Serena and Venus vs. everybody: A win for sisterhood

early1venus

I love watching Venus and Serena Williams smack those tennis balls around. These beautiful women are fierce competitors, sisters and best friends who always have each other’s back.

Much was at stake when Venus, 35, and Serena, 33, hit center court at Arthur Ashe Stadium for the U.S. Open Tuesday night. This week Serena is playing for history. If she wins the U.S. Open this week, she will have achieved the first Grand Slam in 25 years.   The Grand Slam is to tennis what the Triple Crown is to horse racing.  It is made up of four major tournaments: The Australian Open, The French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. It’s huge to win all four because they are played in different countries at different times of the year on different types of courts.

Last night, commentators wouldn’t let us forget that these sisters each wanted to win, like that was a surprise. Of course they wanted to win! They are and have been among the top women in tennis for nearly two decades. Not only is tennis their occupation, it’s their passion.

I was baffled to hear sportscasters talk about whether Serena was happy or sad to beat her older sister — who gave little sis a great match.  The two have played one another 27 times in tournaments and countless other times in life. They know better than anyone their strengths and weaknesses, and use that knowledge to develop their respective strategies in high stakes matches.

After her win, Serena was classy as always, calling her sister the best player and the best person she knows. The two are also doubles partners. 

Venus, ever the gracious and protective big sister, exited the court quickly to the cheers of the crowd.  Getting beat by her sister didn’t seem to faze her one bit.

What I love about these women is that for 20 plus years they have dominated in a sport that still remains largely white. They have endured the slights, the shade and the straight up racist remarks.   I remember when they rocked braids and beads. Other players sometimes complained that their beads were falling off and littering the courts.

Most recently, Serena has faced criticism about her muscular  physique, which my husband and many other men I know adore.

Through it all the Williams sisters from Compton, California are true to themselves and true to each other. They have worked incredibly hard all their lives and reached the highest levels of their sport. They’ve done so while expressing their individuality without apology. They don’t conform, they transform.   They are shining examples of sisterhood, friendship and excellence.

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Please believe: The best is yet to come

God has a way of putting us where we need to be to receive the message we need to hear exactly when we need to hear it.

That’s what happened this morning when my husband and I decided to worship at Ebenezer Baptist Church instead of attending our own church.  Rev. Natosha Rice delivered a word from the Lord that encouraged us to keep pressing forward in the midst of what has been a Job-like season for our family and friends: lung cancer, leukemia, prostate cancer.

And just as one friend was recovering from surgery for prostate cancer, he was hit last weekend by a tow truck driver while riding his bicycle.

In the midst of it all, we know in our hearts that God is in control. Yet in those quiet times — often in the midnight hour — fear and profound sadness creep in.

Rev. Rice shared with us the beautiful story of the devotion and faithfulness of Ruth toward her mother-in- law Naomi. When Naomi’s husband died, this woman who was admired by many lost her identity and became mired in depression. Later, her two sons — who were married to Ruth and Orpah — died; leaving the three women alone. Naomi told the younger women to return to their homelands because she had been foresaken for God.

Orpah left but Ruth stayed with her mother-in-law. She reminded Naomi of the woman she used to be and encouraged her to work through her pain and get back to her old self.

Rev. Rice talked about the power of their relationship to make the point that we need to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper.  Yesterday I was blessed to celebrate a friend’s 60th birthday. For the last five years this friend has been faced with a huge test.   In the midst of her husband’s health crisis, which has forever altered their life together, she has remained steadfast in her faith. God has allowed her to retire from her job, care for her husband and see her daughters marry the men of their dreams. She has watched her husband undergo a bone marrow transplant with cells donated by his eldest daughter.

My friend has been faithful in her Job season. She truly believes that the best is yet to come because of her relationship with God. Her children have risen up and called her blessed. Her friends and family marvel at her resilience. Her husband adores her.

Best of all, God is well pleased, as he was with Ruth — who was blessed with another husband, her Boaz.

