“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.” -Dr. Carter G. Woodson
It’s Black History Month! As I sat and contemplated which iconic name in our rich history I’d feature in today’s “Black History Month” blog, my heart led me down a familial path. I’d like to introduce my mother’s story to you.
My mother, Doris Evans McGinty, died almost 16 years ago. She was a humble figure, focused on the work and not on sharing the story. Mom said, “Be a quiet fire. Let your work do the talking.”
She was just that: a quiet fire.
She studied at Howard University, earning Bachelor degrees in Music and German. Mom was so modest that she never spoke of her time as a Master’s Degree student at Harvard and how difficult it was to finish that Master’s degree in one year, the length of the fellowship. She never spoke of the isolation she must have felt knowing that it was policy to only allow one Negro student at a time. She only shared rare snippets of how her sister pushed her to apply for the Fulbright fellowship to study at Oxford University in England and even less about what it felt like to become the first U.S. woman to complete a Doctorate in Music from the University. My mother was humble, yet her legacy and influence on her family was powerful. Between myself, my siblings and my parents, our family worked for and obtained 13 degrees. Through planting seeds, vision, and setting the perfect example, is where her work did the talking.
In 1987, she put on her cap and gown as a part of the faculty, and I put on mine as a graduating student of Howard University. I saw that she wore a red robe. I noticed it was different, but was not astute enough to ask about it. It was only after her death, in talking with her dear friend, that I came to understand the significance of her red Oxford robe and how proud her peers felt seeing her in it. I lament a little because I missed it. I missed that moment of special pride, of fully knowing her journey, her push, her sacrifice and her triumph. I knew her up close and yet I know there was so much more to gather and learn from her journey, but women of her generation were modest. They did not share their stories as practice, and it is truly our loss.
Like you, I am absorbing the loss of Cicely Tyson, a giant of an actress and human being. I had never thought about the calming effect she had on me. It seemed that if Cicely Tyson was involved, then it was quality and it would be good. I was listening to her last interview with Gayle King, and I was so inspired by her deep grit to become who she became, and her fierce clarity that she would not write a book until she had something to say. Doing so was on her clock, and we are so glad she decided to share. What struck me is how she could imagine that she did not have a lot to say, and then I remembered my mother.
Thankfully, the great Cicely Tyson had time to decide to share her story in full. She has published her story in her words and, if on audio, her voice. What a gift! What I am sure of is that you, too, have a story worth sharing. You have insights and lessons that those who have yet to come of age will need. Don’t wait – share your story! You don’t have to write a book, but just find a way to share it, so those coming behind you have the benefit of your life. You can provide that inspiration Dr. Woodson speaks of in his quote. There is not a better gift.
Song: “The Greatest Love of All” by George Benson