Throughout the year, we meet people who are making the community a better place and inspiring others. This time of year, we invite them to share their stories and what they've learned about life. We visit with 74-year-old Gloria Wright, one of those "behind the scenes" people who's had her hand in a lot of causes in Milwaukee.
Gloria Wright and her husband welcome me into their neat brick bungalow on North 16th Street. Walking into the living room, we pass the baby grand Gloria used to play before her vision faded. Eight generations of her family fill the mantel over the fireplace.
"Your family history has always meant a lot to you or has it become richer as you’ve grown older,” I ask.
“It’s always meant a lot, but as I’ve gotten older, I’d like to know, exactly where I came from,” Gloria says.
It’s a story of survival. Life began for Gloria on January 7, 1934 in Detroit, Michigan.
“My parents had constraints that they put around us. I didn’t date until I was in high school. My parents had to know who the young man was, what movie and what time it started and they figured out what time I’d be back home,” Gloria says.
Gloria finished high school and went right to work. When she turned 20, Gloria was ready to for a taste of freedom. She packed her bags and headed to the train station.
“I always was very headstrong,” Gloria says.
Her plan was to head to Chicago, but Gloria changed her mind when she spotted Cedar Rapids on the schedule. She had a girl friend living there. Gloria arrived on a Sunday. One day later....
“I met Bruce in Iowa and we fell in love, very quickly ,” Gloria says.
Bruce Wright was a college student.
“So in six weeks we were married,” Gloria says.
Gloria didn’t know what would happen. Several years earlier, back in Detroit, Gloria was riding a city bus home from school. She hadn’t been feeling just right, so when she spotted a doctor’s office, she jumped out. The doctor didn’t mince any words. He told the 16-year-old she had diabetes, she’d never have children and would die by the time she was 25.
“We got married in October, we lived in this big white house,” Gloria says.
Their landlady took Gloria under her wing.
“That November morning, I walked down those stairs and I was crying. And she said to me, what’s wrong? I think I’m going to have a baby. So she got me all lined up to go to the doctor. And sure enough, I was pregnant. Well they had no business telling me I’d never get pregnant,” Gloria says.
Gloria and her husband had two children. But her doctor said, Gloria’s physical challenges would multiply with time and she had to be close to the best medical care she could get. So the Wright family picked up and moved to Milwaukee. Gloria worked at a day care doing social work for a few years before she decided to go back to college.
“I just couldn’t read, I couldn’t understand what was going on. I went to a doctor, who told me, that I would be blind in less than five years ,” Gloria says.
Gloria wanted to spend time with her children when she could still see them, and she set out to prepare for life without sight. She quit her job and took up knitting and quilting.
“I mean, I was getting ready. I was preparing myself for this and I ain’t blind yet,” Gloria says.
Gloria’s kept right on pushing. She threw herself, heart and soul, into a mentoring program she helped create for at-risk teenage girls. When her own brother was diagnosed with AIDS, Gloria supported him every step of the way.
“That Sunday morning in the paper was an article about AIDS and they were meeting. That Monday morning I was in the door cause I was determined this was where I needed to be,” Gloria says.
Gloria started volunteering that day.
“Now as I gray-aired old black woman, people want to put me in my place and a refuse to put me in my place,” Gloria says.
Gloria was the first to sign up for a trip to New Orleans last October. Volunteers were heading down to create community gardens in the recovering city.
“I know what they’re thinking their heads. She can’t stoop down to tend her own garden. What’s she going for,” Gloria says.
Gloria set up shop at a farmer’s market. She surrounded herself with pots, plants and potting soil.
“And I was giving away plants. But I would tell people, before I give you a plant, you have to tell me your story. And, I mean, I learned from those people ,” Gloria says.
As Gloria shared her story, her husband Bruce has been quietly gong about his business, doing paperwork, listening to the radio. Gloria says she’s been able to do whatever she wants because he’s always been at her side. But that’s a love story for a different day.