Updated: Jan 31
“Because I want to live to see you graduate from high school.” That was the answer.
"Why did you allow this behavior?" That was the question.
The person asking was legendary R & B recording artist Lionel Richie.
The person being asked was his father.
I love old school R & B. The memories and stories of my youth are embedded in the notes, melodies, and rhythms of that music. It is the soundtrack of my youth.
I love seeing favorites from that era perform live.
Lionel Richie is HIGH on my list of favorites.
I last saw him perform just shy of his 70th birthday.
The vitality he radiated belied his age.
He was vibrant.
In full command of his vocal prowess a half century after he first stepped onto the national music scene with his former band, the Commodores.
It was more than just a concert. It was an entertainment immersion experience.
He delighted us with a thrilling blend of song, dance, and piano—which was expected.
But he filled the space between musical medleys with story. Verbal vignettes drawn from some of his most memorable life experiences—which was not expected.
Like a skilled craftsman weaving threads into a tapestry, he wove excerpts from his life into the space between songs. And he did so masterfully, keeping the audience transfixed. We sat at rapt attention, hanging on his every word.
One story was of accompanying his father on an errand and being confused by a verbal exchange witnessed between he and a young white man.
His father looked down the entire time rather than making eye contact. He addressed the young man as “sir” despite him being a teenager. And he ignored the young man’s disrespectful tone.
The rudeness observed was foreign to Lionel who’d been taught that respect for elders by children was non-negotiable, AND punishable with a belt to the behind if disregarded!
“Why didn’t you say something daddy? Why did you let him talk to you that way?”
His father’s response was Lionel’s introduction to racism and initiation into the harsh reality of life as a black man, in the racially volatile Jim Crow south.
“Because I want to live to see you graduate from high school.”, was the somber reply.
When Lionel shared his father’s why, a silence descended over the arena, a hushed stillness that transcended the absence of noise...it was a palpable quiet---you could feel it.
I realized some things as I reflected on this memory.
This was not an antiquated tale from the distant past.
It happened not that long ago.
In Tuskeegee, Alabama, a town that is not that far away.
Generational trauma is real.
Racial trauma is real.
I'm currently engaged in an in depth study of both...learning how they are stored in the body and passed down through the DNA.
Generational STRENGTH and RESILIENCE are also real!
Lionel’s point in sharing this story was NOT to lament his father’s humiliation. It was to CELEBRATE the wisdom, self-control, and LOVE his father showed in setting ego and pride aside, for the greater purpose of living to raise his son to adulthood.
The question of how my forebears endured the crushing racial oppression under which they lived, has been a frequent visitor to the forefront of my mind.
STRENGTH and RESILIENCE is a big part of the answer.
I am exasperated by the resurgent racism and displays of white supremacy that are newly en Vogue.
But I recognize that my experience pales in comparison to that of the courageous souls who preceded me in my family’s lineage.
I’ve never had to drink from a “Coloreds” water fountain, or use a “Coloreds” restroom.
I’ve never been denied my seat of choice on a bus or plane because of my skin color.
I’ve never had police dogs or fire hoses turned on me while peacefully protesting.
I’ve never lived in fear of myself or one of my loved ones being strung up on a tree, left to dangle like strange fruit, while hateful onlookers jeered and a hangman’s noose extinguished the breath of life.
I’m intentional about doing the necessary inner work to process and heal my ancestral trauma.
This reflection was a reminder that ancestral strength and resilience are also my ancestral inheritance.
They illuminate the path of healing.
They are the torch that outshines the trauma!