[Thomas Moore, “Share the Thanksgiving song of gratitude” Charlotte Observer (11/28/03): 23A]

Call and response is part of the African American tradition. I sing a line, you sing it back, perhaps with your own take on the melody or words. We toss the song back and forth, and it grows richer for including all our voices. So consider this my call as I think about Thanksgiving, what I’m thankful for and what I’m praying for. You can reply at your Thanksgiving table, when you talk with family and friends about what makes your heart glad and grateful.

I’ll start with my life. I’m thankful for it. I appreciate the failures as well as the successes. I once heard an elderly member of my church thank God for waking her in her right mind. Every day when we know who we are and what matters to us can be a good day. I’m thankful for those who prepare the food. When I was a child, my father and uncles would hunt before the holiday. Dad would bring home rabbit, which my mother roasted in delicious recipes. Men aren’t hunting as much today, but women are still doing most of the cooking.

I appreciate families who invite others to their holiday table. For years, I spent Thanksgiving at a friend’s home. My friend made the event a big party, inviting those of us who didn’t have family in Charlotte, or who had broken up from relationships or marriages and had nowhere else to go. Before eating, we shared what we were thankful for. Most of the guests were much better off financially than I. But by giving thanks together, we were suddenly on the same level. Maybe such a party would work at your house.

I’m thankful for what children teach us when we pay attention. They understand how to give genuinely. I’m thinking of a 3-year-old I know who clutched onto a prized cookie. The cookie was very important to the boy. But when he realized his mother was sad, he walked over to her and offered his treat without hesitation. I hope I am as generous as that child when people need me.

Thanksgiving always makes me focus on people who help others. Not a person in this world has achieved everything by himself. We all had someone there for us, to give us a chance of success. I had my teachers. On Thanksgiving Day, remember who you had and have. I honor those who came before me. Civil rights leaders made it possible for African Americans, other minorities and women to enjoy freedom. I remember as a teen having to enter through the back door in a Hickory Grove, S.C., restaurant, because I wouldn’t get served if I came through the front. I remember waiting for a bus in the separate seating area at the Gastonia bus station, and having to sit in the balcony of a movie theater in York, S.C., because I wasn’t allowed on the main floor. I’m thankful those days are gone.

There are times peace overcomes hatred. We just have to pay attention to see them. I visited a family whose son was a student at Northwest School of the Arts. On a Friday night, he had some buddies over — Asian and Hispanic and African American and Caucasian, Jewish and Christian and possibly Buddhist, too. A bunch of friends hanging out together. That was a vision of peace.

For me, prayer often follows thankfulness. This Thanksgiving, I will pray for our new officials on the city council and school board. For school board members especially, I pray they invest personal time and energies in minority communities. I encourage them to get to know parents and community leaders from historically under-served communities. I pray for the children of our soldiers in Iraq. I recently spoke at a conference for educators who teach young children from U.S. military families. It pained me to hear how some of the children were faring. One teacher told of 4-year-olds soiling their pants long after they’d been toilet trained. The children’s development is being disrupted as they try to deal with the absence of their parents. The children may not have been told of the dangers their parents face, but they can feel it. Finally, I pray for the people of Iraq. I hope we can determine how to help that country become a democracy in some form. While we are in Iraq, we must learn and receive from the Iraq people. Our work there is an opportunity not only to give to them, but to discover what they can give to us.

Now it is your turn to respond to the call. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Thomas Moore, Ph.D is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, early childhood consultant, and children’s recording artist. He is author of Gryphon House award-winning teacher resource books “Where is Thumbkin?” and “Do You Know the Muffin Man?”. He is contributing author of Wright Group/McGraw-Hill’s curriculum, DLM Early Childhood Express and author of their literacy series “Music, Movement and More”. He has also produced ten recordings for children.