There are lots of stars at the Democratic National Convention. Barack Obama. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Kanye West. Jesse Jackson, Jr. More than four thousand delegates who bring local and national media wattage to a convention that is glass-ceiling shattering and historic.
The stratosphere is dimmer than it might have been, though, because Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) won't be here. If there was anyone looking forward to Denver in August it was this congresswoman, freedom fighter, legendary and historic leader, and sister-friend.
Her eyes literally danced and her lips barely suppressed a smile when we talked about the Democratic National Convention at the recent Delta Convention in Orlando.
"Girrrrl," she said, mischievously, "this convention is going to be something else." We sat on a dais like two little girls in a classroom, whispering and passing notes. She tentatively agreed to come to Bennett College for Women sometime this fall, "depending on what I need to do for the campaign." And when it was her turn to speak, she got up and turned it out, offering Delta members a charge to remain involved in social action.
Stephanie Tubbs Jones was, more than anything else, a warm, wonderful sister-friend. She was full of smiles, full of energy, full of zeal. Her first priority, always, was her care and sensitivity to people. She was never too busy to offer a hug, shake a hand, or take a photo with an admirer.
To see that side of her was to revel in her love for people and her concern for their lives. That loving and giving side persisted through her death, as Congresswoman Jones was an organ donor. Still the smile and the giving are not the whole picture — there was steel behind that smile.
There would have to be steel in Stephanie Tubbs Jones for her to have been the first African American woman to chair the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. There would have had to be steel for her to win a Congressional seat in 1998; steel for her to lead the Platform Committee of the Democratic Party in 2004, or to chair the House Ethics Committee. Steel to call into question the results of the 2004 election. And, going back in her career, there had to have been steel for her to be the first African American woman to serve as an elected judge in the Ohio Court of Common Pleas.
She had to be made of some steel, too, for her to withstand a series of personal losses with grace, losing no momentum in her political work. Her husband, Mervyn, died in 2003, and in the following years, she also lost a sister and a parent. Sometimes she would exhibit just a touch of sadness for her losses, but mostly she kept the smile on, the eyes dancing, and the excitement for life.
And then there was steel and integrity that kept her staunch and strong in her support for her friend, Hillary Rodham Clinton. The congresswoman was out there for Hillary, and indefatigable in her support for the New York senator. My word is my bond, she told me when I asked if she'd been pressured to switch sides.
She looked forward to supporting Barack Obama, but she maintained enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton's campaign, for her work, and for her next contribution. Senator Clinton wasn't the only candidate Stephanie Tubbs Jones lent her enthusiasm and support to. At the Delta Convention, she held a fundraiser for Tennessee congressional candidate Nikki Tinker, though it was unlikely that Tinker would unseat incumbent Democrat Steve Cohen. The polls didn't much matter to Stephanie Tubbs Jones in this instance. She stood on her word and her friendship.
Despite the speeches and the stars, the Democratic National Convention is less rich, layered, and nuanced because Stephanie Tubbs Jones is not here.
There are too many moments that have the poignancy of unrealized possibility, the sense that someone essential, vibrant, and rich, is missing from the mix. Business goes on as usual, it always does. And yet, in the mix of the usual business, there is a void, an aching sense of loss.
There is also joy and celebration. Stephanie Tubbs Jones lived an amazing life that deserves commemoration. She mentored hundreds, and was a role model to thousands of young women who learned from her that public service is one way to make a significant contribution to our nation and our world.
I will miss her smiles, her steel, and the great energy she would have brought to this campaign and to the continuing struggle for social and economic justice.
Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women.