If we don’t share our stories, who will?

IMG_1713Over this past weekend, my alma mater celebrated our Black Alumni reunion, the culmination of a year-long observance commemorating the 50th anniversary of our Black Student Union. I would be among the first to say that the weekend was amazing, inspiring, and empowering.

We had a series of receptions, workshops, speakers and presentations. Reconnecting with classmates, several of whom I hadn’t seen in 40+ years, strengthened the bond of our shared experience as Black students on campus back in the day. With the alums who graduated after us, plus the current students, we who were the history bore witness to those who carry our legacy forward, recognizing the role we will play for the future students.

Many memories were stirred as we discussed the celebrities who came to our campus such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Alex Haley, Duke Ellington, the Temptations, Julian Bond and the Fifth Dimension. The struggles may have bitter, yet there was also the sweet in the friendships (and sometimes marriages) that developed, and the creativity involved in putting together a social life. Also, it was a time for remembrance of those of us who had passed away.

I was honored to be part of the featured events of the reunion, with a book signing of my Christopher Family Novel series. The staff at the campus book store was friendly and filled with positive energy, which added to the atmosphere around me. As for my readers, engaging with them was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.

In sharing my experiences as an author, some of the words of encouragement we alums gave to one another were, “Keep sharing your stories.” After all, if we don’t share our stories, who will? As a man who has ancestors from the continent of Africa, I come from an oral tradition. Passing it down today at my college, however, requires us to write it down, record it, while our elders are still around to share it. Between the generations, sharing our stories was uplifting, and this current crop of students has truly made us proud. We as alumni have work to do to keep this momentum going.

 

That being said, in the spirit of my reunion weekend, I will be sharing with you the prologue/preview to my upcoming Christopher Family Novel, Never Give Up:

 

 

Prologue: November 6, 2012

Prentice Delaney-Ross was on a high, cheering in campaign headquarters as news of President Obama’s re-election “rocked the house.” People were hugging, cheering and shedding tears of joy all over the office. Several times he and his husband Trevell embraced and kissed and shouted. There were many good reasons to do so that night. Not only had the president been re-elected, but Maine, Maryland and Washington voted in favor of marriage equality. Minnesotans had voted down a constitutional ban on marriage equality. Having celebrated their third wedding anniversary barely two weeks ago, the victories were mind-blowing.

He had no doubt his stepbrother, Jerome Franklin-Edwards, and his husband Ariel were at home with their daughters soaking up all the amazing news, even as they listened intently to the president’s acceptance speech. The same held true for the rest of his family, especially his grandfather, Earl James Berry. Grandpa had always been a huge supporter of President Obama, as well as a staunch ally for equality and a believer in justice. He had retired from the bench in 1996, but his reputation as Judge Berry and that of his lifelong friend, Elijah Edwards, Sr., had been most influential in the circles they traveled.

“You know, when Barack grows up, he’ll look back on this time and wonder what all the fuss was about,” Prentice said some time later, after they stepped out into the hallway to hear themselves upon the conclusion of the speech.

“I imagine he will,” Trevell concurred. “Right now, he’s probably sound asleep while his grandma and grandpa are keeping up with all the commentary.” Indeed, Prentice’s mother, Linda Berry Delaney Edwards, and his stepfather, Melvin Edwards II, had doted on their newest grandson, Barack Joseph Berry Delaney-Ross, from the very beginning. Trevell’s parents were no better. Although they lived in Green Bay, Tremayne and Darcelle Ross were regular visitors to Minneapolis, showering affection on their first grandchild. As a former Green Bay Packer, Tremayne Ross never failed to talk about his grandson to whoever would listen. Trevell strongly suspected his father desired to see Barack make it into the NFL when he grew up. Even at the age of two, the brainwashing had already begun.

Prentice had witnessed this phenomenon, and he understood it well. Grandpa Berry was not above a little brainwashing himself, setting Little Barack’s sights on an appointment to the Supreme Court. It was a challenge to the couple, diplomatically holding those respective ambitions at bay so they could let their little boy be what he was, a two-year-old who was just beginning to really explore his world.

