Tag Archives: featured

The (private) life of Riley

4 Jun

 

I confess. I am under the spell of Riley, Warrior Princess.

I wait with bated breath for the next time I can get to see her don an invisibility cloak, disappear under a press conference table, then reappear, headband gone, ready for her next conquest.

I, like the rest of the world, watch as she melts the hearts of the most jaded sports reporters who abandon their worries about looming deadlines and just let this pint-sized super hero take them away.

I swoon as I watch her father, Steph Curry, multitask, deftly responding to questions about offensive and defensive strategy on the basketball court, while putting on his daughter’s bracelet and keeping an eye out to make sure she doesn’t run away with the mic or bonk her head.

When the Warrior Princess disappears behind the dark curtain, we escape too, from extrajudicial police killings; from Boko Haram and ISIS; from the widening wealth gap and the evaporation of affordable housing; from super storms and drought. For just a few minutes, we too can be two again.

But that’s just the problem. We, the public, with our cell phones and Twitter accounts and Instagram postings, too often act like toddlers ourselves. We – often led or followed by the mainstream media – have an insatiable hunger for proximity to fame. But then we get bored, forget about boundaries, insist that our hunger be sated, without regard for the toll our constant demands have on those whose lives we covet.

So we wait, until we can snap photos of the Warrior Princess turning into a teenager, rolling her eyes at her dad’s bad jokes or wearing her skirt shorter than we deem appropriate. Soon someone is training a long lens on Riley’s first kiss. We are speculating about what is in that red cup or whether that’s a cigarette in her hand or something else.

And when Steph and her mom, Ayesha, invoke her right to privacy we, like toddlers, pretend not to hear, toss our once favorite toy aside or worse, we bite, or stomp away in a fit of pique and insist that her parents are not playing fair.

I am dazzled by Riley, Warrior Princess, and the image of a free, black girl full of joy and self-confidence. I am inspired by the image of the healthy African American family, a tender, humble superstar athlete, husband and dad. But I think it’s time to let Riley go back to being what she is, a little girl.

Managing the public spotlight is a lot like parenting: You have to set clear boundaries from the get-go, or risk losing your moral authority for a long time to come.

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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.

zuri_blackboard_closeup

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.

Happy Birthday, Daddy

24 May

My dad, left, with family friend Hughart Wright. I have no idea where this was, since there were no beaches in Pittsburgh.

Gemini men. My favorite cousins — David Browne and Russell Williams — celebrate their birthdays this week. My ex-husband and fellow co-parent is a June Gemini. My late Uncle James, who stood in in the absence of my father in so may ways, would celebrate his birthday June 10.

And then there is my father himself, who would celebrate his 114th birthday on Tuesday, May 24. (No, that is not a typo!)

The  column below, which he published just after his 36th birthday in 1933, is part birthday lamentation and part history lesson. I had no idea that every territory of the British Empire celebrated Queen Victoria’s birthday. Back then it was called Empire Day.   (And we thought declaring Kate and Will’s wedding day a bank holiday in Britain was a little  much.) My dad apparently didn’t think much of “present horseman and apparently future bachelor king” Edward VIII —  even before he abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson. Continue reading

Lamman Rucker and his mom, Nana Malaya, in conversation

16 May

My sister Malaya Rucker-Oparabea, a dancer and storyteller,  and her son, actor, producer and entrepreneur Lamman Rucker, have devoted their lives to their art. On Sunday, May 15,  they talked about their relationship on an online radio program “Phenomenal Saging Mothers.”

Alma Stone Williams: ‘A Choice to Change the World’

15 May

11/5/2013: Aunt Alma died this morning. She was a brilliant woman and a bright light. I am so glad Zuri and I were blessed to spend some time with her in February. Rest in peace, Aunt Alma. Yours was a life well lived.

Zuri_Aunt_Alma
This afternoon First Lady Michelle Obama will give the Commencement address at Spelman College.

Aunt Alma Stone Williams

Anybody who talks to me for more than five minutes (OK,  two minutes) knows that my daughter, Zuri, goes to Spelman. And if you talk to me for 10 minutes you will hear the story of why,  among many of the good decisions she has made in her life, Spelman has so far been one of the best.

But Zuri is not the first member of our extended family to go to Spelman. There is Andrea Williams, MD; Gabrielle Fouché Williams, and  Janelle Duckett, who with Zuri is a member of the Class of 2012.