Change comes to all of us. As I reflect on the valley my family finds itself in I am encouraged that my father is facing cancer with peace and clarity. I am thankful that he is free of pain. In our seasons of change we must hold fast to God’s unchanging hands and trust his will for our lives.

We must trust and believe that our best days are yet to come.

If you don’t want to be a parent, please tell someone

Emani Moss was 10 years old when she died.

Emani Moss was 10 years old when she died.

Eman Moss appeared in a Gwinnett County courtroom a week ago to apologize to his “beautiful princess.” He left facing life without parole for starving Emani Moss to death at the tender age of 10. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 2013 starvation death of his daughter.

Prosecutors gave Eman Moss a plea deal in exchange for his testimony against Tiffany Moss, his wife and Emani’s stepmother. Authorities believe Tiffany Moss was responsible for the majority of the abuse and neglect Emani suffered. She could get the death penalty.

Authorities found Emani’s burned body in the garbage. She weighed 32 pounds.

My heart breaks just thinking about the pain and suffering that beautiful child endured throughout her life. What were her parents thinking, trying to hide her body by burning it?  Did they honestly think no one would wonder where she  was?

Any fool can have a baby. but it takes a caring and attentive adult to raise a child.

If you’re too drugged out, irresponsible or just plain uncaring to raise the child you brought into this world, please turn that child over to someone who will love and care for him or her.

Indeed, our foster care system is overburdened and in need of more adults to care for children. Those of us who can, should step in and take a child who needs a home.  Over the years I’ve thought seriously about becoming a foster parent. I’ve  considered my spouse’s views, as well as my age, work load and other factors.

Ideally, a child should be placed with a relative until their parents are willing and able to care for them. But sadly, that is not an always an option. Back in the day, extended families often stood in the gap for loved ones who didn’t quite have it together but had a desire to be in their child’s life. That still happens today, but with families scattered about it seems to happen less frequently.

Tiffany Moss had been arrested previously for abusing Emani.  Sadly, the child was allowed to return to her care.  Her grandmother, the mother of Eman Moss, tried to help the child on several occasions. The couple’s two younger children were placed in state custody after Emani was found murdered.

Emani’s murder should prompt serious soul-searching in all of us. When we see a family in crisis, let’s do something, even if it means reporting them to the authorities.

This is how we will begin to save our abused and neglected children.

Goodbye creamy crack; here’s to combing my hair with my fingers

I packed away my curling and flat irons recently.

I packed away my curling and flat irons recently.

My colleagues know better than anyone where I can be found every Friday morning without fail. I don’t get my nails done and rarely get the brows waxed but this girl loves to get her “hair did” in the words of Missy Elliott.

Many of us back women have a thing about our hair. It’s an essential part of our individual swag. We invest hundreds of dollars each month making sure that our hair is on point. If need be, we will sit in a salon for hours for the right cut, braids, twists or up do..

And let’s not even talk about that creamy crack. Chris Rock coined the term in his documentary, “Good Hair” about black women, our obsession with hair and the booming weave industry. It was an ode to his daughters and his message was clear: our hair is beautiful as it is. Creamy crack refers to the chemicals we apply to our hair to straighten it. As a teenager, I couldn’t wait to get a perm.

For those of us of a certain age, the quest for straight hair began when we were kids with that dreaded hot comb our mothers heated up on the stove. My sister and I would wince when our hair sizzled or the straightening comb clipped our ear. We we got a bit older, we’d head to Wigginton’s Beauty Shop off Georgetown Road in Lexington where Mrs. Betty Ann Williams and Mrs. Dora Sanford did their thing. We loved going to the shop and hearing the ladies gossip. We joked that when we left Ms. Betty Ann’s chair our hair was fried, died and laid to the side!

To this day, I will wear a pair of shoes until they fall apart but I will not neglect my hair. My stylist is one of my best friends. I’ve been in her chair once a week for 20 plus years.  I trust Janet Savage so much that I barely glance at the mirror she hands me at the end of each appointment.

