Finding Home: A TBR Oral History with MiJa Thompson

MiJa Thompson has dedicated her life to serving others. She is a committed church leader, retired nurse, and mother of four. MiJa was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1952, not too long after the Korean War. She was adopted by a Black G.I. and his mother, and brought to America when she was four years old. She moved to Baton Rouge in 1979, and got her RN diploma from the Our Lady of the Lake School of Nursing. While working as a staff nurse at the Lake, in 1996, she earned her Bachelor’s degree in nursing from Loyola University. She retired from Our Lady of the Lake in 2015 after 35 years of service. MiJa is an elder of the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, which she has attended for 30 years.

I Remember... 

I have glimpses of places, and what was going on at the time, ya know.

I remember being near a hut, or a little house.

I remember I had come out on the back stoop and an older woman was out there. 

I remember she had a big cauldron of something cookin. 

It coulda been laundry. It coulda been soup. 

I dunno.  

I remember lookin out into the field, and there was a train.

I remember the train cars.

I remember seeing people comin out of the boxcars of the train as though they had slept there all night. 

It was 1956.  

It was after the war- the Korean "conflict" (they didn't call it a war). 

I remember that. 

I remember near the little hut there was a magazine stand.  

It was just one counter with stuff all around that you could buy.  

It's funny how these little glimpses are so clear, ya know, the details are not there, 

But I remember.  

I remember squatin down- me and the other kids, and we had sticks, 

And we had grasshoppers stuck on the end of the sticks.

I remember there was a little fire in the middle, 

And we were fryin our grasshoppers. 

I remember that. 

I remember a bridge. 

I remember walkin across the bridge with someone. It was probably with my mother.

I remember she was kinda stumblin- she wasn't doin well.  

She coulda been drinkin. She coulda been cryin, I dunno.

I remember the night my mother took me to the base to give me over to my dad.

I remember the plane ride to America.

I was only four years old, but I remember…

Finding Home

My husband had enrolled me in the Ancestry. I watched it a lil bit, and then I lost interest. I don't know what I was lookin for. I never felt like I needed to find my mother, but all the time there was that lil thought in the back of my head jus sayin ya know, how nice it would be, but never thinkin it was even possible. So, when I got this email from a woman who said she could be my half sister I couldn't believe it. I was just kinda walkin around the house (I do this when I'm in a quandary about somethin that's jus unbelievable), and I said, Bobby, I jus received this email from this woman who said she might be my half sister. I was pretty calm about it actually. I didn't scream and holler, which is what I felt like inside ya know, but it was so unbelievable. I was jus kinda in shock. And so Bobby, my husband, was like, what?! what?! He got excited, then I got excited. TiaJah and I talked a couple of times on the phone, and the second time we talked was like a two hour conversation. She told me everything that she could remember about our mother.

Roots

“...she had made a lil life for herself right here in the United States, and she didn't forget me. She told TiaJah that she will always be sad about the baby girl she had to give up for adoption.” 

My mother’s name was Suck (pronounced Suk) Soon Hwangpo. She was born to a peasant family in South Korea, and lived with her father and two brothers. Apparently her mother had left the family home when my mother was seven. I’m not sure what the circumstances were. I’m sure she had a rough life- livin a peasant life. At one point her father arranged a marriage for her, and she went on a trial basis to stay with her future husband and his family. She ended up comin back home, because it just didn't work out. They probably jus wanted her to work. It was all about workin and makin a livin and providing for the family, and women jus didn't have a lot of control ya know, over their lives. So she opted to go back home, and her father accepted herback. I don’t know how traditional they were, but in some cultures that's a big embarrassment to the family, so I dunno. TiaJah told me a story of a boy that she liked in the village. He was of communist persuasion (a lot of that was goin on at the time), so they never got together, but after they became young adults she ran into him somewhere. She had an affair with him, and they had a son. One day while she was goin out to work her sister in law was takin care of the baby, and when my mother got back home to go check on the baby in the crib he was dead. I don’t know what the circumstances were (it might’ve been SIDS), but that was what TaiJa knew. 

My mother was livin with one of her brothers and his wife when she was pregnant with TaiJa, and she actually had to birth TaiJa in the backyard, because the sister in law was pregnant at the same time, and they had superstitions about two women havin babies in the same house at the same time. Yolinda, her third daughter, was born in America, and her father was white. We all three had different stories, different situations.

