Honoring Our Elders
See What Lessons Our EBAN Living Family Have Learned From Their Elders After Taking A Trip Down History Lane
History and legacy are two words that are used interchangeably to describe the significant impact of the past. They are also used as reflective tools to analyze events today. Since Black History Month came to a close, it’s important to reflect on how meaningful this year is for Black history in America.
2019 marks 400 years since the first documented arrival of Africans in America; an historic moment that has changed the course of our country’s history forever.
Although we continue to recognize prominent figures who have paved the way for us since 1619, it’s important to honor those in our family who are still alive and lived through historical moments that have made Black America what it is today.
This past February marked my grandmother’s 90th birthday. And I’ve noticed as a community, we rarely ever give our loved ones “their flowers” while they’re still here. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how much history our grandparents, aunts, uncles, great-aunts, great-uncles, etc. have actually lived through.
That’s why the EBAN Living family has decided to pay homage to living elders in our lives. Check out what words of wisdom we’ve learned from our loved ones below!
Grandmother: Verna Mae Tillman-Chapman
From: Grifton, NC
My grandmother Verna Mae Tillman-Chapman was born on February 24, 1929, in Grifton, North Carolina. For the nine decades she has been on this earth, she has lived through many historical moments that shaped America to become what it is today. From Jim Crow America until now, she has lived through it all.
Being a married mother of nine, her resilience and perseverance has stood the test of time. My grandmother grew up in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, living two different lifestyles. Her mother and father moved to Pennsylvania for better opportunities when she was young, but she and her brother traveled to North Carolina every summer to stay with her grandmother. She eventually ended up staying in North Carolina permanently.
When I asked her about the most memorable moment she has lived through, she noted that it was during segregation. She described it as “embarrassing” to have lived in a world where she was treated unequal.
“When we wanted a hotdog we had to go around to the back door and I remember when we had to walk to school, the white people children would get on the bus and they’d be spitting out the window at us,” she said. “This was North Carolina.”
She said she also remembered when she was a little girl, her mama would have to wash white people’s clothes. And her mama would take her brother and herself along. They would sit on the tobacco truck while she washed their clothes.
“Then when they got through eating, they would bring their scraps out to us to eat,” she added.
My grandmother said she ate the food because her family didn’t have anything else to eat. This happened back in the 30s, even before she started school.
My grandmother admits she didn’t like the struggles Black people experienced during segregation. She remembers when she was trying to get into school, one day, a white man tried to prevent her and her friend from coming up the stairs to enter the school.
She said she does believe the Black community is better off now with integration.
“We have it better now than back in the segregation days,” she said.
“Some white folks treat us better you know. My mama used to have to work in the white woman kitchen and they ain’t got to do that no more,” she added.
My grandmother said if there was a particular time she could live through again it would be during the 40s. She got married in 1947 at the age of 18, to my grandfather Robert Lee Chapman.
“We were beginning to get out of segregation during that time and they started putting lights in our houses,” my grandmother said. “One time we had to bring lights to carry around with us. We had to use the bathroom outside. I used to hate that.”
There has been much progress made over the years, and my grandmother is proud to be able to witness it for the nine decades she’s been on this earth. Based on all of the time she’s been living, there is one piece of advice she would give to her grandchildren.
“Go to school and make something of yourselves,” she said. “I’m proud of every last one of my grandchildren.”
“I also want them to be nice and kind to people and help anybody they see in need and just be nice.” she added.
Overall, my grandmother said it’s important to celebrate Black history not only in February but every day of the month.
“It needs to be important so black folks will know why the white folks treated them so bad because they’ve got the same body we have, just different colors,” she said.
Grandparents: Rose Anna (Crump) Thurman and Joseph Ray Thurman
Great-Grandparents: Willie Levi Crump & Beaulah Mae Etta (West) Crump
All From Owensboro, KY
My grandmother, Rose Anna Crump, was born in 1911. Her parents were landowners. They employed farmers to help raise their pigs, harvest their tobacco, collard greens, corn, care for their orchards of fruit trees and watermelon patches. They owned a gas station and a small restaurant in Owensboro, Kentucky. Whatever they needed, they either made or grew.