When I leave her shop, my hair is tight. I throw on some earrings and a little bit of lipstick and I’m ready to take on the world. I love Fridays for that reason. Jan was one of the first people I called with the news that I’d cut the perm out of my hair. You did what?  She’s been trying to get me to cut my hair for years but I never had the courage to take my short cut down to less than an inch. I’ll still need Jan to keep my hair trimmed. And I wouldn’t trade my Friday fellowship with her and other ladies for anything.

My father and husband were the first to react. “Why did you do that?” asked my Dad. “Your hair always looked so nice.”  Their reaction likely has more to do with my hair being super short.  They are traditionalists. I’ve also heard from a few friends who’ve asked what product I’m using. I’m thinking those comments mean my hair may be too kinky or dry-looking for their taste.

But, hey,  I love the freedom this short, perm-free cut gives me.  I just wake up, wet it, apply some curl cream and run my fingers through it.   Now if that’s not liberating, I don’t know what is!

My daughter Imani has taught me a thing or two about rocking the natural look with confidence and flair.

My daughter Imani has taught me a thing or two about rocking the natural look with confidence and flair.

When cancer comes a calling, nothing else seems to matter

#teamduerson #psalm27 #everydaywefight

#teamduerson
#psalm27
#everydaywefight

Three people died in a Louisiana movie theater tonight. The actions of another crazed gunman are being analyzed on CNN.

A black woman died in a Texas jail cell under some very strange circumstances. People want to know how and why. I’ll leave those questions for others to ponder.

I am sad about these things, but I can’t fully process them.  My mind is consumed by the cancer that is consuming my father. It is moving fast and he is standing strong. Me? Not so much. I cry at the drop of a hat. In a store. On the phone. In the middle of the night.

My prayer is that God continues to strengthen my parents, my siblings, the grands and our spouses for this journey. We are in this together; but some days I feel so alone.

I thank God for friends — old and new — who have been amazing in every way.They have recommended treatments, doctors, brought casseroles, peaches, watermelon, cake, you name it. They have prayed with us and for us. They have delivered flowers and fruit to my parents’ doorstep. They have delivered flowers to me. They have listened as I wailed into the phone. They have texted, sent Facebook and Instragram messages, sent scriptures, books and frames. I am overwhelmed by their thoughtfulness.

Two weeks ago, I had surgery to remove a tumor that turned out to be benign. Once the doctor saw my CT scan, he informed me that part of my thyroid would need to be removed as well. An old friend from college called just as my surgeon was breaking the news.  He stayed on the phone with me, asking the doc a few questions on my behalf.  When Dr. Wilson asked if I wanted to do the surgery in two parts, my response was quick. “No, do it all at once so I can get it over with. My father has cancer. That’s all that matters.”

Thankfully, he is not in pain and his spirits are good.  Like Job, he will trust God — just as he always has.

“Angela, God’s got this,”  he tells me daily. “I’m not worried.”

When our family gathers in Atlanta this weekend for our 57th annual reunion, it will be bittersweet. For the first time in decades, my parents won’t be there. But their grandchildren have hatched a very cool idea.  So get ready Mom and Dad. We will have a great reunion and you will be a part of it.

Family love and unity. Nothing else matters.

The sting of the N-word and a perfect gentleman

The late Pauline Knight Ofosu took part in the Nashville Student Movement and the Freedom Rides in 1960 and 1961.

The late Pauline Knight Ofosu took part in the Nashville Student Movement and the Freedom Rides in 1960 and 1961.

A man goes into a church and shoots nine people while they are studying the word of God. Young black men are being murdered for playing their music too loud or walking home from the store with a pack of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea.

The deaths of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin, teenagers killed in Florida by white men who weren’t comfortable in their presence, upset me to no end. That could have been my grandson or my teenage nephews. The thought of them being targeted simply because of their skin color makes me very angry.