Both me and TiaJah’s fathers were Black American G.I.'s, and neither one of em did my mother wanna talk about when TiaJa was gettin the story. She had to take the opportunities as they came up, so when she met this man who ended up bein Yolinda, my youngest sister's father, she took the opportunity to get married, and come to America. When they got to America they settled in Yakima, Washington, and started livin with his family, but before Yolinda was, she divorced him. She said he wasn't ambitious enough. 

She raised TiaJa and Yolinda as a single parent in a country where she couldn't speak the language, and she formed her a community through her church, and she became an elder of that church. She was highly regarded in the church is what TiaJah was sayin. She worked as a seamstress for Macy’s. When she retired she started her own business. She was an excellent seamstress. She had made a lil life for herself right here in the United States, and she didn't forget me. She told TiaJa that she will always be sad about the baby girl she had to give up for adoption. That's what TiaJa told me, and that was such a gift to get that information- to get that message.

 

MiJa with her mother in Korea                                   

Soon Suck Hwangpo

 

Coming To America

“I think this group of kids I was roamin around with was probably kinda lookin out for me.  It felt like this is just how things went and somebody knew that I belonged to this group of kids, and I was gonna follow them wherever they went even though I was only three or four years old...”

I was raised in Ft. Worth, Texas by my grandmother, but I always called her Momma, cause to me she was my momma. My adopted father wasn't married, and plus he had reenlisted and was staying in Korea to finish his enlistment time, so his mother was made my legal guardian. Chuck, Chuck is my cousin, but he was more like my brother, cause we were raised together. Chuck’s mother is Tina, who is my adopted father’s sister, so that's how me and Chuck are cousins, but we claim sisterhood and brotherhood, cause we grew up together, so we are sister and brother. I grew up in Ft. Worth, with Momma. I never went to live with Daddy. He came back to America, and settled in New Jersey when I was six.

Daddy was an American soldier who found me, and decided that he wanted to adopt me after seein me several times and contacting my mother.  Oftentimes I would be lost from her, but I never felt like I was just abandoned. I think this group of kids I was roamin around with was probably kinda lookin out for  me.  It felt like this is just how things went and somebody knew that I belonged to this group of kids, and I was gonna follow them wherever they went even though I was only three or four years old, ya know.  Anyway Daddy was tryin to get the adoption finalized, and he had to reenlist for another two years, and put  me in an orphanage, so that I could be safe until I could come to America. 

I always knew I was adopted.  I had no contact with my birth mother, but I always knew I was adopted from day one, because I was obviously so different from the rest of my family. The circumstances of my life woulda been pretty harsh had I not been adopted.  I was biracial, and I was the smallest one in this group of kids, and my adopted father saw me one time—this is the story I was told—then he saw me again a hundred miles from that place a week later. And that's the story *laughs*- we walked a hundred miles!  The story that I've been given is that he saw me kinda as a homeless kid- jus lost, and found my mother and offered several times to adopt me, but she declined. Eventually she said yes, and he and his mother went through the channels to try to make that happen and it wasn't easy, cuz he was single… I've even asked him point blank since we've gotten older was he my real father 'ya know, and he said no. It still doesn't really set straight with me. I kinda don't believe he’s my real father- my birth father, but I know that he must have had some contact with my mother prior to finding me. I  think she worked on the base- maybe in the Officers Club, because it seemed like she knew people.

I was told that I was the first group of Korean biracial kids that were allowed to leave Korea. There were alot of biracial kids, and I was among em. A lot of them, I’m assumin, were probably being adopted by their birth father. But I was told that kids weren't being allowed to be adopted prior to my comin, cause Momma and them went through a lot to get me to America. They had to get our representative, Jim White at the time—representative for Texas—to write a letter. In fact when I graduated from highschool we sent an invitation to him and he sent me a letter back.

My mother didn't get to say goodbye to me at the plane when I left Korea, and I know that because of a letter that she dictated after I got here. She sent a letter, not to me but to the family, and talked about me.

 

Article in Hue Magazine

Funky Town

“I spent every Saturday of my middle school at that movie theatre. Every Saturday, I'd go there when it opened and Momma would have to come get me after dark.” 

