Everything must change; nothing stays the same.
“What you’re doing is important,” Dr. Dorothy Height said as I knelt down beside her to whisper what an honor it was to meet the woman my mother had quoted at least once a week during my childhood.
“Don’t give up on your venture. Think of all the people depending on you to tell the story of Black American Cooks,” Dr. Height told me, emphasizing every word as if we were speaking about brain surgery. I took a deep breath of relief and answered.
“I won’t. I promise.”
I didn’t take the moment for granted when Dr. Height looked up with advice last summer during the beginning stages of planning Black America Cooks.
We had been invited to the National Council of Negro Women’s 2009 Family Reunion. Dr. Height addressed the crowd under the tent just before my first official presentation for the new website and book.
Until my mother passed away seven years ago, Dorothy Height and Dr. Height’s mentor, Mary McLeod Bethune, served as my mom’s most revered role models.
From our early childhood, mother’s three daughters were treated to daily quote reminders about growing into strong women through education and compassion for others.
“I remember the first time I saw Mary McLeod Bethune speak at college,” my mom told my sisters and me often enough for us to finish her sentence. “She told us all to stand up and repeat her words… I’ve never forgotten.”
At this point, my sister Carolyn, Muriel and I always joined in, almost shouting, “I’m going to be somebody…” with enough exaggerated enthusiasm for our mother to flash a warning expression.
Looking back, that’s an easy frown to understand. For our mother and lots of mothers raising daughters during the Civil Rights Movement, our future as strong women was no joking matter.
Mom used Dr. Height as an example of intelligence and elegance combined with humility and service.
When my mother cautioned against self promotion, she always backed it up with a Dr. Height quote: “If you worry about who is going to get credit; you don’t get much work done.”
I hadn’t realized until today, but that is exactly the ingrained advice that prompts so many links from Black America Cooks to other websites featuring African American restaurants, cookbooks, chefs food writers and blogs.
In the introduction to “The Black Family Reunion Cookbook”, published by The National Council of Negro Women in 1992, Dr. Height writes “The sharing of good food among loved ones and good friends not only gives us sustenance but also strength to meet life’s challenges.”
Now that my sisters and I are parents of adults and my sister, Carolyn, a grandmother, we often speak in shorthand using quotes from our mother’s instruction during our girlhood.
I felt the challenge of sorrow this morning because I knew Dr. Height had been recently hospitalized. When I awakened to the sound of her voice on the clock radio, I guessed correctly it was a tribute.
For a few minutes before getting up to start the day, I lay in bed thinking about all the people…especially the strong women… who have mattered so much in my life. I thought of the women who have given me courage and strength and hope just by standing tall and standing up for what they believe.
The young become the old; mysteries do unfold.
Now it’s our turn to light the way for the people who come after us. My little part to play has to do with soulful recipes, remembering always these words from Dr. Height’s introduction…
”You are an advocate of a very simple pleasure in life that cannot be overlooked in its importance.”