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).

Ruminations on Beyonce and Jay-Z, The Carter Family

It used to be that disparaging things said about people transpired in select places. We have talked about Mrs. Jenkins’s crooked wig in the church parking lot or Sunday’s boring sermon at the dinner table. The most scathing comments made about current events, entertainers, athletes, politicians and other public notables occur in the special venues of the barber/beauty shops and even on the street corner. Usually, debates held in these venues stayed there. That was the rule. Filmmakers have dramatized this culture of talk in films such as Shaft, The Mack, Do the Right Thing, Barber Shop 1&2 and Beauty Shop. The audience is privy to the conversations; yet, it is understood that these acts of talk are exclusive to the community represented within the cinematic frame.

Jay-Z holds his daughter, Blue Ivy

Now, the rule has been broken. In the context of our use of privileged spaces, it is quite disturbing to know that the slander directed towards the developing facial features of a 6 month old African American baby named Blue Ivy Carter, the newest addition to the family of Shawn Corey “Jay-Z” Carter and Beyoncé Giselle Knowles, has escaped. The appalling comments center on fear that as she develops, nature will curse Blue Ivy with the full and broad facial features of her own father rather than the European features of her mother. Of course this reaction to Blue Ivy has caused an avalanche of responses from the African American community, with right conclusions that the installed standard of beauty—blond, blue-eyed; thin lips and keen nose—and racial hatred within the community are as robust as ever.

I am perplexed, though. Did the issue of nose and lips circulate around Jaden and Willow Smith? Julian Fuego Patton-Thicke? How about Nahla Ariela Aubrey-Berry? Memory fails to bring to bear any calumny towards these babies. Why, then, Blue Ivy?

Blue Ivy’s parents have managed themselves well in the world of entertainment. In the intense scrutiny of entertainers, they are the haute-couture of celebrities. There has yet to be a scandal published about them. We have feasted on their talents, and across the board, their performances have been worth the price of the ticket. When Blue Ivy was born, her father blessed her with a song entitled, Glory!, a voiced emotion that church congregants holler when the Holy Spirit has visited them. On February 10, 2012, Beyonce and Jay-Z shared Blue Ivy Carter with us to join them in welcoming her into this/our world. Joy can be seen in Jay-Z’s eyes as laughter spills from his bountiful lips in pictures carrying his daughter. He demonstrates the honor of fatherhood and that of a husband at this point in time of his life.

We, in turn, insult them, especially her father. It is safe to hazard that technological advances bear much of the blame. What we spoke in the privacy of the aforementioned venues among each other we somehow knew that we didn’t mean it. It just was the shuck and the jive of the talk. The advent of cyber social spaces such as Twitter, however, has compromised that particular aspect of privacy. A comment removed from the protection of the private space and takes on a life of its own once released. Plus, the post in cyberspace is immediate. This compromise is what R&B singer Gladys Knight meant in her comment on Paris Jackson’s tweets about the family: “[…] people read into whatever they want to read into, that’s how they get the drama.” (http://tinyurl.com/cz55ybt). Now there is a link entitled Twitter Files: The Jackson Family Drama According to Paris that can be accessed and left up to interpretation by anyone.

What I am saying here is this: The comments made about Blue Ivy now are part of the public’s legacy to her. The remarks have been archived, and this legacy will touch her or someone will remind her of it. We have broken the rule. Our talk has moved out of those old school spheres and journeyed to the superhighway of the internet. The same public that facilitated the making of her parents the awe-inspiring entertainers they are today has cast aspersions on them and their offspring. Some are waiting for this African American baby to grow up not in anticipation of her healthy integration into society; rather, in an extreme anxiety over whether or not she will carry her mother’s features and not those of her father’s. We all know the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Beyonce and Jay-Z introduced Blue Ivy to a diverse community; some members blessed her while others chose to malign her facial features. Such is the curse of the standard of beauty in this country, “probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought” according the narrator in Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye. We all must wonder, then, once Blue Ivy comes of age, in her awareness of the world around her, will she look on us and smile?

(Note: This commentary was first published in the August 2, 2012 edition of The Washington Informer.)

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