Overall Fort Worth is a big country town. It's a city, but it’s spread out, kinda like Baton Rouge, but much bigger. I lived in an older neighborhood that at one time was very prominent.The main street was Faben Street, and it had the funeral home that Momma used to own. Faben had a mixture and that’s where our apartment was. So it was a nice neighborhood, quiet. Momma wasn't necessarily concerned about drive-bys (that wasn’t a thing). But we had our local drunks, cause there was a bar down the road. There was a movie theater further down the road, the Grand Theatre. I spent every Saturday of my middle school years at that movie theatre. Every Saturday, I'd go there when it opened and Momma would have to come get me after dark. Nothing repeated. It would start and just continue. There was one theatre and there would be a main feature. And your talkin bout adult-rated as well as kid-rated films; music shows- the Tammy show, all those old- James Brown; Beach Party Bingo, King Kong, Godzilla, just an assortment ya know. It was a Black owned, Black attended, Black neighborhood theatre. We had a little store down at the corner from our apartment - Mr. Fred’s store, and cross from the Grand Theatre there was Harold's Drug and Grocery Store. That was a bigger grocery store... Yeah, that was our little neighborhood.

Ft. Worth was pretty much segregated. This was the Black neighborhood actually. It was the more prominent Black neighborhood. And then Tina lived out in an area that was bein newly populated, and it was all Black. It was built adjacent to an older Black neighborhood in the Stop Six Area- that’s what it was called. I was from the South side, and Stop Six was on the east side of town- right near the interstate- the loop was built right there behind Tina's house. 

We moved from the apartment down a block and a half into a duplex right next to the railroad tracks, and then from there we moved right across the street to a house. And that's where I lived the rest of my highschool years til I left home.

Little Girl Grown

“She didn't have a car and that was quite a walk, so she put me on the bus and she made the bus man swear he would make sure I got off at the school...”

When I came to America I guess I probably felt like a princess. I was livin a charmed life compared to the life I left. Momma was- my family was, I guess, prominent in Ft. Worth. Momma had a funeral business- very successful; she had her barbershop- very successful. All right there at her house. The barbershop was connected to the back of the house. You couldn't get to it through the house, you had to go round. And then the funeral home was right across the driveway from that, so she had a nice lil setup. But then she got into some financial difficulties. She signed a loan for a woman that actually betrayed her; left and went to California, and left Momma with the loan. Momma was a very proud woman I tell ya— she never would share that with anybody. She never told Tina or Daddy, and she just let it build until she lost it all. This happened about two years after I came here. Tina and I came home from—she worked out in the school during the summer to train the drill squad girls—and we came home from that, and they had moved all of our stuff out onto the sidewalk and in the yard. It was just out there. So, Momma and I were kinda homeless for a little bit, and by homeless I mean we just didn't have a home, but we stayed with Momma's business partner, Ms. Patsy. Ms. Patsy had a house full of her nieces and nephews that she took care of for her sister *laughs* So I moved from an only child family to a family of at least eight kids, so we was sleepin everywhere. Except I slept with Momma on the couch.  Actually I liked livin there cause of all the kids, ya know, we played and everybody was rambunctious and I was rambunctious too. *laughs*

Soon as I came to America Momma enrolled me into the local Catholic school which is where we went to church, Our Mother of Mercy. I stayed in kindergarten two years, cause I was only four. Comin from Ms. Patsy's house I had to take the bus. It's funny cause I did some things, but then I was very protected. But there was nothing more Momma could do. She didn't have a car and that was quite a walk, so she put me on the bus and she made the bus man swear he would make sure I got off at the school, so I never had a problem with that. 

We stayed at Ms. Patsy’s for a while and then we moved into an apartment. The apartment we lived in was just about two blocks from the school I went to, so I would walk to school by myself. Maybe Momma walked part of the way with me. I was about six or seven. By the time I really got into kindergarten and first grade the school had moved from seven blocks away to two blocks. It was a brand new school- it was nice. So, I went to that school and that church. It was all right there together. And in the summertime and after school I got involved in the Methodist community center. Momma was Methodist so that was our connection to it. Plus the community center was right in our neighborhood. It was through that community center that I met and was mentored by different students from TCU who were comin there to get their practical hours. In the summertime we got to camp, ya know, we slept outdoors at least one night during that week at camp. Now mind you, we didn't get no sleepin bags. *laughs* We just had blankets and maybe a pillow *laughs* We didn't! And we did just fine! But we had a nearby swimmin pool that we could get on the bus and go to. I think we went there a couple times. I didn't know how to swim though, but I stayed in the shallow end. It was fun. We had campfires every night for vespers,and we would sit and tell stories. It was fun; it was adventurous. We had our little arts and crafts and we had all our camp directors—the camp director that all the girls had a crush on, we had our camp romances goin on. *laughs*Just kids stuff ya know, it was fun. So that was a big part of my elementary and middle school.

