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Interview with Gloria Cotton

Cotton, Gloria
Wilson, Dan
Date of Interview: 
Overcoming obstacles; Relationships with people and places; Storytellers and stories; Tolerance and respect
Gloria Cotton is a motivational speaker who recites the biblical story "Suffer the Little Children", as her grandmother told it to her as a child. She speaks of the lessons it has taught her, as well as how her son has used it in his life.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Dan Wilson interviewed a variety of people currently residing in North Carolina for a class project at UNCC.
Interview Audio: 
DW (Dan Wilson): Hi! What's your name?
GC (Gloria Cotton): My name is Gloria Cotton.
DW: And, uh, Gloria, what's your age?
GC: I'm 50.
DW: OK. Um, is the United States your, uh, birth country?
GC: Yes, it is.
DW: And, uh, I assume, um, that English is your native language.
GC: Native and only language! [Laughs]
DW: OK. Um, well, um, we wanted to talk about, um, a favorite story, and, um, do you have a favorite story?
GC: A favorite story about anything?
DW: About anything. It could be a traditional story, like you find in a folk tale, or out of a book. Or it could be a family story that gets passed down. Um, do you have a, one of those types of stories?
GC: Yes, I believe I have. It's not a family story. It's a story from The Bible. Is that OK?
DW: That's great!
DW: So it's, it's written, as opposed to oral?
GC: Yes. Yes.
DW: OK. Uh, who--? Did you read this story itself, yourself, when you were young, or was it first told to you by someone?
GC: No, it was first told to me by my grandmother, who is, um, was my first teacher, and remains my hero. Even though she's no longer physically on the planet.
DW: Uh-huh. How old were you when she shared this story with you?
GC: My first recollection I was three.
DW: That's [pause] that's very young. Uh, it's interesting how, uh, stories become so impressionable the younger the hearer.
GC: Yes.
DW: Uh, well, would you care to relate the story to me now?
GC: Sure.
GC: Well, this story, and I must tell you, I haven't read this in The Bible, so I don't know if it's totally accurate, but I prefer to get it like this: There was a huge crowd of people, and, um, Jesus decided that what he wanted to do was to, uh, entertain the little children. And all the adults were standing around, not really paying much attention to the children, because children, of course, were supposed seen and, uh, not heard, and not really much being seen, actually. And Jesus, uh, actually made all the adults move aside, and let the little children come up. And he said, "Suffer the little children." In other words, you know, it might be painful for you, or inconvenient for you adult people, but, "Let the children come to me, and forbid them not," don't stop them from coming. They have a place here too. And he sat and talked with these little children, and he hugged them, and loved them all. And she told me that everyone has to be like a little child to God, and that God loves everyone just like He is their own father and they are His children, because of what they are. And that children actually, the innocence of children, the unconditional love of children, is the way that we, now, that I'm an adult, that adults need to be with each other, and that the greatest lesson in that, when you can be like a little child, then you are doing what's pleasing to God.
DW: Uh-huh.
GC: And also, and the thing that I resonated with as a kid, was that you always had a special place, and a special protection, and a special love, uh, from Jesus and God, and that was another thing that made me feel special as a little girl.
DW: Uh-huh. So could you reiterate the message, quote-unquote, um, that you got from the story, from your point of view?
GC: The message, again, that I get from the story, for me personally, was that there would always be a special connection between me and God, and actually was just another of the ways my grandmother put for me to learn, or believe, that I could do anything, I could be anything, because I had a special connection and special protection, um, from not only her, which was more important for me at the time.
DW: Right.
GC: But also from God, and that that would always be there, that the way that she was able to do it was actually by remembering to me to be more child-like, more innocent. And that keeps me, as an adult, one, remembering to pray like a child, and to maintain some of the innocence, which is difficult, of a child. And I think that brings a smile to God's face.
DW: Um, as a child, what did you like most about the story, as opposed to what you would like most about it now? Were they the same, or different?
GC: No. What I liked about it was that kids were special. And, you know, with this, you know, it wasn't many opportunities for kids to be special, because kids weren't, you know, you were pushed out of adult span, and just really pushed to the side.
DW: Uh-huh.
GC: Again, that "seen and not heard" kind of thing.
DW: Right.
GC: And I liked the fact that the adults were made to wait. [Pause] [Laughs]
DW: Yes.
