Withstanding Every Threat

He woke up with the only thought of, “Five more minutes, Mom.” It was an early schoolday just like every other school day in Auburn, Alabama. Anthony prepared for class, gatheringhis school supplies and hopped in his mother’s car. Trying to relax a few more moments, hedidn’t recognize that something was different until he pulled up to the school.

“Where are we?” he asked.


“Wright’s Mill Road Elementary. This is your new school,” his mother said. “Why?” he wondered, reaching for the door handle.


“Because of integration.”

***


Anthony Threat was never one to give up easily. He endured the taunting during integration in Auburn, Alabama, and years later he ignored the ignorance in college. If there was one thing he knew how to do, it was succeed in the midst of adversity.

In the third grade, he was transferred to a different elementary school in 1967 after the integration act was passed; however, every student in the class was white.

 

“The first day of class I walked in and the teacher looked at all of us and told us to standup if you have an outside bathroom. I had an outside bathroom, but I wasn’t crazy enough to stand up,” said Threat.

He shut down as a student for a while, but the few friends that he made slowly brought him back. Skip Johnston, who now owns J&M Bookstore in Auburn, was one of the students that helped Threat and became his friend.

“Skip walked up to me and told me my painting was nice. You’re talking about a black kid and this thing called integration. And there’s a proverb that says there’s nothing so good you can’t find evil in it and there’s nothing to evil you can’t find good in it,” said Threat.

His strength was tested again when he was in high school.

 

***

“I had my first heart operation at 15 years old. I had my second when I was 32. I had mythird three years ago; all because of strep throat,” he said, ringing his hands together.

We sat on the deck in his backyard. Really, it was more like a wild life sanctuary. The trees hung low shading the areas of green grass atop the hill. Following the slop all the way down to the deck, the short trail led right to the lake taking, its place in a few other people’sbackyards. The sunlight reflecting off of the water infused a calm into the air. Threat on the other hand continued fidgeting, holding his head down to block the sun from his eyes.

“The heart surgeries had a profound effect on me that it is what it is. Having my firstheart surgery at 15 years old taught me this thing about life. Having my second heart surgery at 32 years old taught me this thing about death,” said Threat.

This all started in high school. During that time, he said there weren’t any doctors thatwould treat black people in Auburn. A hospital in Tuskegee is where he was told he had strep throat. The shot of penicillin that he needed was never administered, because his mother couldn’t afford it. “You know, my mom raised five kids off of $25 a week,” he said.

By the time he found out he had strep throat, it was too late and the illness had spread and damaged his heart.

“My last heart operation, I was on the operating table and they gave me a stem cell froma cow,” said Threat before looking up and chuckling lightly. “Now when I see grass I don’t know whether to smoke it or eat it.”

That last surgery changed so much in his life. Threat says that he has no concept oftomorrow. “If you’re foolish enough to think that there is such a thing as tomorrow, then you’re in trouble,” he said looking out over the water.

Now, he says all he wants to spend the rest of his life doing is meeting good people and doing as much as he can to help them.

“I know I can’t save the world. But I can be there for people who need me,” he said.

Threat is an education program specialist for the Georgia Department of Education and is a former assistant director of admissions for Auburn University. Working with students everyday gives him access to help every student seeking it and those that aren’t. He was also a teacher in Lee County and at Southern Union, giving him even more opportunity to fulfill his life goal of helping people; especially, students.

One student in particular knows Threat well. Before enjoying the lake it was breakfast time. To my right was Threat, his plate filled with fruit, buttery grits, eggs and a biscuit. Auburn University quarterback, John Franklin III sat down the table to my left as his family pattered around the kitchen gathering their own breakfast. He had already gotten his and sat silently munching on a bacon strip.

When John transferred to Auburn he met Threat who quickly took him under his wing.“He’s great. His whole family is great and we always eat breakfast at my house on the Sunday’sthat they’re here,” said Threat.

The kitchen was lively. There was talk of President Donald Trump over the scrambledeggs and of the dreaded final’s week exams over the pineapples. There was joking and laughing and a few open palms banged on the table, but mostly they talked about the injustices in the school system.

Everyone had a lot to say. John, however, would interject here and there; but he would almost always agree when Threat would say something.

“You’re right, Unc,” John would say. His brother and cousins around the table all called Threat there Uncle, too.

 

***


When the sun was high enough in the sky to shine a few rays through the trees in his backyard, three of Threat’s nine grandchildren raced outside to see him. His eyes lit up.“You’re getting ready to see my crew,” he said as they flew down the trail. His daughter Anyana Threat came down, too. “FAMU grad. Got accepted at Auburn, walked out of MaryMartin Hall and told me she wanted the black experience. But I was like what color is a dollarbill?”

Anyana smiled standing next to her children. Later, we went back into the house and she sat down next to me.

“My father had you out there talking for hours didn’t he?” she asked. I just smiled and shrugged. “Yeah, well, that’s okay. He works hard and I know that he’s a really interesting man.”

“My mom taught me that failure was never an option. And if you did fail, it was because you chose to. So my thing is, every black kid I see at Auburn, I’m going to have a conversation with them. And every white kid I see at Auburn, I’m going to have a conversation with them. Any kid, really. I always ask them, where are you in school? Is there anything I can help you with?And it’s worked out...it’s work out pretty well.”