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Shine A Light

I could write about Skip Gates' arrest for disorderly conduct in his own home. Lord knows it's got BMNB hoppin' mad, since he,too, was asked for ID at our front door. By a repo man with piercings and tats who came to take the car of the prior owner of our house, no less. ("Why do I need to show someone ID at my house? It's MY house!). I don't know whether it's a black man thing, a southern thing, or both, but you just don't mess with a black man in his own home. But enough about that.

I could write about the late Walter Cronkite and my immense respect for him as a journalist and as the catalyst who ended the Vietnam war, IMHO. But that will have to wait.

Last night I received word that a old friend of mine from "back in the day," when I was a young, single, professional woman in Oakland, has passed away. I left the Bay Area in '98, and she followed shortly, taking a better position doing what she loved in the arts. It hurt my heart to know she had passed and that I hadn't kept in touch. I'm absolutely horrible at keeping in touch with folks, even my best friend. I hoped this friend of mine had not suffered, that she had been loved and cared for in her time of need.

The reason why her passing hit me as it did is because she gave me an enormous gift, a gift she probably didn't even know she gave -- permission to be myself. She hung out with a group of us young African American attorneys and professionals, and although she wasn't an attorney herself, she never let it make her feel out of place or less than. I admired how she could fit into any group and carry herself like she belonged, like she never doubted her place or right to be anywhere she damn well pleased. I don't even know if she knew that she projected this air. But it was certainly contagious.

As an older member of our Geoffrey's Happy Hour crew (I'm told Geoffrey's has long since closed in Oakland), she often dispensed wisdom to us younger black women on dating and life. She would tell me when I was being too judgmental about people, men in particular. She would affirm my "and so-and-so can kiss my pretty black ass" attitude when I felt I'd been wronged. But most of all, she let me know that it was okay for me to be black and female and smart and strong and vulnerable and uppity and generous. That it was okay to be me and nothing less. That despite what the working world and sometimes those close to me told me, I was perfectly okay the way I was and I wasn't to change a thing, damn it. That although I wasn't anywhere close to where I had hoped to be in my career and my love life, I'd get there. She just knew it.

What I admired most was that she was doing what she loved. Growing up black and doing what you love are oftentimes at cross purposes, at least in my generation. Because our parents wanted the best for us -- financially security that serves as a hedge against the whims of racism -- most black people of my generation were pushed to go to college and do something that would make money. Education was viewed as professional job training, not enlightenment, because enlightenment doesn't pay the bills. She, on the other hand, followed her own path. She worked for a non-profit arts organization and later left the Bay Area for a position with an even better non-profit arts organization. Working for a non-profit is a dicey proposition at best -- you never know where your next sponsor or grant is coming from. Working for non-profit arts organizations is even more dicey and truly a labor of love, because the arts community feels it first and hardest when the economy sours. She wasn't concerned with the things that preoccupied so many of us young black professionals -- the next promotion, the house, the car, the cute husband/wife and the 1.9 children. She did what she loved and encouraged us to do the same with her mother wit and wisdom gained from experience. Instead of being threatened by the young and highly educated black women who surrounded her, she shined a light on us. She wanted us to be fabulous, to be all that we wanted to be.

She was from Chicago. Need I say more? The thing I love about black Chicagoans is that most of them are only one or two generations out of the south. They have the street smarts of city dwellers, a love of the blues and black culture, and the words and ways of black southerners. Had things worked out for my grandfather, I, too, would have been a black Chicagoan. You know the joke: Black southerners fled the south for Chicago; the ones who ran out of money ended up in East St. Louis. My grandfather died before he could take my father and his siblings out of the south. I imagine my life would have be so very different, that I might have had the affirming confidence she did.

And now that I face down the second half of my life on a career path that I can't even tell you how I got on, I hope to recapture a bit of that light she shined on me, to follow in her footsteps of doing what I absolutely love. Yes, I have the house, the man, and the 1.9 children are in the works, but I'd be lying if I said I jump out of bed with passion for my work like she did for hers. That I'm willing to put up with all the organizational drama and crap like she did because she loved the end product of her work. I don't always feel that way about what I do. Sometimes the end product of what I do is, well, an end product.

But more than that, I hope to shine a light on all the fabulous young black women coming behind me and let them know it's going to be alright. That it's okay to be black and female and smart and strong and vulnerable and uppity and generous and whatever else they are. That they're going to be just fine. Because she told me so.


Rhonda said…
Well said! I've been struggling to put my feelings into words since I heard the news but I think you hit the nail on the head. She was confident and fearless, even when it looked ill-advised to the rest of us who had been raised to stay in the safe zone. Thanks for blogging about this wonderful woman. - RLA
Rhonda said…
Well said! I've been struggling to put my feelings into words since I heard the news but I think you hit the nail on the head. She was confident and fearless, even when it looked ill-advised to the rest of us who had been raised to stay in the safe zone. Thanks for blogging about this wonderful woman.
Norvell said…
That was so beautiful and powerful. I met Dorothy when she came to work at Miami Dade College and I loved her for being herself because I'm cut from the same cloth. We would call each other Sistah Girl and say something outrageous to each other and she would laugh that infectious laugh. We will miss her in the MIA
Diana said…
I have no words to explain the feeling I have right now. I miss her but I am glad she left happy because of the things she accomplished.

I worked with her at the MIFF and she was the one giving the laughs and the strengthen to continue each day. I miss he laugh, it was unique.
Annie said…
Though I only knew her for a few years, her infectious laugh, her warm smile and her magnetic personality is something that I will never forget about her. I feel it was a privilage to have met her. Her serenity and strength amidst chaos is a trait that I have tried to adopt in my own work. I too saw her passion not only for her work, but for those she worked with. I don't think anyone who ever worked with her didn't feel a close connection and a commitment not only to the end product but to her colleagues as well. I feel blessed to have met her.

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