GC: [Pause] And be seen and not heard while the children were give a special place of honor. So I liked that. Yes.
DW: Do you have a chance to re-tell this story, um, in your work or to your own children? How have you shared it over the years?
GC: Well, you know, it's really interesting that we're talking about this, because my son, who is now 28, I guess I shared it with my children when they were growing up, but not in any particular special way, but my son is in therapy now, and uh, this is one of the visioning exercises that this therapist told him, that he should do whenever he is angry, to imagine that he is one of the little children that Jesus is putting his arms around. And so he came home and told me about that and he and I had a discussion about that, and it took me back to the safety and this warm feeling I had when I was a kid.
DW: Uh-huh.
GC: I think in my work, what I remember to do, and what I write into every single class that I facilitate, OK, no matter what it is, if it's leadership, conflict, no matter what, is what I call a STAR model. And it's an acronym for Sensitivity, Trust, Appreciation, and Respect.
DW: Uh-huh.
GC: And all of that is the same feeling from that story that I had when I was a kid. And I try to tell people this is the environment you want to try to tell my students, to encourage them to embrace the kind of environment where it's safe, to agree or disagree, to discuss anything. And be more productive when you have this sense of honoring and valuing. I don't say words like "Love," and I don't mention Jesus, I don't talk about any deity, um, because that's part of the respect, too. I firmly am committed to that. That not all people are, and I don't want to put up any walls for them.
DW: Uh-huh.
GC: So it's more a context that I am interesting in them embracing. If they want to say, "Working from the universe," or "Good business sense," or "God." I don't care what they call it. Um, I let them use whatever words to describe the behaviors that is gonna get you there. So it's that same feeling that is created in my workshops, that I had when I was a kid, actually.
DW: You, um, tantalized me with the reference to your grandmother, and that she is still your hero.
GC: Yes.
DW: Could you describe her?
GC: Hmm [pause] Describe her and what she did? Why she's my hero?
DW: Right. What attributes did she have that made you, um, respect her and view her as your hero even to this day?
GC: She had the ability to, first of all, she didn't know any strangers. And having first met someone she had the ability to quickly make them feel they had been in the family, and not only in the family, but a loved member and close member of the family. She would make everyone feel comfortable, respected, and more than that, truly loved [pause] truly, truly loved everyone. And as a little girl being blessed to grow up with her, I lived with her and my grandfather, and my brother and I, lived with them until I was six years old, exclusively. My mother was working, and that was fine, the best thing she could have ever done, to take me to my grandparents. And she really just instilled in me a sense of centering and acceptance of who I am, a clarity of understanding that I could really do anything that I put my mind to. There's nothing that I could not do, if I wanted to do it. A sense of strong independence, to the point that I never had, I never had, the problem of worrying about peer pressure. When I was in elementary school, high school, or college, never ever did I have that thing with my friends, like smoking, so I had to smoke. I didn't, none of that, because I was very much my own individual, and very centered and grounded. And I got that from her, truly unconditional love. Truly unconditional love. She would correct me when I was wrong, very lovingly, but I never ever doubted that she loved me, never. Um, and I, to this day, I live my life, um, for the most part, in ways that I'm always seeking her approval, and I think she is my touchstone and my benchmark. And I think if Mama would be pleased with this, it is good. [Laughs] So, you know, I have my standards, and I match my standards to what her standards would have been, I believe.
DW: Uh-huh. How old were you when she passed?
GC: She died in 1982, so what does that make me? I was born in 1949--. I can't do that math in my head! [Laughs]
DW: That's OK. Well, you've described a wonderful person, and that highly complements the story you told. I mean, they're so hand-in-glove, that I sort of see it as one seamless piece that you've shared.
GC: Yes.
DW: So I really, I really do appreciate it. Was there anything that I failed to ask that I should have, relating to this story that you've told, or background to the story that you've told?
GC: No, I would want to thank you for asking me those questions though, because it's given me the opportunity to go back to a very precious place, to feel her love really, really present, and, um, [pause] you know, that makes me smile all over.
DW: Well, the magic is that she can be in two places at once, because I feel it too.
GC: Oh, great! [Laughs] Wonderful!
DW: That embrace is very special. Well, Gloria, thank you very much and I do appreciate everything you've shared.
GC: You're welcome. Thank you.