Not too long ago, I flew to Burbank to be a guest on a newtelevision pilot. In the car, as I passed the Forest Lawn Cemeteryof Glendale, I looked into the mirror and saw, not the face of thegrown woman that I have become, but my 7-year old face. That facewas one that only a mother could love, let alone think wasbeautiful. I flashed back to the year,1964, before the slogan”Black is Beautiful” made us believe, before the cry: ” I’m Blackand I’m Proud” was popular, before the raised and clenched fists ofthe gold and silver Olympic medalists were seen on every televisionacross the nation.
It was a runway’s length of years before thefirst black Miss America was crowned, light years before the firstblack astronaut blasted into space and many graceful, elegant yearsbefore the first black First Lady of the United States of Americamoved into the White House. The nose in the mirror that day was flat, the skin was brown, theteeth protruded and the hair was kinky. Clothes were purchased inthe basement of the local department store, hair was plaited andbraces were but a dream. There were no hair weaves, braids withextensions, acrylic nail, false eyelashes or teeth whitening, then.Self esteem was instilled by the family and the surroundingneighborhood (AKA….the Village). Childhood was a time of fun,with no responsibilities in summer but playing outside until thestreetlights came on, jumping double-dutch or playing stickball.
As that seven year old grew up, there were five brothers from Gary,Indiana whose music made her feel special with songs like I’ll Be There and I Want You Back . They made us burst with pride that we had our own superstarsamong the popular groups, The Monkeys and The Beatles . We loved the harmony, the costumes, and the dance steps of thosefive brothers. We loved their afros, broad noses, full lips andbrown skin.
They were like us and we were like them. We loved themand by extension, ourselves. The group of five, shaped our dreams,wishes and goals. Not only did I want to grow up to be a doctor,but I wanted to grow up and meet Michael and I wanted to grow upand marry Jermaine. Forty-some years later, two of those dreamsremain unfulfilled.
As I drove past the cemetery that Saturday morning, where MichaelJackson now rests, I thought about the lyrics to his song, I’ll Be There “I’ll be there to protect you, with an unselfish love I respectyou, Just call my name and I”ll be there.” During my young years, the person who was “there for me” and who”called my name” was my mother who, despite what we both saw in themirror at that time, told me that I was beautiful. Yes, she thoughtthat the funny looking face, the one that I saw in the mirror whilepassing the Forest Lawn Cemetery, the poor, black, disenfranchisedlittle girl from the ghetto of north Philadelphia with the broadnose, brown skin, protruding teeth and kinky hair was beautiful.Not beautiful in a conceited way or a pompous way, but in aprotective and loving way that would make the little girl thinkthat she was a worthwhile human being and the world was worthy ofher ultimate achievements and accomplishments and she of producingthem. And so, I grew up believing that I was beautiful…(ok, ok,maybe not beautiful but definitely cute) and that I could doanything that I set my mind to. Regrettably, I did not get to meet Michael once I grew up. ButMichael’s death made me reflect on lessons learned.
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