By William J. Donohue
Fifty-five years ago, I was assigned to the inner-city apostolate at Sacred Heart Parish on Emslie Street in Buffalo. One of my tasks was to connect the school with the parents of the school children. I walked and visited every day for seven years. It was a life-changing experience.
I came to understand what racism and poverty did to children. I never stopped looking for a way to break the cycle. In March 2018 I attended the annual breakfast meeting of the King Urban Life Center. I heard a presentation of their Parent Child Plus Program and decided that expanding that program was how I would spend the last years of my life.
It places a visitor in the homes of young mothers for 92 visits during which she models how to stimulate children’s brains and get them ready for school.
Then two weeks ago, I met Cheryl Williams Manney, the Parent Child Plus coordinator at King Urban Life. I had taken several of Dr. Bob Perelli’s Family System Theory courses and was in the habit of asking people about their mothers. This is what Cheryl told me.
Eva E. Williams was born with pulmonic stenosis, a deficient valve in the lower right ventricle of her heart that controls blood flow to her lungs. The doctors at Children’s Hospital said “You’ll never bring her home,” but they did. They told her Eva will not survive a year and she lived for 53.
Eva grew up in a chaotic home with an alcoholic mother and boyfriends. At 15 a boyfriend pressured her mother to throw Eva out. She did. Eva worked a series of after-school jobs to support herself, apartment and all. At 18 she graduated from East High School and married Jerome Williams. Eva had been warned by her doctors not to have children. She had six. She would attend various colleges for the rest of her life. Learning was right up there with music to Eva.
Cheryl describes her mother as always working, going to school and singing. She and her daughters sang in six choirs. Music was a path to God, friendship and personal growth. Eva worked two or three jobs at a time, mostly as a secretary in local companies. All her children took dance classes at Buffalo Inner City Ballet and drama at Langston Hughes. Wherever Eva was she was used as the peacemaker. She had a way of confronting a thorny situation without bruising egos.
Eva kept an open-door home. Stray children wandered in. Eventually she would “adopt” six kids who lived with her into adulthood. Neighborhood kids congregated at the Williams house and called Eva “Mother.” Mother trusted everyone and reached into her purse whenever anyone asked for help.
Five of Eva’s children went through college, their brains stimulated by a mother who kept learning alive at home, in church and in community centers. Cheryl was mother’s helper. Her two children are in college. The evil cycle is broken at least in one family.
Cheryl and her siblings chat daily on Snapchat. That alone is a tribute to a mother of peacefulness. How perfect that she is now helping young mothers experience the satisfaction of motherhood.
When Eva died in 2005 of colon cancer, the family prevailed upon True Bethel to lend them their church for her funeral. The crowd jammed the aisles to the front steps. It was a celebration for the ages and a tribute to Eva. Eva was and is worthy of remembering on Mother’s Day weekend.
William J. Donohue, who lives in Clarence, is a former New York State commerce commissioner.