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Back to school

6 Sep

From the moment she was born, my daughter, Zuri Adele, talked with her eyes. They took in everything, registered centuries of wisdom, expressed a range of emotion she could not logically understand.

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Zuri at three years old. Photo by Mary Ray.

I remember watching her at a birthday party with a group of kids she didn’t know well. They were taking turns acting out a nursery rhyme “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.” Zuri,  who was about 3 years old,  sat quietly, observing.  I wasn’t sure she was going to participate. Then, after everyone else had taken a turn, she stood on the bed without fanfare and acted out the pantomime flawlessly, complete with dramatic hand gestures. A star was born.

Not really. Stars, or I should say great performers, no matter how much natural talent they may have, work hard, study, push themselves through disappointments and go back at it.

This summer was a busy and exciting one for her. She performed in Georgia Shakespeare’s Mighty Myths and Legends, had a guest appearance on the CBS hit Under the Dome (the episode airs Monday, Sept. 16 at 10 p.m.); and starred in a short film Plenty. The screenplay was her inspiration.  Having her cousin Lamman Rucker join the cast was icing on the cake.

As we speak, Zuri is packing the car to head west to hone her acting chops in the MFA acting program at UCLA. Imagine how fierce she will be after three years of immersion.

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Thanks, Mom, and Happy New Year

29 Dec

mom_me_pittsburgh_king_cropped“I certainly missed you the last few days – Misplaced my teeth – just found them. Thought I’d have to begin school without them  . . . the thought was devastating!”

I spent most of Friday, Dec. 28, which would have been my mother, Mary Ray’s 93rd birthday, reading letters like this one.

I missed her too. Even those times when I would be called upon to help her find her misplaced dentures.

Most of my mother’s  notes were chronicles of her life as an empty nester, her reviews of cultural events, her updates on neighbors, friends and relatives and her travels.

mom_happy_for_youWish you could’ve been at Uncle James’ on Sunday past. It was beautiful,” she wrote in a card dated Aug. 23, 1977.  Then she listed the relatives whom I’d missed during her trip from Pittsburgh to New Jersey.

“Cousin Mollie said she had a magnificent time. Diane and her daughter were there; John, Jr. and Larry and family. Peanut [my cousin Robert] has a son named Lyle – looks just like him.” [It's actually Kyle; we're now Facebook friends.]

“All of Aunt Evie’s sisters and some of their families were there.” She referred to my cousin David as “The Lover,” and mentioned my cousin Michelle, whose eldest son was just a “fat baby boy of 10 months,” back then.

She loved her grandchildren: “You wouldn’t believe that my little Xmas tree is still up,” she wrote on Jan. 24, 1978.  “Waiting for a visit from Chano and Lamman. They didn’t get over for the holidays, but boy did they enjoy the toys everyone sent them.”

“Today is M’Balia’s birthday, so they’re all here,” she wrote on Aug. 30, 1976.

In each letter she shared her worries. “Ellen will need some rest!!!” she scribbled along the side of a note dated Sept.  18, 1976. (I believe she was referring to the fact that my sister Ellen-Marie had just returned from a trip to Tanzania.)

“They’re trying to work out their difficulties. I’ve suggested a professional counselor,” she wrote about another relative and her husband.

Then there was my mother’s love life: “Uncle Fred has his house almost completely painted outside and wants me to select new furnishings, drapes and carpeting,” she wrote in one letter.  In another: “He went on a Northwest trek with the AAAs from Western Pa. “Timing was bad for me, so was the cost, and he couldn’t afford it for us both.”

She never ended a note without dispensing some advice: “Glad the job is shaping up,” she wrote shortly after I’d taken my first job in Boston. “Don’t make any hasty moves until you thoroughly investigate any situation. Some sorority sisters might help.” [I assume she was referring to my search for housing.]

On her troubles with high blood pressure, she wrote: “It’s something that runs in the family. We seem to be victims of stress. Please watch it!”

She also was generous with her praise:

“Your March article in Essence is excellent. Keep up the good work.”

“So very happy for  you, (Always) but particularly now as you join the Boston Globe staff.

But to her, being a good friend was as important as any professional accomplishment.

“I’m so proud of you, particularly as a very caring person. Pam and others are lucky to have you as a friend!” she wrote in May of 1988.  “Continue to care about others and to render assistance in some small way when you can. Sharing our knowledge and comfort with our fellow man is truly our purpose for living on this universe or any other.   You will be blessed manifold!”

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It was as if she was talking to me from the grave, setting the stage for my New Year’s resolutions.

“I’d like for you and Ellen to keep the family home for a while. Daddy worked hard to acquire it. It took all his savings for a down payment. You may find it worth your while one day,” she wrote.  She ended that same note with,  “P.S. Don’t mourn for me. I enjoyed life and living and loved my family dearly! Mom!”

That note was not dated, but based on its other contents, it was written in the 1970s. She definitely got a lot more living and loving in before she died in 2002.

Well, ok, then Mom. I hope you are resting well, dispensing your wisdom and comfort from whatever “universe” you happen to be on.

Happy New Year to all, and here’s to “manifold” blessings in 2013.

Zuri Adele: We knew her when

16 May cropped_grad_invite

I’ve been looking for an excuse to post this video in this blog since I launched it. Now it seems like this is my last chance. My good friend Jack Hubbard shot it when my daughter Zuri, whom he calls “The Swan” graduated high school. I can’t believe it’s been four years.

On Sunday, Zuri Adele will graduate from Spelman College, BA in Theatre, Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude.

Ebenezer would have been proud.

She’s all grown up, but her essence has not changed. She is still, as the citation for the Gunn High School Faculty Cup Award, written by teacher Jessica Hawkins, stated:

“Observant, wise, generous and funny. All the light she shines makes the rest of us look better, want to ‘be’ better, on stage and off. She doesn’t steal scenes, she makes you want to give them to her – but she’d never abuse the privilege. She’s impossible not to watch and listen to: a live, beating heart with a ready mile-wide smile and the brains to back it up. The only consolation in her leaving is the understanding that she was meant for greatness beyond the boundaries of the school she’s already helped make great. She walks to a rhythm everyone wants to follow and the world will be a better place with her leading it.”

Lamman Rucker traces his roots

2 Mar lamman_great_migration

My nephew, actor Lamman Rucker was in Barbados last week and was the talk of the town. Several local news outlets and blogs noted his arrival. Nationnews.com did a nice write up on him. Check it out.

He also did a nice video for Amtrak’s Black History month series “My Black Journey.”

Lamman Rucker’s Great Migration Story from MYBLACK JOURNEY on Vimeo.

*Editors note. Lamman mentions in the video that Ebenezer worked for the New York Amsterdam News. He actually spent most of his years in Harlem at the New York Age, the rival Harlem paper at the time. Of course, since this is a continuing journey and we don’t know the whole story, I can’t say definitively that he never worked for the Amesterdam.

James Browne’s weekend love

17 Jun brotherspic7_fullsize

It’s the late 60s, and I’m in the backyard of our Pittsburgh home. My mother’s brothers, James and John, and their brother-in-law Frank are back there too.  We’re busying ourselves with summer chores my mother has assigned. But Uncle John and Uncle Frank aren’t having it.  After all, none of this was their idea. One minute they were out carousing somewhere between Newark and the Bronx. The next thing they knew they were on the Pennsylvania Turnpike headed for Pittsburgh, my Uncle James behind the wheel. Continue reading

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