This story was originally published in the Cape Cod Times.
As the three Morrison siblings bantered back and forth Thursday, recalling memories of their childhood, George Anthony “Tony” and Brian congratulated their sister Jeanne for winning the Massachusetts Black & Latino Legislative Caucus' 2023 Black Excellence Award.
Jeanne is the third sibling out of seven in her family to win the honor, a fact that isn't lost on Jeanne.
"My legacy began in my childhood," she said. "This honor belongs to my parents for encouraging my siblings and I through example, to get involved in community service as children."
Tony, retired principal and current interim assistant administrator at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School, won in 2020; and Brian, the community resources and civil rights officer for Barnstable Police Department, won in 2021.
Jeanne Morrison was recognized for her dedication to African-American advancement in Massachusetts.
Jeanne, who was nominated by state Rep. Kip Diggs, D-Barnstable, received her award April 14, at the Great Hall of the Massachusetts State House.
The Centerville resident is the first Black co-president of the League of Women Voters of the Cape Cod Area; political platform chair for Massachusetts Women of Color Coalition; chairperson for Barnstable County Human Rights Advisory Commission; a member of NAACP Cape Cod; and is board president of Amplify POC Cape Cod.
She is now a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant, but spent the bulk of her career as the assistant general manager of diversity and civil rights for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
A trailblazer and a mirror image of her parents, one official said.
Lessons surrounding generosity, perseverance, community service, and a commitment to civil rights were passed down by their parents George Morrison, who died in 2006; and Mary Morrison, 91. George and Mary are the real champions of Black excellence, Jeanne said.
Diggs, who is familiar with both George and Mary, said Jeanne is a trailblazer and a mirror image of her parents.
"She's a go-getter and she cares about everybody," he said. "The whole family - they are stand up people in this community. They are leaders and deserve every recognition."
'I hadn't witnessed prejudice like that before.'
George grew up an only child in East Texas, said Jeanne, and was raised by his mother Nancy Hamilton, who worked for the Alto Sheriff's Office at the time.
"She was a tough old bird," said Jeanne. "She was strong and she worked hard - she taught my father to be honest and respectful."
George experienced many moments of racism in his lifetime, but the trauma never dimmed his spirit, or carried over to his children, friends or family said Jeanne. George always worked at least three jobs at a time, she said, and was an auxiliary officer for Barnstable Police Department. He also owned Honest George's Taxi.
Mary and George met at Prairie View A & M University in Texas, a historically black college. Originally from Hyde Park, Mary was accustomed to northern segregation, but the explicit rules of engagement between white and Black people in the South in 1953 was eye-opening, she said.
"I hadn't witnessed prejudice like that before," she said.
Despite speaking three languages fluently, and multiple degrees, Mary struggled to find a job as a teacher on Cape Cod and worked for many years as a chambermaid.
Eventually, after being passed up by white counterparts for years, Mary became a long-time teacher at Nauset Regional Middle School and was one of two multi-racial people at the school in September 1969. The feat motivated Tony at a young age.
"She had to really struggle and persevere for that job," said Tony.
Despite the racism both George and Mary experienced, Jeanne said they didn't gripe about race relations and helped anyone who needed it - regardless of the color of their skin.
"My dad shared stories about what it was like to grow up in the segregated South to make his point," she said.
George, in particular, said Brian, made sure his children knew how to command respect.
"They led by example and no matter what roadblocks they came across, they kept their heads above water," he said. "My dad used to always say, 'Don't let anyone tell you you can't.' But he always said to do it with respect."
Tony remembers a conversation where George encouraged him to join the armed services.
"He said that my brothers and sisters were a little bit smarter than I was so I should go into the military and get school paid for," said Tony as he laughed. "He said it in a gentle way. He talked about leadership and putting your best foot forward."
Tony would go on to serve in both the Army and the Marines, where he also learned aviation. Brian served in the Navy, and volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters, is a founding member of the local group People of Action, as well as Kiwanis International, the Elks Lodge, the Masons, the Shriners and the Moose.
"When we were younger, we would wake up and mom would be gone pretty much already off to school," said Tony. "There was always this message of importance to do your job and be responsible."
Community service is a lifelong journey for Jeanne.
During the awards ceremony "Black Excellence on the Hill," people like Zavon Billups, executive director of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, and Gov. Maura Healey spoke about how award winners like Jeanne are making a difference in issues affecting people of color within the commonwealth.
Every year, said Diggs, "Black Excellence On The Hill," is a celebration of Black culture, achievement, and creativity.
For Jeanne, the award is an opportunity for state leaders to recognize Black people as integral contributors to communities. Understanding the necessity to serve communities of color is a step forward in addressing and correcting disparities and inequities formed through a history of discriminatory policies, and social and economic practices in the United States, she said."Political empowerment and civic engagement is an important part of community service," she said. "Increasing political awareness, accountability, accessibility and action, particularly for those who have been disenfranchised, is absolutely necessary."
The honor also gave Jeanne, and her brothers, the chance to make their parents proud. During the ceremony, Jeanne dedicated her award to George and Mary.
"It's all about them," she said. "They paved the way and created examples for the work that we all do. We’re building on their accomplishments to pave the way for future work."