Spending money was an extremely rare occurrence for my great-grandparents. They relied on themselves instead of consumerism. Their self-contained lifestyle protected them from difficult economic and political times in American history.
My grandmother, Rose, never spoke about the Great Depression, the Jim Crow era or the Civil Rights Movement. She talked about faith in God, owning land, saving money, rearing (not raising) children properly, serving the Black community and always doing what you knew was right.
She would say “You just do what you know you’re supposed to do.” On my better days, that’s exactly what I do. My grandmother’s life and the stories she told me about my great-grandparents taught me to be self-reliant. She taught me to do what I need to do to ensure safety and success for myself, my family and my community.
My great-grandparents did not have a ton of formal education and my grandfather ended his education in the sixth grade. My ancestors did not define success or excellence as something outside of themselves or as some achievement that required leaving their community. They instead, focused on building a life for themselves and helping those in their community whenever they could. For example, my grandfather, Joseph, always left his car keys in the car “in case a neighbor needs it.” And my great grandmother, Beaulah, always left a packed suitcase by her front door “in case one of my babies needs me.”
Their words were louder than the racially charged rhetoric of today’s politicians, the violently brazen behavior of police officers and the long-standing practice of denying our community access to business or mortgage financing. I know that the situation is unfair, as it has been unfair since 1911.
My grandmother didn’t waste time talking about the unfairness though; she quietly and consistently did what she knew was the right thing to do.
And, on my good days, I follow her lead.
Mother: Delores Stewart
Grandfather: Joseph Stewart
We’re so focused on the latest trends, current events and what the future will bring, that it sometimes seems like our world loses sight on how our ancestors paved the way for us to be who we are today.
I wasn’t able to meet a majority of my relatives before they passed, but at times, I specifically analyze the accomplishments of my mother’s paternal family members. Even though I did not get a chance to meet the majority of them, I have learned so much about them through my mother and uncle. I’ve realized how much my family has influenced their lives, which ultimately laid the blueprint of my life.
My grandfather, Joseph’s family grew up on the Virginia Peninsula in an eastern Virginia town named Phoebus which is now a part of Hampton, Virginia. My great-grandfather was a businessman who traveled regularly to Brazil and my great-grandmother died when my grandfather was young.
My grandfather was the eighth of nine children. He and his brother William, Jr., and seven sisters (Susie, Sadie, Grace, Mary, Angeline, Gladys, and Ida) all attended Hampton Institute, which is now Hampton University. Unfortunately, Susie died in her early twenties from a tragic vehicle accident and William Jr. died in his 50s from complications related to diabetes. Aunt Ida almost completed a Ph.D. in Linguistics from Columbia University and Aunt Grace and Aunt Mary both obtained Master of Education degrees from New York University.
My grandfather’s seven sisters became teachers in the small rural community, Pheobus, and urged him to take his education very seriously. Since my great-grandmother died when my grandfather was very young, they each acted as a mother figure to him, especially since most of them were much older. They provided my grandfather with an exceptional education, which ultimately inspired him to attend college.
College was a rare opportunity for Black Americans during the Jim Crow era in the South. While it seems like such a common accomplishment for today, obtaining an undergraduate degree and disseminating education to a community was a revolutionary act. I honestly feel that they risked their lives daily, attaining accomplishments and educating black people.
During the Great Migration, my grandfather ended up moving to New York City, where he met my grandmother, Jessica Bradley Stewart. They started their family where my mother, Delores Stewart) and my Uncle Joe came into the picture. Aunt Sadie moved to West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, after living in Tuckahoe, New York. My mother vividly recalls her Aunt Grace, a science teacher, educating her on aloe plants and their healing powers before they became today’s trendy household remedy.
