• Elizabeth Cornwall

The Fastest Way to Become an Outlier in Three Easy Steps

Updated: Apr 14, 2020

When I was curious schoolgirl, I used to open my mother's dresser drawers and filing cabinets and have an old fashioned look-see. Once, I came upon a black and white photograph of men in white sheets and pointy white hats. Later, I came upon an obituary whereupon Hugo Black was an honorary pallbearer of a direct ancestor. Later, I learned he was not only a senator and Supreme Court justice but had espoused anti-Catholic views and was a member of the KKK.

My brothers and I grew up in Birmingham during the integration of schools in the late 1960s. We lived the burden of Southern history and especially in regards to race in Bomb-ingham. My grandfather's unholy trinity was to rant against "Catholics, n- - - ers, and Jews. I learned to abhor that from a young age and was never more confirmed in this than when a Chinese family moved in across the street, and I spent a lot of time teaching the young ones English when I was in the fourth grade. My grandfather had plenty to say about that and about them.

You're a prisoner of history until you aren't. Somehow, I escaped by studying French in high school and thus learning about eye-opening European culture. I also studied world history at the feet of a lady who was a world traveller. Mrs. Mann shared her slides with us so that the Roman forum, the Greek Parthenon, and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul came alive. From that point, I was hooked on history.

By the time I made it to college, I asked my German teacher what classes I should take to broaden my horizons, Dr. Black suggested art history. And so I sat in a darkened room with a Jewish art history professor who opened up the biblical scenes of classical, medieval, Renaissance, and early modern art far more than sitting in a Presbyterian church every Sunday ever could. Suddenly, I found something that I was very good at — training my God-gifted ability to see and write about what I saw.

When we were given the choice of five architecturally significant buildings to visit, to research, and to write about. I chose St. Paul's Roman Catholic Cathedral. I stayed for services. I took instruction from the priest, and then I "poped." I left behind the anti-intellectualism, provincialism, and racism of Birmingham. I was no longer a prisoner of my history. But it meant that I was an outlier with my family and with most of the people I grew up with as Alabama has only ever had between 3 – 5 % Catholics.

If you must be an outlier, then escape the circumstances in which you were born by following the innate gifts that God has given you, ask other people for advice, and strike out on your own in just three easy steps.

I joined my brother in my new outlier status at the tender age of 19. What I did decades later would seal that status. I had my dream about Kerry when I had one foot in one world and the other in a world that I would have never guessed that I would discover.

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