Recently I had lunch with some friends and since we are in the midst of Black History Month, we spent hours reminiscing about our growing up days in Overtown, and how blessed we were to have parents and teachers who shielded us from the perils to come. We didn’t know what we were going to have to face once we got out from under their circle of protection.
They never told us directly. It was always, “Go to school and get a good education and nobody can take that from you.”
As we grew up, we learned that we lived in a world ruled by Jim Crow laws. And we knew our place — so to speak — in that world. But somehow, we didn’t know how severe our lives were touched by those unfair and unjust laws, until we graduated high school and walked out into the real world.
While in school, our teachers never told us just how segregated our world was. But somehow we knew.
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Rarely, if ever, did our parents came home from work telling us of some demeaning incident that happened to them. Instead, whether we lived in Overtown’s “Good Bread Alley” or in the Liberty Square Housing Project, they made our home a safe haven from the world.
My mom and her friends didn’t have telephones when we were growing up. But every mother in the neighborhood looked out for every child on the block. And we knew to respect “Mrs. Houston” and “Mrs. Anne” when they scolded us. Our prayer was that they didn’t tell our parents because that would be another scolding or worse.
I’m so thankful for that village of women who served a surrogate moms to me and my brother. They kept us out of trouble and my mom never had to worry about going to visit my brother in jail. It was a system that worked then and it could work now if we would only give it a chance.
We remembered our female teachers, who knew they had hundreds of young girls watching their every move, each day. So, without saying as much, they became our mentors. We wanted to look and act just like them. Our male teachers all wore shirts and ties; their shirts were always tucked in their pants. They were role models in every way as they went about the work of educating us and making sure we had the things we needed to excel. Often that meant our teachers had to use money from their small salaries to buy the necessary school supplies for us.
They taught us manners and morals and how to persevere. That would certainly come in hand for me when I was faced with unfair supervisors in the workplace. I could hear my mom and my teachers saying to me, “Keep your head up and do your job well.”
I did. And so did my friends. But while we took in the priceless teaching from our parents and teachers, my heart goes out to the young people of today. Something has gone terribly wrong in the black community. Our children are killing each other and those who aren’t dead are packing the jailhouses.
Looking back at how far we have come since we were growing up in the 1940s and ‘50s, we realize now that our parents and our teachers gave us hope, even when they didn’t see hope in the distant future. I am amazed how they held on to their integrity and dignity, when they had to drink from the “Colored” water fountain, and then explain to their children why they couldn’t drink from the fountain that had a “White” sign over it. They had a hard time trying to explain to us (especially curious me) that, “No, the water from the white water fountain didn’t taste like lemonade.”
Now that I am a mother and grandmother, I believe I can feel the pain our parents bore when it was time to shop for a new pair of shoes for us, and had to measure our feet with a piece of string to get our size. In those days, department stores didn’t allow blacks to try on shoes and clothes. A lot of us wore ill-fitted shoes for that reason.
So, we’ve come far enough to have witnessed a black man in the White House. Still, we know that we haven’t out run racism. Our president has had to endure some of the worse racism I’ve seen in many years.
And so, though the struggle continues, we are equipped with something deep within us that tells us to keep on keeping on. We do matter and our hope is alive and strong.
‘EMERGING YOUNG LADIES’
The “Emerging Young Ladies” will have its 2015-16 essay contest and luncheon at noon Saturday, Feb. 27, at the Church of the Open door, 6001 NW Eighth Ave. in Liberty City.
The event is being presented by the board of directors of the Women Involved in Service to Humanity (W.I.S.H.) Foundation along with the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Gamma Zeta Omega Chapter.
The event is a Black History Month project and is titled “Faces of Color, Faces of Character: Celebration of History, Culture and Achievement.” The essay and display project contest winners will be announced at the event.
Tickets to the program and luncheon are $25 per person. Call Shirley Lewis Archie at 305-696-9989 for tickets and more information.
MIAMI WOMAN’S CLUB ART EXHIBIT
The Miami Woman’s Club will celebrate Black History Month through the arts and culture from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, at Biscayne Bay Marriott, 1600 N. Bayshore Dr. in a private room by the first floor elevator next to Catch Restaurant.
The art exhibit will feature the works of Debra Dancy, courtesy of N’Namdi. Music will be performed by jazz singer Just Cynthia and gospel artist David Smith. Spoken word artist Rebecca “Butterfly” Vaughn will perform. Also on the program are Contemporary Miami and JCarol.
The cost is $15 for members and $20 for guests. Light hors d’oeuvre and will be served . The first drink is included. To RSVP, call Shirley Pardon at 786-525-4621.
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