I will admit that I am often frustrated with the lack of knowledge that many fellow Black Americans have regarding our political and social history in this country. With my undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies which was a study of African-American Studies and Mass Media, with a minor in Writing, I often ride a high horse thinking I inevitably know more. That lasts for about a firm hour before I am brought back to reality and realize that I am as ignorant of our history in this country as the best of them. Yesterday, I watched a video about the Black girls held for two months at the Leesburg Stockade with my partner, amazed at how I had never heard an inch of the story before (or, if I did, not remembering any of it). Things like that happen quite often with the advent of social media and the freeness in which information can be shared and accessed now. A voracious reader and a lover of documentaries, I am learning something new everyday.
A lot of the new stuff that I learn about Black history in America occurred during the times that my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother lived. I recently have been able to make familial connections to history because of a memoir that was recently found, written by my great-grandmother Susie C. Lewis. She and my great-grandfather Ira Andrew Lewis were educators who started schools in Louisiana for Black children, one school bearing his name to this day, I. A. Lewis School in Ruston, LA. However, when he suddenly died, my great-grandmother had to leave Louisiana to make a new life for herself and children and had to make a decision. With the money she had, she could go to California where she had family or go to Washington DC. With the funds she had, DC was an easier and less expensive trek and that is how my grandmother came to the DC area with her mother and how my mother and I were subsequently born in DC.
I didn’t know anything about my great-grandmother’s journey before I read the memoir. I don’t think my mother did either (my mother died in 2014, but, gave me a copy before she died). The memoir was rich with stories of how my great-grandmother was born in Mississippi and became a woman in Louisiana, her life so vibrantly lived as an educator, wife and mother. Many of the themes resonated with today’s times, for, she was truly a remarkable person. But, again, I would not know any of this if it wasn’t for the memoir. And, who is out in these streets writing memoirs regularly? Your mother probably didn’t. Mine didn’t. And, I have so many questions that I will not be able to ask my mother. So, that history that she lived will either be gone or have to be accessed from others who knew her and can share her stories. My mother was private, so, that probably will not be happening. A lot of people, I am learning, are private, too. They believe, what has happened has happened. When our ancestors and elders live(d) with this belief and practice it, we lose a lot of history that could possibly help us make better choices, feel affirmed on our path or validate some things we feel intuitively, but, would benefit from a shared story. That is why I am doing my best to change that narrative.
This week, I learned how important homeschooling has been in unlocking the stories that I didn’t realize I wasn’t sharing with my daughter. My daughter is a 10th grader who is also dual-enrolled in community college courses. This semester, she is only taking one course and the other lessons are ones she gets from home, whether it is directly from me or interests she pursues on her own. This semester includes an assigned literature review of books by Black women (including her great-great grandmother’s memoir) as well as some unschooling interests she has, from teaching herself to play the guitar and piano to writing movie reviews and reviews on retro vinyls (she has a record player she uses religiously).
We sit in shared space a lot, me working on my doctoral studies– I am in the midst of comprehensive exams until March– and she working on projects. In these shared spaces, she may remark about issues she may have with her best friends who she regularly communes with via social media or she may try out new Spanish words she learned to see if she is pronouncing them correctly. During these moments, I remember my own teen experiences and share them with her, re-living history and bringing her closer to understanding previous generational norms through stories that often include her late grandmother, or other relatives as supporting characters. Today, I teared up as I relayed to her a story about how I had an epiphany at 15 years-old about behavior I was displaying that I was ashamed of and how that made me feel and what I did to address it. The story was accessed when she shared with me issues she is having with a friend and asked me what my thoughts were.
I often wonder during these sharing of stories how homeschooling has helped facilitate a relationship with my teen that I believe would not be possible if we were not homeschooling. In the course of a work/school day, extra-curricular activities, dinner prep, chores, etc., when we would have time to share these stories? She was in public school for middle school and, comparing our interactions from then to now, I know that if she was not home with me or on the road with me during this homeschool journey, I would be greatly out of the loop regarding what is going on with her. As it is now, the way things are, I think we are in the midst of sharing stories that will help shape her understanding of the history that gave her life. My wish is that this exchange of stories continues.
Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is the founder of So Our Youth Aspire (SOYA) and is a multi-media strategist and professional creative who has built an expansive interdisciplinary career as a professional in higher education, media, student development and the arts. She is also a homeschooling mom. Her new children’s book Mariah’s Maracas is now on sale.