On January 5, 1967 Ronald Reagan famously said at his inauguration as governor of California, “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people.”

This lesson in history was understood in 1963 by three women from West Tisbury: Nancy Hodgson Whiting, Virginia Mazer and Polly Murphy. These women were moved in part by the assassination of President Kennedy and established the Martha’s Vineyard chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The early membership included Blacks, whites, women, men — all of them seasonal Island residents or members of the year-round community.

Among its early initiatives, the branch began to collect food and clothing for the residents of Williamston, N.C. Nancy, Virginia and Polly were joined by Nancy Smith and Peg Lilienthal who decided that the five of them would drive the collected items to North Carolina. While in the South they decided to register Black voters. Knocking on doors while properly dressed with northern accents they were viewed suspiciously by Black residents and were rebuffed.

Not to be deterred from registering their displeasure with segregation and racism, they decided to join a protest outside a Sears, Roebuck and Company that was reluctant to hire local Black residents. They were promptly arrested and spent one night in jail. They were bailed out and drove back to the Vineyard.

For some this might not seem like a series of “meaningful” events that should be worthy of sharing year after year. I beg to differ.

The fight to preserve and strengthen democracy in America must be waged by average citizens who take on injustice where they find it. The courage and action by these Vineyard residents heading south to face the threat to democracy and risk their own lives is a worthy example that should be repeated. Many have lost their lives for protesting, marching and registering people to vote.

Enter Dr. Thelma Johnson of Oak Bluffs and Naples, Fla. Thelma is best know for her role as the dynamic and focused president of the Martha’s Vineyard branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). On March 14 she sent an open letter to Governor Ron DeSantis, questioning why he would attempt to ban the College Board’s Advanced Placement course in African-American studies in Florida. As a retired educator with 59 years of experience, she, like the women from West Tisbury, was moved to action. She was moved to declare that the governor’s recent legislation on many fronts was “void of consideration for educational diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Women of courage and action have been amplified this month. Most of those studied in books, movies and panels are all famous. Many have been leaders in large movements or organizations. President Biden will soon be hosting the Summit for Democracy at the White House. I hope that average, thoughtful, courageous citizens — including those from Martha’s Vineyard like Thelma Johnson and the Fab Five from West Tisbury — get to participate in these national convenings. Our democracy has its best chance of survival when ordinary people are moved to take action action and preserve it.

Congrats to Oak Bluffs residents Angella and Danroy Henry on the success of the DJ Henry Dream Fund. The Henrys launched the fund 12 years ago in honor of their son DJ, who lost his life at the hands of a Pleasantville, N.Y. police officer in 2010. The organization is a nonprofit scholarship entity designed to help kids participate in sports and wellness programs. This year the Dream Fund is anticipated to reach one million dollars in giving.

Oak Bluffs friend to many Cheryle Wills passed on Feb. 22 at the age of 79 in Cleveland, Ohio. She had suffered for several years from dementia. She was a business and social tour de force in Cleveland, Boston and New York. Cheryle was a generous and thoughtful leader at the Urban Leagues of Cleveland and New York, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women and the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. With her longtime companion Walter Lowe, she was an active member of Union Chapel. We will miss seeing her in the garden on Vineyard avenue.

Hundreds showered the family of John Miller with hugs and love at the Dolan Funeral Home in Milton this past Monday night. John was a large East Chop figure at the tennis and beach clubs. Blessings and prayers to Jacqui and children John Jr., Robert and Caroline.

Paradise on earth is living the Vineyard experience. Enjoy it as life is fleeting. Randall Edward Taylor, rest in peace.