When I was seven Daddy came to visit. That was kinda traumatic, cause he and momma couldn't never see eye to eye about what to do  with me. He wanted to bring me to New Jersey, and Momma wasn't havin it. And why did he have to move to New Jersey? Why he couldn't just live with us at Ft. Worth? I needed a daddy. I needed him to be there, but he wasn't. He stayed in New Jersey from the time I was seven until I was graduating from highschool. We never reestablished our life together after leaving Korea.

Bein a single parent and bein a father, was not somethin that Momma could trust. That left a big gap in my life really, losin Daddy in that way. He moved back to Ft. Worth after I was in college. He got married and established himself there. 

My Grandmother, Momma's mother, was always the one who took the kids to church and she was Catholic. I went to vacation bible school at the Methodist church, and sometimes I went to the Methodist church with Momma. She was always late goin to church- always! *laughs* Gettin ready! *laughs* It had to be just a certain way. She had to do her complete thing, ya know. Which was just getting bathed and pullin out her nicest little suit or dress or whatever and ironin it if it needed to be ironed and just- gettin ready. She wasn't a frilly person, but she was, ya know, just very focused on how she wanted it to be. A few times we were walkin into church and the choir was comin down singing their closing hymn- marchin out! *laughs*

I grew up in a two church home, but there was no conflicts, there was no pullin one way or the other. I was Catholic, and the only tension I had with that was from the nuns, ya know. There were maybe two nuns that were kinda mean, and I was told more than once that I was commitin a mortal sin to go to another church, even though I had no choice. It just didn't make sense to me that I was commitin a mortal sin, and I guess that's when I started questionin. The mean nuns made me question, ya know, the church. You're supposed to love one another and do unto others as you'd like- ya know ... this isn't doin unto others as you would like them to do unto you. But on the other hand, I had more good nuns than bad nuns throughout my whole Catholic school education. Catholic school brought me up from kindergarten all the way up through Loyola, through my BS. The Catholic elementary was the only Black elementary school in Ft. Worth, so I went there from kindergarten to eighth. Then I went to Nolan High School, the only Catholic highschool in Ft. Worth. I went to North Texas State for a while, then I went to Our Lady of Lake School of Nursing for my diploma and I went to Loyola for my BS. So I say the nuns brought me up.

Article in local paper

Bustin Loose

“What I really enjoyed about that was jus that sense of belonging, and that sense of an organization havin my back.”

High school was a trip. The highschool I went to was predominately white. There may have been four black students in my class. This was my first time at a predominantly white school, but I don't think I remember having a hard time, cause I was exposed to a lot of white people through the community center. It wasn’t nothin I felt uneasy around or anything, but I did feel- I didn't feel like I belonged there... I just didn't. And I never excelled in school. I could have but I didn't. I didn't excel. In fact, I don't know how I made it through any of this! *laughs* I was like a zombie. I wasn't bein bad or doin anything. Smokin was the only thing I ever tried, and that was in my senior year. I remember smokin in the girls bathroom. That’s pretty bold ya know, during school. I guess it was a thing, but a time or two I don’t remember havin anybody smokin with me. I was in there smokin by myself *laughs* So I wasn’t tryna impress anybody I was jus... bein rambunctious. *laughs* 

I did get to go to an oratory competition (I guess that's what you call it). I competed by reciting James Weldon Johnson's, The Creation- the one that starts with, And God stepped down on space and he said... I did pretty well with it. But, I dunno, I jus felt like I didn't have anybody encouragin me to do much. Or demandin that I do anything. Momma's main focus was to keep me safe. And she did... for the most part. As a kid I was expected to come here and grow up and be respectable. and get a job doin somethin, but I wasn't expected to excel at anything. I think I was expected to grow up and rebel. They thought Momma and em did all that work to get me to America, and I was not gonna be grateful. I was not gonna show them any gratitude. I think they saw my beginnings as a handicap to me being any better, even though I came here when I was four years old, and I never had a problem with the language...

