I don’t know if you know this, but February is Black History Month. In honor of Black History Month, I’d like to share with you stories of African Americans who overcame tremendous odds in order to do make a difference in this world. I hope that you will read these stories to your children, and even check out books from the library to learn more about these amazing people.
First, I’d like to share my own story–the story of my family.
My roots began in a small rural town called Natchitoches, Louisiana. I am the oldest of four girls. I grew up around LOTS of family. My dad is the eleventh child in a family of sixteen children, so there was always lots of cousins to play with. I loved it! My mom is the only girl in a family of 6 children. My parents were high school sweethearts and were married at a young age.
Let me take you even further back into my history. I want you to see how far my family has come in just a very short time.
My grandfather was a sharecropper and farmer. I’ve heard many stories of my dad and his siblings working on the farm. They threw hay, picked cotton, picked pecans and I’m sure many other things as well. Life was hard. Feeding and clothing 16 children on a meager income was no small feat. The plight of a black man in rural Louisiana was no easy life to live. Though I never met my grandfather, I can only imagine the degradation and discrimination he must have endured. Unfortunately my grandfather, along with many other men at the time, took out their frustrations on their family. He was very abusive and he drank alot. I’ve heard many, many stories of how he treated my grandmother and his children. They aren’t good at all and many of my aunts and uncles have deep emotional wounds from how they were treated. It’s not a pretty picture.
And yet my dad always admired my grandfather because he took care of his family. He never abandoned them. They never went hungry. He was there. That does say alot in a culture where men often abandoned their families. It was just too much for some men to stay faithful to their wives, and accept the responsibility of providing for their families in a culture that made it so hard for them to do so.
What do you do when it seems everything is against you?
Let me tell you about my dad’s mom. I call her grandma, but her name is Vurna Mae Roberson. There is so much that I can say about this feisty, strong and beautiful woman. First she was the mother of 16 children– yes 16. And every one of them was a single birth. A-MA-ZING! Anyway, she held this family together, enduring all kinds of difficulty. She only had a 9th grade education, I think, and she cleaned houses for a living. Not unusual for a black woman of that time with little education. My grandfather died from cancer when my dad was a senior in highschool, leaving my grandmother to raise the remainder of her children alone.
These are my humble beginnings. My dad became the first college graduate in his family, graduating from Grambling State University and going on to play Professional football. Though his professional football career was short, it exposed me to life outside of the simple, rural life of La. My dad, being a country boy at heart, went back to Nachitoches and lives there to this day.
Now I have to tell you about my mom’s side of the family. I don’t know much about my mom’s dad. He died when she was seven years old. When I was a child, I remember crying because I never met either of my grandfathers. Well, I hate to say it, but it’s probably a good thing that I never met my mom’s dad. He was an alcoholic and extremely abusive. My mom has shared many stories about the horrible life of abuse and poverty that they endured. He didn’t feed his children, and he often beat my grandmother. I’ve heard stories about my grandmother giving my mom and her brothers salt to lick or garlic cloves to eat, because there was nothing else to eat.
Tragically, my grandfather was killed.
It is a story that isn’t talked about much in my family because of the tragic circumstances. Back then, there weren’t shelters for battered women, so when a woman was abused, she ran to her family. That made it very easy for her abuser to find her. So even when my grandmother, with children in tow, escaped the clutches of my grandfather, he came for her threatening her life. Finally, she could no longer endure the abuse. It was either her life or his.
Though it was ruled self-defense, my grandmother chose to go to prison.
I hope that gives you a glimpse into the woman I love and honor today. We call her Madea, but her name is Evelener White. I don’t know all of the details of what happened, but someday I hope to know the full story so that I can share her story. She returned from prison to raise her 6 children on her own. She worked as a school janitor for close to thirty years. She worked, and worked and worked to provide the best life that she could for her children and grandchildren. She’s always been like a second mom to my sisters and me. She taught me that you’re never to poor to be generous–extremely generous. Anytime I visit, she always has food to eat, and something to give me–clothes, shoes, food,money. Always, something.
From the ashes of tragedy and hardship, springs forth a beautiful garden.
Though neither of my grandmothers ever finished highschool or went to college, they passed on many important lessons to me.
Never give up.
Keep moving forward.
Give as if you have a million dollars in your pocket.
Laugh until you cry.
Pray all of the time.
God is good.
Thank you Grandma, and Madea for giving me such a beautiful legacy to follow.