Thursday, May 27, 2010


Yesterday was my 14th wedding anniversary. To some, that's a long time and to others, we're still babies with some "stuff" to go through. I started reflecting on my husband, Maurice, and my parents and grandparents. My parents made it 16 years before they ended everything in divorce. Maurice's parents were married for 29 years before the untimely death of my mother-in-law. But our grandparents - that's a different story all together...

My grandparents on my father's side were not only married forever, but when my grandmother fell ill from a stroke and needed 24 hour care, my grandfather stayed by her side for YEARS, nursing her, bathing her, feeding her, watching television with her. His love and allegiance was not only in words, but he showed it in his deeds. My grandmother passed away a few years ago, and my grandfather is still going strong at the age of 90.

My grandparents on my mother's side were also married forever. They were hilarious because they were COMPLETE opposites. My grandmother was loud, boisterous, and big. My grandfather was soft-spoken, a man of few words, very strong (physically and mentally) and extremely thin. I loved laying in their bed because you could tell where she slept (big dip in the mattress) and where he slept (higher than the rest of the mattress). They had 13 children, but 3 died before I was born. The remaining 10 included 7 boys and 3 girls, one of which is my mother. Those 10 were SO close-knit and supportive - I've lived with two of them and consider all of them my surrogate fathers and mothers. Their children are more like siblings to me than cousins. And we cousins have continued the tradition of closeness. 3 of my younger cousins have lived with me for various reasons and I've become like a surrogate mother to some of them. My children and my cousins' children are as close as I am with my cousins. My mother's parents provided a real-life example of what family is. We stand up for one another, we're there for each other, and we help each other whenever it's needed... even down to raising each others' children if necessary.

But the real reason for this blog is Grandma Alice. My husband's mother's mother. My grandmother-in-law. She died earlier this month at the age of 90. Maurice, the kids and I went to be with her during the Easter Holiday, because she'd fallen very ill and the doctor's didn't think she'd make it long. A month later, 12 of her 13 children and their spouses and children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren were gathered together in a small church on a hill in the heart of Vicksburg, MS for her homegoing services. It was truly a celebration as we sang, clapped and laughed at memories of a diminutive woman with a sweet voice, but a quick and, sometimes sharp, tongue. She said what was on her mind, but said it with the sweetest smile.

I named this blog "Shero" because Grandma Alice and her late husband Monroe did something I've never known anyone in my life to do. They raised 13 Black-American children in segregated and racist Mississippi in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s. Not only did they raise these children without one dying, but each and every one of the boys and girls were educated and went on to some level of success. A doctor, successful business men and women, honored military officers. Not one of them a criminal, not one addicted to drugs or alcohol, not one a high-school or college drop out. Now, some families may be able to boast of this, but how many would also be able to say they are as close-knit as my mother's family? The 13 children were present and supportive of each others' college graduations, successes, marriages, and the successes of their children. Even though they're spread out among Texas, California and Mississippi, 2 or 3 live in the same cities to be a support for one another. And like my mother's family, their children know each other more like siblings than cousins. My kids cried when we had to come home from Mississippi earlier this month. They didn't want to leave their cousins and the activities in which they were engaged. That's what family truly is.

I couldn't stop thinking about the challenges that Grandma Alice and Grandpa Monroe must have faced living in racist and rural Mississippi throughout the 1930s before they moved to the city of Vicksburg. I thought about the stories I'd read and heard of lynchings and brutality against Black people in cities throughout Mississippi from slavery to present. I'd heard of a lack of amenities like running water and, in some places, electricity. And the education system was and still is one of the worst in the nation. But despite all of these statistics and facts, a Black couple with dark skin, short and stocky in nature, African features and not much money birthed 13 children from the 1930s to the 1960s, educated them, taught them values and love, and didn't lose one to the negative statistics of the time and place. They typical reasons Black people give for their failures, the Williams family overcame - 13 times - and more with the grandchildren they also raised.

Times are different now, but are they really? There is still blatant racism and segregation all around me in my little southern community of Lilburn, Georgia. I spend the majority of my time with my boys teaching them respect and love for each other and their peers. Unfortunately, I also have to explain why someone may look at them differently than the White children in their class or in the store, especially since they both have "dreadlocks." My husband and I have to teach them to be strong in their values and beliefs, know the history of Black people in America, and value education in all forms. Just like our parents taught us, we're teaching them they have to be better than good, because good is simply not good enough.

I have only a couple of heros - people I admire for doing things against the odds. Grandma Alice is right up there with Malik el Hajj Shabazz in my mind and heart. But because life is different for a woman than a man, she gets the higher distinction of being my Shero. I'm glad I was able to experience a few years of her light before she moved on - I am encouraged to keep teaching love, values, education, and strength to my sons because of her example.