...anyway, we can jus go on to college *laughs*  

I attended college in 1971 at North Texas State. It wasn't but about 35 miles from Ft. Worth in Denton, Home of the Mean Green Eagles. The main thing about graduatin was goin to college and gettin away from home. I jus felt so restricted in so many ways ya know. And Momma did the best she could. She was older, and her main concern was keepin me safe, so everything I did or didn't do had a story of warning or foreboding. I tried to live beyond that, but it really did soak in to my personality. Even though I pushed myself and I did things that I woulda never thought I could do, I still have a hard time really puttin myself out there. 

I really wasn't a very um... I had people I associated with at a given time, but it was usually for some reason. Like the African American Student Union, or this group of girls I hung with. We all had boyfriends in the same group, and that was the African American Student Union. We would travel to Arlington and spend the weekend or party there or whatever. We did a few demonstrations, and one time we marched against the administrative building. We were declarin our rights to somethin... maybe a building that we could call our own ya know, an African American Student Union. I remember we all congregated on the steps of the administration buildin and had our signs and our pickets and went into the buildin and went to the head administrator's office and we thought we were makin a statement. I don't remember if we ever got what we were askin for, but we made a statement. We weren't ignored. What I really enjoyed about that was jus that sense of belonging, and that sense of an organization havin my back. 

There were several times I wanted to go to Houston to help the African American Student Union there with some kind of demonstration or somethin, and of course Momma wasn't gonna let me go. I remember one weekend I had gone home for the weekend, and we were havin this demonstration in Houston, and they came to Tina's house on their way. They came there challengin me to just pack my stuff and go, but I was too afraid. I didn't have the courage. I was maybe 19 or 20 but I still had the fear of God in me. As long as I was doin it from school I'd get in the car and go, but I was just not about to take that on while at home.

It Was All A Dream

“And that's how we did it. I think every move we made we were able to advance a little more.” 

I spent five years in Denton. Some of the time I was workin full time, but I didn't accomplish as much as I could have. That's one of those things that happened that I coulda done better, but I guess I was waitin on Bobby.  When we met I was still in school, though I wasn't doing full time. By that time I'm pretty sure I was payin my own tuition. I was maybe takin two classes a semester- jus enough to stay there, so I wouldn't have to come home. When Bobby and I got together it was... that was just my dream come true moment. It just seemed so unreal that this person had come into my life that was perfect for me.  He was easy to smile. He was nice and kind and good lookin, of course. I think we spent so much time in the begginin, and throughout just miratin over the fact that this was just meant to be. He gave me that line that the universe lined up just so we could be here at this time and this place... yeah he used that line! *laughs*. Well it sounded good to me. It did seem so... destined! 

We hung around Denton for another year or so then we headed to Forney, home of the Jumpin Jackrabbits, which was twenty miles east of Dallas. Bobby’s good friend from the Marines, Doran, married a woman whose father had money to invest in Doran to have a greenhouse, so your dad and I were able to get in on the beginning of that, and help to build it and help make it happen. I propagated plants, and supervised some highschool kids. That was fun. The greenhouse was on so many acres, and Bobby and I moved into a house about a mile and a half from the greenhouse. When we moved into that house there was not one habitable room I don't think. We stored our stuff in one room, and had one room we were able to live in and just kind of worked from there *laughs* It was a big farmhouse. Had a cellar right outside and everything. It wasn't a house you could buy like that, but we were renting from this man named Madina who just helped us to jus fix it up. We needed a place to stay so we jus toughed it out 'ya know. We didn't suffer. It would get cold, but we had the one room we slept in and we warmed it up. There were still parts of the house that never got fixed up. We fixed the kitchen... well, made it usable. I don't think we ever had a real stove *laughs* We cooked on hot plates. We had these lil hot plates that had two or three eyes, and we used that- we musta had a refrigerator, and water was runnin. I think when we left there we had two bedrooms, and we probably made one of the bedrooms like a sittin area. Yeah, that was an adventure.

