friends. Haskell failed the first grade and repeated it. He failed the second grade and repeated it as well. He did not remember being ‘˜retained’ until he recently had his school records pulled while working on his memoirs. His grandmother was not book smart but she was street smart. She insisted young Haskell stay on the porch after school until she got home from work, keeping him out of the mischief that knocked so many of his contemporaries off the path to success. Haskell made it to the fourth grade where a great teacher came into his life. Corine Vonschultz Prothro set his feet onto the straight and narrow, both academically and morally, and made sure he stayed there. His grandmother also kept him in church where he met male role models who also mentored him. The white family for whom his mother worked owned several grocery stores and they employed young Haskell as a delivery boy. After one delivery, he stopped in downtown Griffin to watch a parade for two hours. Upon returning to the store, he was promptly fired and a life lesson was learned. He became captain of the school patrol (remember those?) in sixth grade and his job was to monitor those who did the actual patrolling. One morning one of his patrol boys was late and Haskell slapped him. He was demoted to private and subjected to some corrective, corporal punishment. Another lesson was learned. ’This experience made a lasting imprint on my attitudes concerning abuse of power. Never again, as an adult, did I cross that line,’ Haskell said. He graduated from Fairmont High in 1959 as its best student in English, social studies and math and was voted ‘˜most likely to succeed’ ‘“ and succeed he did. He went on to Clark College, spent time on a student trip to Kenya and returned to graduate from Clark and then UCLA. He went on to the Peace Corps, worked for the Ford Foundation, served in Jimmy Carter’s administration and helped bail New York out of its fiscal crisis as deputy mayor to Ed Koch. Haskell Ward grew up in hard times. When his family moved from their home which had no running water but did have two outhouses, he thought he had ‘died and gone to heaven’. The street where his first public housing home was is now named for him. Haskell could have easily failed but he did not. Through his strong will and the unbending molding of adults who saw something in ‘“ and cared about ‘“ him, he persevered. He worked with Presidents Barack Obama, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy. He has mingled with Pope John Paul II, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and countless other dignitaries. He even played drums for James Brown once. Now he is a role model and mentor just as others provided that guidance for him. There are ways out of struggle and poverty. They work but it takes grit and gumption. Haskell Ward is proof of that. Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of the Herald Gazette.

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