Hand in hand, Prentice and Trevell strolled down Hennepin Avenue to the parking ramp, basking in the afterglow of victory, sharing smiles and waves to drivers and pedestrians on this brisk fall night. At one point their eyes met and Prentice felt his heart break out into a melody. Twenty-seven-year-old Trevell had the total package—the matinee idol looks of a young Idris Elba, the solid build of a quarterback and a well-spoken demeanor. Prentice himself had inherited his father’s smooth Duke Ellington looks with a strong dose of Berry genes, which would make anyone stop in their tracks to see if he was real or fantasy. At the age of twenty-eight, at this moment he felt like he was on top of the world.

They reached the parking ramp near the Target Center, for the moment lost in their own thoughts. Prentice’s mind kept going back to his Grandpa Berry. He and Grandpa Edwards had said President Obama really needed two terms to accomplish what was necessary back in 2008, and they had gotten what they asked for. He had to hand it to them, for they never lost faith that this day would come. Jerome, in fact, said so, not only about the presidential election but all the other issues as well, at a time when none of it seemed possible. Grandpa Berry had known the history behind Jerome’s “gift,” all the way back to the time he and Grandpa Edwards were young men.

Though he grew up on Milwaukee’s North Shore, Prentice always felt a connection with his grandfather. Like his late father, Prentice Delaney, Sr., Grandpa Berry had both a passion for the law and the importance of family. Unlike the portrayals of so many police shows these days, he had never been so driven to the point where he totally sacrificed his family for the sake of his career. On visits to Minneapolis with his parents, Prentice was blessed to see the special side of him, the family man. As a grown man, when he and Trevell made the decision to move to the Twin Cities, he made it a point to spend lots of quality time with his grandparents. Witnessing the love, commitment and devotion they shared after sixty-four years of marriage, Prentice hoped that he, too, would have that kind of a legacy to pass on.

They stepped into their Chrysler 300 sports sedan, listening to an Alicia Keys CD as they left the parking ramp and headed out into the streets of downtown Minneapolis. Cars were honking their horns and people were out celebrating, something unusual for a Tuesday night.

“You think Sierra and Rashid are still up?” Trevell asked Prentice.

“Sure. They wouldn’t miss this for the world. The only reasons they weren’t at campaign headquarters was because Destiny was sick and it’s a school night for Little Earl,” Prentice replied, picturing his sister and her husband watching the set and simultaneously calling everyone they knew.

“You know we’re going to be going through this with Barack in a few years, just like they are.”

“Well, it’s not like we don’t have plenty of relatives to learn from. Sierra and Rashid are only two of them. Anyway, since Barack is spending the night with Mom and Mel, let’s stop by and see Grandpa and Grandma.”

“Aren’t they in Chicago visiting the Christophers?”

“They were, but they wanted to make sure they were home for Election Day, so they could vote. I’m sure they’re up for the occasion.”

“OK, but just remember that we have grocery shopping to do tomorrow and I have an early meeting.”

They passed Loring Park and the Walker Art Center before they turned off on Douglas Avenue, driving through the historic, posh Lowry Hill neighborhood. Just before they reached the Berry estate on Kenwood Parkway, they happened to see a car driving away from it at high speed. “What’s up with that?” Trevell wondered.

“I don’t know, but I don’t like it,” Prentice answered. “Wait a minute. That looks like Grandpa’s limo over there.”

Prentice braked quickly and they bolted from their car. The road was normally quiet, but tonight it felt a little too quiet for comfort. Ears alert for unnatural sounds in the cool night air, Prentice and Trevell slowed down as they approached the still Cadillac limousine. Their eyes grew wide with fear as they stepped closer, their night vision revealing the bullet holes in the windows.

“Nooooooooooooooo!!” Prentice yelled as Trevell frantically grabbed his cell phone to call 911…

 

(c) 2019 by W.D. Foster-Graham

 

Here’s to your excellent day. Believe in dreams and never give up.

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