What I Learned From Robert & Jean Graetz (My Adopted Grandparents)

Updated: Jan 13

The Graetz Family

I never met my biological grandfathers physically. But my parents, along with my aunties & uncles, kept the spirit of them alive with stories. I lost both of my grandmothers at the ages of 10 & 11, but I was fortunate enough to have a close bond with both. I used to have lots of talks with God about why they were gone, and there was always a reassurance at the end of them; that everything happens for a reason.

Fast forward ten years. I'm sitting alone in the cafe on Alabama State University's campus, when I'm asked by an elderly white couple, "Can we sit with you?" Being at an HBCU, this wasn't a common sight to see, ya know? However, anyone who attended ASU at the time could have told you that they've seen Robert & Jean Graetz walking around campus, even if they didn't know their names. So, they sit down and we have small talk over lunch, nothing too major. I did find out in this short sitting that they were some of the coolest, nicest people I'd ever met.

Robert Graetz & Martin Luther King Jr.

The Graetz and I after the viewing for the debate (2012)

The next week, I attend a viewing for the 1st debate between President Obama & Mitt Romney. I happen to see the Graetzes and we speak, hug, and then sit down. Before the viewing starts, Dr. Howard Robinson recognizes the Graetzes for their work during the civil rights era and continued involvement in society today. I instantly google their names and the first picture to catch my eye was one of Mr. Graetz & Martin Luther King Jr. I was stunned, considering the fact that they didn't mention any of their past when I met them. I also had a high admiration for the level of humbleness they carried about themselves. I spoke to the Graetzes afterwards to express my gratitude and thank them for working to pave the way. They didn't feel a need to boast their accomplishments and really only wanted to talk.

The following week we meet again in the cafe, unplanned as always, where I got a chance to really pick their brains. I began asking about their life and how they got here (which you can view here), and the stories they told were so mind-opening. Two of their houses were bombed, they received threats out the yin-yang, and experienced sabotages of every sort. I asked, "Why would y'all risk it all when you had nothing to personally gain?" Mr. Graetz responded, "Because it was God's work and the right thing to do." That statement struck a cord with me because it was so simple, yet so powerful. I learned about a different and fuller love that day. I learned to have a greater appreciation for everyone I met because you never know who will change your life.

Special moment between the two (Jean graduated Magna Cum Laude from ASU Spring 2015)

From that day forward, the Graetz became my "adopted grandparents." I had the honor to present them with the NAACP lifetime achievement award later on that year, they began taking me to their Wednesday night bible studies (Shoutout to Messiah Lutheran Church), I visited their house on occasions, and we frequently had our unplanned lunches. Mrs. Jeannie even invited me to square dancing lessons (which I still need to take her up on). Their persistence with everything they handled really helped me become a wiser soul. They are always full of life and have never allowed anything to bother them, nor shake their faith in God. Mrs. Jeannie graduated magna cum laude from ASU last spring after taking a 61 year break from school, Mr. Graetz always has a meeting to attend or somewhere to speak, and they have both attended more ASU events than most students I know. Their work in the community continues today through their annual symposiums at ASU (at one of which they introduced me to Julian Bond), their work with National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African-American Culture at ASU, and their constant real life conversations with anyone they meet.

Although I didn't spend a lot of time with my biological grandparents, I felt their spirits through my adopted grandparents. It was almost as if my grandparents connected me with them to ensure I'd be okay.


#RobertGraetz #AlabamaStateUniversity #CivilRights #JeanGraetz


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