And then there is my Aunt Alma Stone Williams.

Aunt Alma entered Spelman at the age of 15. She was valedictorian when she graduated in 1940. She wrote a lovely letter to me with memories of my mom, who was her late husband Russell’s favorite cousin. I’ll share that letter with you in an upcoming post.

After earning her bachelor’s degree at Spelman, Aunt Alma earned master’s degree at Atlanta University.  An accomplished pianist,  she planned to study  at Juilliard during  the summer of 1944 when an opportunity arose that was so compelling she could not pass it up. She was invited to be the first ever and only black student at Black Mountain College, an experimental,  liberal arts college in North Carolina. Though the school was founded in 1933 on the principles of democratic governance and community living, it had no black students or faculty for the first decade of its existence. School officials  wanted to integrate, but weren’t sure how. In 1944 they decided to admit Aunt Alma as a summer student.

“In attending Black Mountain for their Summer Session in 1944, Alma became possibly the first Black student in the 20th century to attend a predominantly white college in the South.  (Most other white colleges did not integrate until twenty years or more later),” her son Russell wrote in a chronology in honor of his mother’s 90th birthday April 26.

First Lady Michelle Obama delivers Spelman College’s 2011 Commencement address

In a 2008 profile on Aunt Alma in the Ashville, North Carolina Urban News, she  is quoted as saying:

“Pioneering did not frighten me. I was accustomed to studying and living with white teachers at Spelman and to reaching for high standards in all areas.”

Aunt Alma’s decision to  take that leap of faith changed Black Mountain College.

“In 1945 the College admitted two African American students to the Summer Session and also two guest faculty members, performers Carol Brice and Roland Hayes,” the Urban News article said.   “That fall the college hired an African American faculty member, Dr. Percy H. Baker, and admitted an African American, Sylvesta Martin, as a full-time student for the regular academic year. In the winter of 1947, five black students were enrolled at the college: two men, both veterans of WWII, and three women.
At this point the faculty voted to declare the experimental stage of its interracial program at an end and to release a public statement to the effect that henceforth “admission will be open to all students of all races.”

Spelman’s theme song is “A Choice to Change the World.”

That is exactly what Aunt Alma did.

Congratulations to the Spelman Class of 2011.  I’m sure anything I say will pale in comparison to what you hear from First Lady Sister Michelle.

So I will let Aunt Alma’s legacy speak for itself.

Rethinking my parents’ marriage

11 Feb

My parents’ wedding certificate

Finding my father’s columns has got me thinking a lot about my parents’ marriage. To be honest, I always thought my mother had been robbed. She was an independent woman, had a career as a social worker. She’d worked her way through junior college, then through Morgan State – the first in her nuclear family to graduate from college. She also was the only one of her siblings who moved beyond Newark/New York area to Pittsburgh. Marriage and babies were the farthest thing from her mind, she one said.
Then she fell in love. And in my mind, that is where it all started to go bad. My mother gave up her career when they started a family. The way she told it, my father told her when she was pregnant with my sister Ellen-Marie, that if she did not quit her job he would go to the YWCA and “quit it for her.” He took his responsibility as a breadwinner seriously.
The only thing was, once Parkinson’s Disease rendered him unable to work, she had to figure out how to make a living. She was mother to my sisters and me; a substitute teacher in some of the most unruly classrooms in the city; and private duty nurse to my father. 24/7. She didn’t complain much, but it looked hard.
I often wondered what she saw in my father who by then seemed an old, sick unhappy man.

Now I know. The man she met and fell in love with was gentleman with an agile mind, a worldly perspective, a love of language, politics and culture and maybe some New York property. A man who had traveled from Barbados, which must have seemed an exotic land, to a New York soon to be in the throes of the Harlem Renaissance. I imagine he wooed her with his stories. He must have been smitten by her spunk and beauty.
I haven’t found many photos of them together. As my mother wrote on the back of this photo he took of her in Rockefeller Center, he was a “camera bug.”

“I was vexed with him. We’d been walking all over New York it seemed. I had on high heels and dressed in my best seersucker suit. Note the gloves and hat. Persons were properly dressed then (smile.) Believe it or not, I was about 26 or 27, well before Ellen was born.”

What a gift to have this memory.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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