A Note of Gratitude

Gabrielle Douglas demonstrates superior skill on the balance beam

There is no need to replay the insane preoccupation with the hair of 16-year-old Gabrielle “Gabby” Christina Victoria Douglas. There is no need to comment that this emphasis on her hair rather than on her self-mastery and consummate skill that spun gold is senseless. There is no need to point to the absurdity of the media circus surrounding her father, Timothy Douglas, and the financial hardships faced by her mother Natalie Hawkins, no matter the authors of this information. These news articles are having full play right now as this column is being written, and let’s just leave it at that.

Instead, let’s cast our attention on two families from disparate backgrounds who dared to believe in this one Olympic hopeful and who were present to see the fruits of their labors because they dared to exercise their faith: The Hawkins family: Natalie (mother) and Gabby’s siblings, Arielle, Joyelle, and Jonathan; and the Parton Family: Travis and Missy (parents) and children, Hailey, Leah, Lexi, and Elissa.

A Note of Gratitude

Dear Families Parton and Hawkins:

In Bible literature, the book of Hebrews 11:1 gives the reader a definition of Faith: Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. When I read Gabrielle’s story, I imagined an informal interview whereby each of you would walk me through how you managed the enthusiasm a teenager had for not only her talent; but, also a robust confidence in her ability to carry it through to an Olympic scale. It is one thing for a child to have the will to reach heights; it’s another to have people who stand in the gap, uplift her, and steady her on shoulders so that she may reach a little higher.

I curry the hope that such an interview will occur. Until then, however, I want to extend to each of you this Note of Gratitude:

Ms. Hawkins, the word “sacrifice” is not enough to cloak the trepidation you felt when you handed over your 14-year-old African American daughter to a white family in the Midwest to train for the Olympics with Liang Chow. I cannot imagine the interior discomfort that settled in your heart when you realized that through all of your caretaking, in order for your daughter to make it to the next level she had to leave the home you made for her. I am sure that you tried to find some consolation in conversations with the Partons, holding on to every assurance that your daughter would be taken care of. I am sure that you tried to see through to the success that your daughter so enthusiastically wanted to achieve but had yet to happen. Away from home, things could go horribly wrong in a nimiety of ways. Sometimes, though, we are sent intercessors to help us along in our faith, and what you could not see, your daughter Arielle envisioned it for you. There are two other children in the home—Joyelle and Jonathan—for whom you are responsible, and mothers always have to be cognizant of a potential fall-out from the perception that one child is being favored over the other. After much soul-searching and encouragement from Arielle, you took the chance. When you reluctantly let Gabrielle go to the Parton home, nevertheless, you set in motion faith—that thing hope for–and from that day forward, Gabrielle’s works would not die. We are grateful.

Missy and Travis Parton, you opened your home to a 14-year-old African American girl while raising four daughters of your own to live with you for 2 years. You took a chance. You could not foresee how this newest addition to the Parton home would pan out. How would your daughters react to the new girl? Somehow and from somewhere, you pulled from within yourselves the faith in something you could not see. You facilitated for Gabrielle a most difficult transition. You continued her rigorous schedule of practices; kept up her spirits; and enabled her to sustain her discipline and focus that her mother had worked hard to cultivate. You rested in the hope of the formation of a congenial relationship between members of your home and that of Ms. Hawkins. Soon, you named Gabrielle “daughter.” We are grateful.

Families Parton and Hawkins, we offer up to you our heartiest gratitude.

Thank you for exercising your faith and hope.

Thank you for taking care of our girl.

(Note: This commentary was published in the August 16, 2012 edition of The Washington Informer at http://washingtoninformer.com/index.php/lifestyle/item/11639-a-note-of-gratitude).

Leave a comment


  1. Herbert Jefferson

     /  October 30, 2012

    The preoccupation with Gabby’s hair speaks directly to the self hatred that many of us continue to harbor, stemming from the unresolved post-traumatic experience of our enslavement.

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