Aunt Mary, an art teacher, lived with her husband, who we called Uncle Doc, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Aunt Angeline, was a teacher who lived in Tampa, Florida. Aunt Gladys stayed in the family’s hometown, Phoebus, Virginia, and owned a daycare service. In her later years, Aunt Angeline joined Aunt Gladys’ daycare service in Virginia. After Aunt Angeline died, Aunt Gladys moved in with her sister, Ida, a few years before she died. Aunt Ida, a federal employee with the Department of Defense, lived in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Since my great-aunts were all miles away from Queens, New York, my mother and uncle rarely saw them, but my mother deeply admired them all. She distinctly recalled a summer where she and my uncle stayed with her Aunt Sadie at Uncle Hobday’s Westbridge, Massachusetts home at the age of six. Their beautiful white house had a porch wrapped around it and their green, lush lawn gave my mother an idea of what she wanted for her future.
My mom regularly discusses the accomplishments of my grandfather, my great-aunts and uncle, as if they were superheroes. My grandfather was deeply invested in my mother’s education while she was growing up. He supported my mother when she attended Queens College for her undergraduate degree in English, and later she graduated from Cornell University with a Master’s degree in Nutritional Sciences.
Ultimately, their legacy lives through my sister and me. I acquired a Master’s of Public Health degree in Environmental Health Sciences and my sister received a Doctorate of Dental Surgery. I can definitely say that the importance of wanting to learn and existing in academic spaces without boundaries or limitations comes from their relentlessness and drive.
They achieved their dreams and goals in a world that repeatedly told them that they were less valuable because of their skin color. I take their revolutionary act as a form of service for generations to come. Although I have not met them, I know they have shaped my life and my future for the better; and I thank them so much for their existence.
Grandmother: Mrs. Alice Wilkins-Williams
From: South Carolina
My grandma, Mrs. Alice Wilkins-Williams came from very humble beginnings.
Born on a farm in rural South Carolina, she was the daughter of sharecroppers with sixteen siblings.
One memory I have of my grandma is her showing me her hands; they were strong hands. She would tell me stories about how she picked cotton in the fields as a young child while thorns pricked her fingers. She told me how her mother, great-grandma Essie, made actual snow cones from snow, but she would never make them from the first snow of winter. She said that great-grandma Essie would always say the second snow of the winter was always purer than the first. This would make for tastier snow cones 🙂
My grandmother told me stories about how her beautiful mahogany skin bothered her father, and how he was in favor of her lighter-skinned siblings. She also told me about when my great-grandpa Floyd died and their land and everything in the house was taken from them.
I listened to stories about how she sat at the back of public buses, wasn’t allowed to eat at lunch counters and was called hateful slurs just because of the color of her skin. I remember being utterly speechless and engulfed with emotion while visiting the actual schoolhouse she attended and the house where she grew up. All of the stories she told me were alive and in color. Actually standing where my great-grandparents stood and also seeing where my grandmother went to primary school made all the stories much more vivid.
From the stories and experiences, I have learned humility and pride. My grandma taught me to be thankful for and take pride in everything I have. Growing up she was able to beat the odds by obtaining her degree and becoming a nurse’s aide. She married a Navy sailor from Alabama and built a beautiful home.
She was the mother of five children, a grandmother to ten grandchildren, and the great-grandmother to four great-grandchildren. I am indebted to her and her life. She pushed me to become the woman I am today.
There are three distinct times in my life that I remember my grandmother gleaming with so much pride that she could not contain it. Those moments were when I obtained my high school diploma, bachelor’s degree and master’s degree.
She has always been extremely proud of all my success. As the first-born grandchild, I set the bar high for my younger relatives without even trying. I am my family’s success story. I carry my grandmother’s life lessons with me wherever I go.
They continue to motivate me ’till this day.
As you can see, EBAN Living doesn’t only celebrate the legacies of our ancestors with just one month, We celebrate it 365 days of EVERY year.
It’s important to give light to those who have paved the way and have shaped us into who we’ve become.
So the next time you’re around an older family member, take the time to sit back and learn about your history. It can be an unimaginable experience.