I liked that lil town. It was a lil one street, two street town with a hardware store and a bank. We'd go to the bank every Friday and cash our paycheck. It was a sweet lil town. People liked us too. We left there after we caused all the disturbance by wantin to pay the Mexican guys as much as we paid the highschool kids. And they did so much more work, but when we did that the people in the town didn't like it. In fact they came and told Doran and Bobby that they were messin up their economy or somethin. Which is crazy. Those Mexican guys didn't even live in Forney. We had a tree farm, about five or six greenhouses, and it was just me and the highschool kids doin all those plants. Doran and Geno managed the greenhouses, but I managed the pants.  The greenhouse bussiness at that time wasn't takin off- wasn’t payin for itself,  so Bobby and I decided to move to Baton Rouge.

We moved here to move into the house Bobby grew up in. It didn't even have air condition when we first moved here, but it was a good house, and we've since added things to make us really comfortable, and I'm so thankful for it, because I don't know if we would have been able to afford it if we were buyin it now. So, we had the house; we had family, that was different. We dove right into workin, and settlin in. I had my two stepsons and Bobby was sellin vacuum cleaners when we moved here. Then he started sellin cars. Then he started drivin the city bus. I was so thankful for that, cause he had more of a steady schedule. He wasn't workin late nights, and I had help in the evenin time with the boys, studyin and doin homework with them, and doin my homework. 

I moved here with the intention of persuin a degree in nursin. The reason I did that was because of this one young girl that I met in Texas when we were workin in the greenhouse. She was in highschool, her name was Louann, and she was goin to be a nurse. I thought, Oh Louann was gonna be a nurse? Because nursin just seemed like it was somethin that was so far out my reach. It was Christmas time when we moved here, and right away I started lookin for a job that would put me in some kinda situation where I could learn- being around sick people or bein in the hospital. I remember gettin my map of Baton Rouge and goin through the want ads, and I ended up getting a job at the hospital. I actually had two jobs. I worked in the chemical dependency unit at Baton Rouge General and I worked at Our Lady Of The Lake as an assistant. I worked these jobs between January and August, and started school in August. 

I found out about the Lake School of Nursing from a friend. They weren't really acceptin a lot of black faces into the nursin program, and that was a known fact. I had to retake my ACT test to see if I could make a better grade and I did. I went to the adult education center to brush up on some math and social studies, which helped me and I did much better. And I wrote my lil application and I had my lil interview and I got accepted, and that was the beginning. Because of my experience as a nursing assistant I really flew through the first two semesters of nursin as far as the clinical part because that was all about bathing and taking vital signs and different aspects of personal care that you give patients. Whereas most of the other nursing students were very uncomfortable and not at ease- and I was older too.

We got through that and got through nursin school, and by that time I think Bobby was workin at the post office, so that was a big step up too. He had better benefits, he had better pay, ya know, it was jus a step up. And that's how we did it. I think every move we made we were able to advance a little more. Somewhere in there we started havin babies- we had two. We weren't gonna have kids at first. We already had two- I had two stepsons, Bobby Jr. and Brandon, and our philosophy was that the world was too messed up to think about bringin more people into this world *laughs* That was our attitude about it. Being very idealistic in a sense. But we did, cause we decided, Well, maybe we'll have one. So here comes Abel, and life changed. Then our daughter, Innai, came 3-and-a-half years later.

Finding Peace

“ I just loved what it was that Together Baton Rouge offered ya know, how it was set up, and its focus bein the people, and the needs of the community.”


I knew that when I left Ft. Worth to go to North Texas State that church was not somethin I planned to do. Now I did attempt it. I did find the chapel on campus, the Catholic chapel, and I mighta been just once, no more than twice, and it just wasn't speakin to me. I was already lukewarm about church in general, so I was unchurched for a while.

One day I was goin to an exercise class that I saw advertised somewhere. It was being held at a church, and when I went there I saw the brochures about this Unitarian Church that I never heard of before, and when I read the brochure it was like, Wow this kind of church exists somewhere ya know, and right here in Baton Rouge? It piqued my curiosity, so I came home and was tellin Bobby about it and everything. He wasn't interested in joinin a church and I wasn't either at that moment, but I did say if there ever was a church that I would join this would be it. I guess deep down inside I was wanting or wishin for a church community ya know. After I saw the brochures at the exercise class I actually went to the church a couple of times, and I enjoyed what I was seein and experiencin, and it just spoke to me ya know. I didn't go back for the longest. Then Bobby's cousin, Dupuy Jr., got married at the Unitarian Church, and it really impressed Bobby. He was like, Oh, this is the place? Okay. So it really piqued his interest too. 

