As our nation begins its observance of Black History Month, a celebration for all of us, let me ask you a personal question. This is an important question – a question about your history.
Who got you here?
Who in your world was committed to you? Who made sure you had what you needed and learned what you needed to learn? Who was there for you? Who made sacrifices for you? Who made it possible for you to get to where you are today? Who loved you, inspired you, and invested in you? Who got you to believe that the impossible was possible? Whose shoulders are you standing on? I believe our history needs to acknowledge these people – the people who, famous or not, were personally committed to getting us where we needed to go.
We all have a long list of people like this in our lives. Right now, I want you to think of the one person who is at the very top of your personal list – and, once you get done reading this, I want you to share what made that person special to you in the comments section below this article.
Will you do that? I’ll go first.
If you know anything about me at all, you already know who is at the head of my list. It’s my late mother, Helen Hill.
My mom was many things: healer, friend, magician, caretaker, nurse aid, daughter, mother. She worked tirelessly, oftentimes two or three jobs at once. She had bills to pay, and mouths to feed, and I know she must have dreamed of more than life gave her. I know she must have set aside dreams she’d hoped to pursue for herself. She lived in a time when a beautiful, smart, God-loving Black woman couldn’t expect to pursue academic dreams, achieve financial success, or earn a reputation as a world-changer. The resources for turning these kinds of dreams into reality were denied her.
What she did was invest in her children. And I was blessed to be one of them.
She made sure I had everything I needed. Not necessarily everything I wanted … but if I needed it, I had it, because of her. Helen made a way out of no way. And the main thing I needed (she correctly concluded) was an education.
Making a Way Out of No Way
Helen Hill instilled in all four of her children a deep understanding of the value of an education. She managed to send me and my twin brother Skip to some of the best schools in the country. We both went on to graduate with Masters’ degrees, the first in our family to do so. My brother went on to earn a doctorate. And that was all due to my mother’s single-minded focus on education.
There’s a saying: You don’t know what you don’t know. I will never know all the sacrifices my mother made on my behalf, all the hardship and struggle she endured to get me where I needed to go. What I know for sure is that she loved me and only wanted the best for me. Her world had been full of many hurdles, and her world had not always been kind. It certainly limited her options. As for her own education, she completed a few years of college at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio, but her most valuable lessons came from life.
She was the smartest and strongest woman I have ever known. To witness her courage and grace, even in the most trying of moments, only led me to appreciate her more. I saw her face down obstacle after obstacle, disappointment after disappointment, setback after setback, and what I remember most clearly about her in those moments is her courage and grace. I can still see her standing tall, facing forward, readying herself for the next challenge – while ably caring for, and educating, four children, all by herself. And every time I think of her that way, I have to make an effort not to start crying in gratitude for all she gave me.
That’s who got me here.
Who got you to where you are now? Tell us about that person in the comments section.#BlackHistoryMonth: Who got you here?