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by Rhonda Sherrod, J.D., Ph.D.

Proverbs 31:26  (KJV)
She openeth her mouth with wisdom;
and in her tongue is the law of kindness.

“We were there, because so many parents weren’t.”
Grady Rivers, Sr.
Boston Globe, October 1, 2006

They were always “there.” This is a tribute to a beautiful lady who was always there, along with her husband, to support the hopes, dreams and aspirations of Maywood’s young people. Mr. and Mrs. Grady Rivers, Sr. were fixtures at sporting events when the Village of Eternal Light was in its glory days. Anyone who came of age in the 1960s and 70s knew Mr. and Mrs. Rivers because they were the kind of “community parents” who made their presence known. They had the kind of visibility that provided stability for Maywood and its young people. They were a part of the group of parents who, like my own, breathed a real sense of community into Maywood as White flight was gripping this village. The community parents took pride in our town, undergirded it firmly, and kept it strong and secure, for as long as they could, while building traditions that most of us will never forget for all the days of our lives.

One can’t help but admire the way the Rivers loved their sons, Grady, Jr. (“Gar”) and Glenn, or the way they provided wise counsel, intelligent guidance, and the blessed assurance of their support for those boys. Even beyond that, the fact is, they were always there to speak a kind word, and provide loving encouragement, to all the kids in the neighborhood. So many of us who grew up in Maywood have nothing but fond memories of Mrs. Rivers and her husband. We basked in their presence, as we understood and embraced their standards; and I am deeply saddened by her transitioning — just as I was when Mr. Rivers passed. I told the friend who delivered the news to me on Saturday afternoon that she had just ruined my day.

I remember when I filed my papers to take the bar exam to become a lawyer. I chose Mr. Rivers, a law enforcement official, as one of my references who could vouch for my “good character and fitness” to be a lawyer, a position of public trust. He had known me since I was a little girl sitting in the bleachers on the little league field with my parents watching my older brother play. However, Mrs. Rivers was the one who helped him fill out the document, as he attested to in the field on the form that asked who aided him with his responses. I recall that Mrs. Rivers was as proud of my accomplishment as she could possibly be, because that was a time when other people’s parents were proud of the kids from the community who did what they had advised us to do — go forth and acquire knowledge. In fact, Mr. Rivers once told me that Glenn, who entered the NBA before graduating, would earn his college degree “if for no other reason than to shut his mother up!” As we all know, Glenn went back and earned that degree!

I also warmly recall chatting with Mrs. Rivers when I finally made it to the Chicago Stadium, as it was then called, to witness Glenn (“little Glenn Rivers” to me) play a professional game. (My younger brother, Duane, used to tell me all the time that Glenn was “really good” when he played at Proviso East, and I used to laugh and say, “little Glenn Rivers?”  After all, I left town for college the same fall he entered Proviso, and all I could remember was little Glenn pulling my hair on the playground when we were both students at Garfield Elementary.) Anyway, during that Stadium encounter, despite the fact that her son had been in the NBA for a while, and was a star at that point, Mrs. Rivers’ conversation centered around my work as a licensed attorney. Ever thoughtful and sweet, always kind and loving, that moment has always stuck out in my mind whenever I have thought about Mrs. Rivers over the years.

Then, too, I have to chuckle about the fact that Mrs. Rivers had no problem “fussing” at Glenn. That very night when the “star” came out of the locker room with no socks on, in the wintertime, Mrs. Rivers “gave him the business.” Everyone there cracked up laughing with the full understanding that we will never be too grown or elevated to be beyond our parents’ reach, or Mrs. Rivers’ reach for that matter! (Glenn and Gar will always hear her voice.) And even though I had not seen Glenn in years, there were no airs. He was as nice and kind as I remembered him to be — another testament to the good parenting he had received.

I once heard famed poet, author and professor, Haki Madhubuti, who first came to prominence during the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, paraphrase an African proverb when he said, “When a Black elder dies, it’s like the closing of a library because they take so much knowledge and wisdom with them.” I can only hope that this village, her beloved village, learned some of that wisdom Mrs. Rivers possessed. Mrs. Rivers was a woman of class, substance and integrity, a significant member of this community and a woman of tremendous virtue. She was Maywood royalty.

Gar and Glenn, from my family to yours, you have our deepest and most heartfelt condolences.