” I still have a lot of folks come up—black and white—who try to discourage me, and it don’t even faze me anymore. I don’t let nobody tell me what I can’t do. Only time I say I can’t do somethin’ is after I try and it don’t work out. Even then, I try it so many ways, usually it works out somehow. I think that’s ’cause I know who I am now.
The first thing I really had to do was to work on me, find out who I was, what I was about, what I could do. Then, when the people come up against me, I can let them know, “that’s just what you sayin’.” You have to realize who you are and be who you are…..
I’m not doing anything somebody else can’t do. Maybe somebody don’t want to do it because it calls for a lot of work. It calls for a lot of heartache. It causes a lot of criticism. It calls for a lot of negative stuff from every side. And if you can’t take it, you ain’t gonna make it. Once, when I was up in Detroit, a girl said, ” I always wanted to do somethin’ and then when I look at what you doin’, I wonder why I’m not doin’ it.” I told her, “cause you don’t want to. If you want to do it, then you don’t let other people tell you what you can do and what you can’t do. You just get up and you do it.
I get letters from women all over the country tellin’ me that I encouraged them to get up and do somethin’. I just love helping people, whoever need help. Someone asked me did I help the poor colored or the poor white. I told him I help the poor who need it, I didn’t know poor had a color. I talk to old peoples, to young peoples, to whoever it is that’s sittin’ down and ain’t doin’ nothing. I just can’t see people sittin’ down, feelin’ sorry for themselves, not tryin’ to do anything. I guess the work I do is meddling in other folks’ business and tryin’ to help everybody I can. When I go places, people still get encouraged by me talkin’ about my work, about settin’ up the sewin’ center. People come in from different areas of the country, come and look ’cause they heard about the center in the paper or on the television. They want to come in and sit down and interview me. They even wrote up the center in the social studies book they usin’ in Georgia schools up to the fourth grade. I been talkin’ to students in the fourth grade. That’s the grade I stopped school.
I’m still a poor, disabled, old black woman from south Georgia. I turned seventy-two the 12th of December, 1998. The first story anybody ever wrote about me was in Mother Jones magazine, “Heroes for hard times,” ’bout how I was somebody to be reckoned with at sixty-two when I started working on this dream. I guess somebody comin’ up, wantin’ to do somethin’ for somebody else, and not havin’ nothin’ for themselves was a hero to them. And now, 12 years later, I’m travelin’ to speak to people in other countries ’bout human rights for women and ’bout how I’m doin’ the work God’s been callin’ me to all my life.”
—Cora Lee Johnson, Women of Courage