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Saturday, April 21, 2007


What a freeing insight ...

Over the past weeks I've been pursued by a high local public official who is anxious to have me co-host a television show for local consumption that will focus on African American leaders who've contributed to history over the decades. These would be the high achievers from the world of athletics, business, politics, education, etc., a kind of "Ebony Magazine" of the airwaves, I guess, with its ever-constant listing of "First African Americans to ... whatever," or "Most eligible ... whatever," and "...... breaks the colorline!" All persons to be proud of, I'm sure. I guess I'm waiting for the day when all of that will be ordinary and no longer news at all, because entry to the board rooms, the athletic fields, and the halls of Congress will have been opened wide to all, and when only merit will count.

I managed to find many ways to say "no," without having much sense of why I felt so reluctant to join him. About the third time he approached me in my little cubbyhole of an office I had decided to add to my refusal a recommendation as a way to pass the opportunity along to someone more in need of public exposure -- someone who is young enough to still be building a resumé. It wasn't hard to come up with some possibilities that I was sure had the ability, the personal charm, the ambition, and the time to take this on and develop a new edge to their career goals.

He refused, and worked hard (mostly by appealing to my ego) to convince me that only I could provide what his vision of a fine program needed. And only I knew that was silly.

Woke this morning realizing a wonderful thing: I'm feeling completed these days, with a sense of no longer becoming. I've entered a stage in life where I'm now simply being! There's still a lot of work to do, don't misunderstand, and I'm spending my days fully occupied in the process of "downloading" back into time everything that can be transferred back. However, I no longer need any new starting places -- I'm busy tying up loose ends in the effort to "... leave the place better than I found it." And there's nothing morbid about it, I'm doing a hell of a job of giving back and I've found a venue in which to do that and am being given the platform and the tools that make it all possible.

I was aware in the dawn's early light that the lives of my enslaved greatgrandmother, Leontine Breaux Allen; my mother, Lottie Allen Charbonnet; and I, Betty Charbonnet Reid Soskin -- represent a span of time that embraces everything -- all of the wars and social struggles and lynchings and fights for equality -- from 1846 through 2007 -- just those three lives. Leontine was born in 1846-1948; mother's life spanned the years from 1894-1995, and I was born in 1921 and am still around at 85. How I would love to have been able to see their stories (through the wonder of technology) as much in detail as I've been able to write of my own here in this journal. Mamma could neither read nor write, her non-status as a slave prohibited it. She was freed at the age of 19 when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. My own mother, Lottie, was barely able to read and very deliberately "drew" my school notes in scrawling rounded letters with a tightly-held pencil, having been taught primarily at night beside the oil stove by her (not much older) Aunt Alice. She grew up as a part of Mamma's household where there were many children -- all needed to work the fields to raise the food for survival in that small shack beside the levee in St. James. Interestingly enough, Aunt Vivian -- mother's younger sister -- before joining Papa George et al in Oakland in the Twenties, completed high school at Xavier in New Orleans then attended the University of California at Berkeley where she studied for 3 years. Aunt Vivian was a primary influence in my own life. We all adored her.

Yet here I am in this year 2007, with a luxurious feeling of completion -- as though I've enough superfluous life and talents left over from a life filled with trial and error, tragedy and pain, but with triumphs and personal achievements enough to balance it all out -- enough to be able to leave behind a personal legacy that may enhance the lives of my children and theirs -- and through my current work -- the lives of others. And most of it is in intangibles -- those things which are a part of the world by virtue of my having passed through ... and I'm here by having entered through the wombs of those strong and good and forgiving and ever-reaching-upward heroic African American women.

How much better could life possibly be?

Photo: This is a map of plantations -- all bordering on the Mississippi River. This was not dated, but is presumably sometime before the Civil War. The plantation of which Leontine Breaux Allen's little narrow piece of land is here -- at the edge of the Breaux Plantation. Land owned by her father, Eduoard Breaux, a Cajun planter. It was here that my mother grew up.

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