It’s Never Too Late to Keep Love Alive
Lovie Cunningham had been on the 97th floor of the World Trade Center less than fifteen minutes when she heard the explosion. Outside, she witnessed a sudden eruption of fire and then smoke while inside the building, frantic office workers scrambled to find safety. Lovie, who had arrived just that morning to assist with a tricky IT roll out, found herself being gently but firmly guided by a man with a thick Russian accent who, only moments before, had welcomed her to the office with a gracious bow and an offer of candy. Together, they made their way through a blackened hallway, ignoring the voice on the intercom instructing everyone to return to their workstations. Instead, they pushed through the crowds, down the elevators, and finally up the escalator the wrong way to reach the revolving doors leading to the exit. “Don’t look back,” Lovie’s guide told her, and she didn’t, focusing her gaze ahead of her instead, out to where first responders ushered the frightened crowds away from the building that was sure to come crashing down at any moment.
It was only after they had reached safety that Lovie asked the man, Lenny, why he had helped her. They had only just met, after all. They had no special connection. Why had he come for her? “God told me to,” Lenny said simply, and with those words, Lovie felt so much love pouring out of this man who had so recently been a stranger but was now, and would forever remain, an important part of her life.
Living a life guided by the kind of love Lenny had shown her that terrible day had always been important to Lovie. Born in a small town in rural Texas, one of nine children in a family of sharecroppers, Lovie learned from her parents the value of making time for the people you care about. Even after a grueling day out in the fields on a steaming summer day, her parents still found the time and energy to sit with the family out on the front porch, sharing a meal, trading stories, and connecting. Lovie, a bright and avid student, finished high school at the age of fifteen and went on to college, turning down an opportunity to integrate a local university—a choice her family feared might cause them all harm – in favor of attending an HBCU, where she pursued a degree in math and physics. Lovie wanted to use her degree to help make life a little easier for her family back home and so, when she got recruited to work as a computer programmer—a role made famous in the movie Hidden Figures—she eagerly accepted.
The job took her to Chicago, where she met her husband, and later to Denver, where Lovie balanced motherhood and family life with professional growth and challenges. As she rose through the corporate ranks, it was always clear to Lovie that she was an outsider. She was often the only woman—and certainly the only Black woman—in the room. It could be a struggle to make her voice heard, and even when she was able to get the floor, all too often she saw her ideas credited to her white, male colleagues. Pushing back ran the risk of being labeled an “Angry Black Woman,” so she knew she had to tread cautiously. In those times, Lovie reminded herself to hold her head high, remember her value, and find the strength to stay positive.
It was that spirit that Lovie brought with her to the assignment in New York City, and it was that same spirit that saw her through its dreadful aftermath and recovery. Today, Lovie is retired from her corporate career, though she remains just as busy. After decades in her adopted home of Denver, Lovie fulfilled a long held dream and returned to her Texas roots, where she is serving as Executive Director of the Samuel Walker Houston Museum and Cultural Center, a local organization in Huntsville that pays tribute to the pioneering educator and the students who matriculated from the school that bears his name. She is active with her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, as well as the Huntsville branch of the NAACP. We all need to “get down to loving each other,” she says with a smile, and that is her mission each and every day.
Lovie hopes that we, as a society, can see and respect others as they are and, when the opportunity arises, do as Lenny did for her: Take someone’s hand and guide them, with love, to where they need to go.
It’s never too late to keep love alive.