Continue to shine
I now realize my grandmother -- an African American teacher in the segregated South -- created her own way of fighting the system through grammar.
Photo by STILLFX from Getty Images Pro
Even at 87, she stands apart from a crowd because of her impeccable taste in fashion, confidence, and inability to stand still. Born in Shubuta, Mississippi in 1935, she was orphaned at an early age. Her mother died when she was six days old, and her father when she was 12. Growing up in the segregated southern United States, she found her support system in her seven brothers and sisters, and her aunt and uncle.
The short time she had with her father, my grandmother’s fondest memory was his wise words: “The only way we, as people, can overcome adversities is through education, owning land, and voting.” At the age of 16, she attended college in Jackson, Mississippi, followed by a master's degree.
This education allowed her more than 31 years of teaching and counseling experience in the Mississippi school system, resulting in her belief that she had a “duty to pave the way for others to find their place of service through education” – a true worker bee. I have learned and grown from my grandmother’s journeys and wisdom.
When I was a child, my grandmother’s conversations about race were brought up through experiences we had with each other. If I ever called her or anyone else “ma'am” or “sir,” I would quickly receive stern but loving scolding on why I should not refer to people older than me with what I thought was respect. These were not just cute ways of being different; they were purposeful ways of continuing the control she had gained over her life as an African American in the South.
Photo by kudou from Getty Images Pro
In 1953, as a married woman, my grandmother wrote “Mrs.” before her name when attempting to vote at a registrar’s office. For her, this was more than three letters. At the time, women wrote “Mrs.” before their names to denote respect. While white women could write this word on paper with ease, many black women experienced roadblocks when trying to do the same.
When my grandmother wrote “Mrs.” before her name, the registrar scratched out her entire name, and the two continually rewrote their own version of her title numerous times. This continued until my grandmother’s friend told her, “Leave it alone, that’s coming. Let’s get you registered to vote.” To this day, those words provide me with motivation and encouragement.
At 26-years-old, I now realize my grandmother created her own coping mechanism and way of fighting the system through grammar. She once told me a story about a friend who named her child “Miss,” so people would have to call her that when she got older.
My grandmother became a matriarch because being stifled was never an option, and this shows in the people who have blossomed because of her own independent growth.
To the mothers and grandmothers of the world who have worked and given so much without expecting anything in return - shine, shine, and continue to shine.
By Denise P.
Granddaughter, Physician, 26, San Francisco