We had our son in kindergarten at Country Day School, and we knew this couple, Nancy and Mark Gilbert, from that. Their kids, Erin and Sean, were in Country Day, and somehow we got into a conversation with them, and they shared that that's the church they went to. Then I got really excited, because I liked Nancy and Mark, so I went home and told your dad, “Mark and Nancy are members of that church too!” So every little thing that happened kinda convinced him more and more. So we went to visit and we loved it, so we joined a couple of months later. 

The first thing I got involved in was religious education- jus teachin the kids. That was hard. Those kids were a lot more savvy than I was *laughs* At the time we only had one church service, so I would give up my church experience to do R.E., and that's not really what I wanted to do, but I had two kids in R.E., so I felt like I should do it, so that's what I did. Later on I became involved with the Congregational Care Team. We follow along with the needs of members, and see what’s goin on, jus see how we can help. We send cards for anyone that's havin surgery, or lost loved ones. We've done meals for people after they've had surgery ya know, jus lookin out for the congregation. Our biggest efforts were put into the memorial services. We would always provide the food for the memorial repass, but with the pandemic we haven't had any memorial services, and we had several people we lost due to Covid and family members, but all we could do is call and check up on people and follow along in that way. The main thing we were trying to do, I think, was just communicate to people that they weren't alone.

I got involved in co-counselin around 1990 or ‘91, and that was a big milestone in my life. It helped me get in touch with the things that made me think or react or do some of the things that I did. The things that you would tell yourself that held you back, or how to deal with communicatin with someone that maybe you didn't agree with everything on. Co-counselin would be two people who would get together and share some time to talk. I also had Dialogue On Race and social justice at the church, and about ten years ago we got involved with Together Baton Rouge.

The church became a member organization of Together Baton Rouge, and I just loved what it was that Together Baton Rouge offered 'ya know, how it was set up, and its focus bein the people, and the needs of the community. Initially I just attended whatever meetings there were. I loved the Civic Academies that would teach you about different issues. I've been a leader in Together Baton Rouge in the sense of the new definition of "leader", which I like- anyone that can maybe inspire others to become involved, anyone with a followin—I like that. Now I'm lookin at just what I am involved in, and tryna see where I wanna go from here. And I really ain't gotta go nowhere, cause I gotta lotta cleanin to do! *laughs* But I think one of the things that I think is valuable that Together Baton Rouge is doin is helpin the community learn and feel empowered and have our focus on identifyin leaders in our organizations. I just love it. I love that Ms. Dorothy and Dr. Washington, and Edgar, and all these people who have been community leaders all along are given a platform to really do some work- to really help the community, which I think is where their hearts are. It’s given me the same in a sense. It's given me a platform to be present, and to do what I can do to help move it along. 

I was really really excited when we were workin on the payday lendin. I felt that it had so many aspects to it that were very helpful. One thing it did was dispel the stigma that went with payday lendin. Payday lendin is designed to trap you, so don't feel like you're a bad person because you got trapped in that, and we're gonna fight to put some controls in place. I think that was good and meaningful. And then this whole ITEP thing, and now you're hearing so much about these big industries and companies and people that have been avoiding payin taxes. It's no wonder our infrastructure and communities are strugglin so, ya know. It's given a voice to the people, and that's somethin that's been missin, It’s also given us a chance to learn about the legislature, and ITEP and the Metro Council ya know, and the more knowledge you gain about these things, the better you are able to see how you can help make these things work in you favor 'ya know. I like the idea of "no permanent enemies, no permanent allies”— that we’re not tryna be enemies to anybody, we can find somethin to work on together, I like that. I like the relationship buildin that we do. One of the most meaningful relationships I have discovered is my relationship with my son in his new role, and how this has really fed his spirit of justice and purpose, so I love our new relationship- and we’ve always had a good relationship, but this has given our relationship a lot more meaning. 

