Black History (is more than a) Month
My mother’s name was SHONDRA PARKS. I call her Professor Mom.
She was born in the city of Philadelphia…
…and I was the pride, joy, and holy terror of her life.
Mom fought the good fight. She marched. She rallied. She worked hard, and then worked some more.
She became a Professor at Howard University, and maybe in rebellion, I was the last thing you’d expect from a Professor’s daughter.
I hated books. Well, not so much hated as they bored me.
The only things I read were Right On!, Black Beat, and Cosmopolitan.
One day, I hit bad grade critical mass on a junior high school report card, and Professor Mom came home and beat the living daylights out of me.
She didn’t beat me much, but quality made up for quantity, and that one left me standing.
She dragged me to the library and forced, yes, forced me to get a library card.
Many years later, I would humorously and respectfully say the creed “This is my library card. There are many like it, but this one is mine.”
The first book I took out with my card was The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley…and that was the beginning.
Professor Mom gave me extra assignments on top of my school work, which included reading a book every month and talking with her about how the content of the book connected with present day.
As time went on, I read the works of Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Nikki Giovanni, and Claude Brown.
Later, the speculative fiction of Octavia Butler intrigued me, because it showed a future with people of different and rich shades of skin with extraordinary abilities.
Even when I was a high school senior, and the extra assignments were a thing of the past (Got those grades way up, so Professor Mom slowly slid off my back), I still read a book a month.
I developed a love of reading because of my mother.
In my sophomore year of college, my mother passed away. How she died is not important, but she did so with dignity and eyes looking forward to meet the light.
I was shattered and adrift, and the only way I could cope was to seek justice for my mother…and to write about the journey.
The Statistics of Grief was the result. It was the first book I had ever written…and that was my new beginning.
I became a writer because of my mother.
Some of you have gone through similar and profound experiences. You know where I’m coming from.
Some of you (and you know who you are) walk around with your bags and your backpacks and your Iphones, watching reality TV with eyes open, walking through life with your heads gazing into little screens, and thinking the world owes you something.
You’ve heard about The Civil Rights Movement and The Panthers but they’re terms to you. The words don’t connect, and you’re too busy and disinterested to investigate.
I’m not here to teach you about history.
I want you to learn about your own Black History.
Not as a month in which companies can target you as a consumer, but as a personal experience from your own backyard.
Talk with your mother, father, aunt, uncle, or grandparent.
Ask them about the life they led, the battles they fought, the lessons learned, and the victories won.
Know your family, and you know your legacy.
Family can be blood or friends, but find someone of years and wisdom and connect with them.
It can be the barber who’s owned the shop for thirty-five years, or the mailman who’s delivered on your block for all of your life.
If you’re lucky, you will discover your purpose, as my mother helped me discover mine, in life and death.
I know my history and my future.
More than a month.
That’ll be my new t-shirt, and you will see me sporting it…while I’m reading the works of Walter Mosley, Tananarive Due and L.A. Banks.