Michiana Chronicles - "You Have A Dream:" A Conversation With Nimbilasha Cushing

Jan 21, 2021

Nimbilasha Cushing and her grandson, Paulo
Credit Nimbilasha Cushing

April: This is April (laughter)

 

Nimbilasha: And I’m Nimbi


April: So good to see you here, masked and at a distance!  I know you from League of Women Voters and from campaign volunteering, and was grateful for your South Bend Tribune Letter to the Editor [] in November, about your childhood experience in Tennessee of praying for rain so that you could attend school, rather than picking cotton alongside your sharecropping grandparents.
 

Your experience illustrates, as you said, the myth of meritocracy. And it also just harmonizes so beautifully with what Georgia Congressman Raphael Warnock said about his own grandmother’s hands, which picked someone else’s cotton, and also voted her grandson into Congress. So powerful.

That letter led me to reading your life experiences in your beautiful book, Come This Way: There is an Exit. I’m so struck by how far away your childhood is from where you are now. So, could you tell us about some turning points in your life that have allowed you to be whom you've become? 

Nimbilasha: Thank you April. I think the first one, which I didn’t mention earlier, had to be my third grade teacher, who taught us that no matter what your situation, no matter what you come from, you have a dream, and you can work, and believe in that dream, and see it happen. And she was the first person to say that to me.  

Later on, when I got out of high school, in 1966, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I wasn’t a great student; I had probably better than a B average, but nobody was knocking down my door with scholarship offers or anything like that, and the home situation wasn’t the best. And, on Career Day, this dashing, handsome [laughs] Black recruiter came, from the Air Force, they had them from all the services, but he was the best-looking and the smoothest-talking, and … I decided: I’m joining the Air Force.  That’s the single most … best decision I made in my life, the one for which I have no regrets. 

April: Wonderful. So, I know you also as a volunteer for local political campaigns, and wondered if you could talk about what you’ve learned from doing this work. 

Nimbilasha: I started being politically active during my time as a flight attendant. I was very involved  in the Association of Flight Attendants union. But the first time I became involved in community, or local and national organizing was when President Obama first ran in 2008. And, after that, I guess I was just hooked. If I believe in the person, then I will do my best to help that person get elected. And what I’ve learned from it is that even without money — we might not have a lot of money — but the relationships that you develop with one another, we’re all there for a cause that we believe in, and that energizes us to go the extra mile. 

April: I’ve seen you at work; it’s beautiful! So, do you have suggestions for listeners on how not to get paralyzed at this political moment?

Nimbilasha: I think for people my age — I’m 72 — it might be easier … we’re not afraid for ourselves, we’re concerned about our children and, even more so, our grandchildren. And so, for me, my focus is on my grandson. That helps me to look beyond the fear I might feel for myself, or for right now. 

April: That’s beautiful. 

April: For Michiana Chronicles, this is April Lidinsky

Nimbilasha: … and Nimbilasha Cushing. 

Music: “Conversation Peace” by Stevie Wonder