To me a leader is someone who is willin to take risks. Like when Edgar and Dianne get up in front of these councils of people and speak, often times without getting much support 'ya know, but their maintainin their composure; their stayin positive, and continuin with their efforts. That takes a lot of courage, so that’s what leadership to me means- havin the courage to speak up for what you believe even when you're not being supported by those you are speaking to. And also there's an aspect of leadership that's not always bein out front 'ya know, but takin the backseat and observing what's goin on, and how to best keep the process movin. We still have lots of work to do and I hope to find ways to contribute. 

Labor Of Love

I graduated from the Lake's diploma program in 1981, I was an RN. Then I went back to school, and graduated from Loyola's BSN program in 1996, and that's as far as I wanted to go *laughs* I felt like I had really accomplished somethin when I got my BS, because I started workin on a BS in 1970, and spent a lot of time at NTSU and didn't finish. So, to be able to even use some of those credits- they didn't accept em all, but most of em they did and that made me feel real good that that time was not wasted. 

The Lake paid for my tuition pretty much, and I signed a contract with them that I would work for them for so many years after I graduated. I worked in the same unit for thirty five years as a staff nurse/ charge nurse. I worked alotta evenin's and nights, so when ever I worked those shifts I would be in charge a lot of times. I also worked on different committees to do different projects, and I was really involved in precepting—training new graduates, orienting them to nursin on the unit. I did that alot. I remember, because we didn't sometimes have a lot of experienced nurses to take up that role.  One time I had like three or four new nurses at one time in orientation, and usually you jus have one maybe two. Because for every new nurse you have for however many patients they have you’re responsible for those patients. My normal patient load would be seven or eight and that's a heavy load. Ideal you want like five or six. But it worked out. The more I was precepting the more I learned, and it was trainin new nurses to come and work.

I worked as a bedside nurse for twenty- one years. I worked on the same unit, the med surg unit, at the same hospital. We admitted patients into the hospital; took care of em; got em ready for surgery, sent em to surgery, took care of them, then got them home. I did that for twenty- one years, and I stayed there til I really felt like I needed a change, and I went into hospital medicine. I became more like a doctor's nurse then. We made rounds like the doctors. We had our specific task and plans to implement with the patients. We complemented the doctors. We extended their presence to the patients. 

I went to hospital medicine in 2002, and I stayed in hospital medicine for another 15 years. It was really easy to feel like I was being helpful, because that is what I did. I was in a service career, that's jus what I did. I served the patients and I helped them to get where they needed to go and helped them through, really, some stressful, difficult times as you can imagine. Life threatenin situations; life altering situations... so I did that for 35 years. Now I am retired. I've been retired now five years. 

Momma’s Wisdom

Major things may be happenin in our lives,

But I don't approach it in that way I guess. 

I had a craniotomy! 

My nice, pristine brain, gone into! 

At least it's not cancer, 'ya know.

It was possible to deal - 

Everything in life is possible to deal with. 

Jus give me the mundane.

I get that from my mother. 

She spent her time on the basic stuff,

the life sustainin stuff, 'ya know.

I came here with a story

I always knew that story. 

I was alway grateful for that story.

I'll be 70 years old next year.

At this point I don't wanna do nothin I don't wanna do. 

That's how I am right now.

Whatever I need to do to satisfy myself 

That’s jus what I’m gon do.

Now, I don’t wanna spook yall,

And not that I’ll be goin anywhere anytime soon, 

But I don't have much time left.

Your daddy said that to me one day,

I may have 20 good years left in me.

Why did he wanna tell me that?!

I don' t wanna hear that!

I didn’t wanna hear it. 

I never really concerned myself with end of life,

But twenty years? That's nothin.

But right now you’re livin.

That's all you got.

Make it all count.

That last day will be here fore you know it.

It is as it should be.

Jus the truth.



Showing 3 reactions

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  • Suzanne Besse
    commented 2021-08-12 14:32:38 -0500
    What an amazing life-story told with such honesty and humility. One with so many women of courage and compassion, especially MiJa. You are special, my friend, and we love you.
  • Barbara Wittkopf
    commented 2021-07-27 19:50:44 -0500
    This reflection of Mija’s life from age 4 to 70+ shows the effect so many persons have had on her life’s journey and how she and Bobby have, obviously, influenced Abel and his sister.
  • Abel Thompson
    published this page in News 2021-07-06 10:34:02 -0500

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