Today and throughout February, I am posting brief excerpts from my upcoming memoir, “Coming Full Circle — From Jim Crow to Journalism.”
On the day the deacon stopped me in the hallway at Mt. Zion Church, I could see the pride in his eyes, which made me think about what he had just described. It warmed my heart that he was proud for me. No matter how much I hear from colleagues and friends of other races who praise me for my accomplishments, it means so much more to get that kind of validation from one of my own people, the kind of validation this deacon was offering up to me that Sunday morning. I appreciate validation from people who may have walked my journey, lived a life similar to mine, suffered oppression and the indignities of civil wrongs — and overcame.
On that day at Mt. Zion, I represented members of my extended family who pushed me beyond the expected reality for a black girl who grew up during the era of Jim Crow, the teachers in my segregated high school in Savannah who challenged me beyond the resources we had been given, members of Second African Baptist Church who taught me Bible stories in Sunday School and expected me to memorize and flawlessly recite Easter speeches as my first lessons in public speaking.
I represented the neighbor ladies who told stories on the front porch of my grandmother’s house while swatting flies, fanning the summer heat and drinking freshly squeezed, ice-cold lemonade out of Mason Jars, who encouraged me to make good grades and who scrutinized my report cards. I represented the legacy of Spelman College in Atlanta, an institution that gave leadership opportunities to generations of African American women, including two generations of women in my own family before me.
“You’ll be great, baby,” they would tell me, building my confidence along the way. That was my validation then, and on that Sunday in the church hallway in Arlington, it was as if the deacon was saying “Well-done. You have a seat at the table. Now use it to do some good.”
Next: Social Probation