The Charleston murders have shaken our collective core. How could a 21-year-old man hate people he didn’t know? How could his parents, who had to know he was disturbed, purchase a .45 caliber handgun for him as a birthday present? When will this country get serious about addressing mental illness? When will people of color no longer be the targets of racists?

On Sunday, our pastor spoke about the kind of hate that breeds prejudice and racism. Children aren’t born with hate in their hearts, it is a learned behavior.

While running some errands in Kennesaw, GA after church, I attempted to turn into a shopping center but held up traffic for a few seconds because I was in the wrong lane.  The kid behind me, who looked to be in his late teens or early 20s, was furious.   “You f…ing nigger!” he yelled while pulling around me.

Being addressed in that way stung me, but it wasn’t about to ruin my day. My Dad has cancer and my thoughts are on him and the rest of my family.

My first encounter with the “n-word” was much more traumatic because I didn’t understand what the word meant. I did know by the way my 5-year-old classmates said it that it wasn’t a term of endearment!  Me and another black girl were the only people of color at this catholic school in Winchester, KY. Shortly thereafter, my parents moved our family to Lexington, where the schools were integrated and there were never any problems of that sort.

One of the scariest times I was called a nigger was in the parking lot of a Stein Mart in Lexington. I was in my late 20s and must have been walking too slowly across the parking lot while crossing in front of a man in a big truck.  “Nigger bitch,” he proclaimed loudly. We were 20 feet away from each other and I was terrified. In this instance, and the one earlier this week, I was happy the men didn’t have guns because they may have shot me.  All because they were angry and I happened to be the wrong skin color.

Let that marinade for a minute. How ridiculous to hate someone you don’t know simply because they appear different from you.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. looked forward to the day when his children would be judged by their character, rather than their skin color.

I have to ask, are we there yet?

And speaking of character, the day after my encounter with that misguided young thug in Kennesaw, I had an encounter with an elderly white man. I left my jacket on the back of my chair in a restaurant and he bolted out into the parking lot to give it to me.

“You left your jacket,” he said, holding it up for me to put my arms in it. “I just didn’t want you to miss it later.”

It was a great reminder that there are good and bad people in every race. Let’s all start by being kinder to one another.

Words matter — especially one with the history of the n-word.  But we can choose to give it power or we can elect to take away its power by ignoring it.

A few years ago, I interviewed the late Pauline Knight Ofosu, a 1961 Freedom Rider who took part in the Nashville Student Movement a year earlier. She and other protestors were trained in the way of Muhatma Ghandi.

While protesting outside a movie theater, a white man spit in her face. Her reaction was to ask him for a hankie to wipe his spit off her.  He was completely disarmed – – so much so that he walked away without saying another word.

Now how’s that for taking away his power?

Pauline Knight in 1961. She and other Freedom Riders were arrested in Jackson, Mississippi for “breach of the peace.” pauline

John S. Carroll: More than a giant in journalism

John Carroll (left) with Dean Baquet  in the newsroom of the Los Angeles Times when he announced his retirement.  ( Los Angeles Times photo)

John Carroll (left) with Dean Baquet in the newsroom of the Los Angeles Times when Carroll announced his retirement. ( Los Angeles Times photo)

If you are fortunate in life and work, you will be blessed with bosses and mentors who see your potential and take a personal interest in your career.

John Carroll was one of the first of many bosses who did that for me. And I will be forever grateful.

John was more than a boss and mentor, we became friends. When Joe and I got married, he and his wife Lee came to our wedding and gave us a beautiful gift we still treasure today.

Today, family and friends gathered in Lexington to say farewell to a wonderful husband, father and colleague. John was a giant in the newspaper industry whose work at The Baltimore Sun, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Los Angeles Times produced multiple Pulitzer Prizes.

As executive editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, he stood firm and fearless when the paper received bomb threats and cancelled subscriptions after publishing a series of articles about University of Kentucky basketball boosters lining the pockets of players. If you know anything about Kentucky basketball, you know it’s considered  blasphemy in some quarters to speak ill of the Wildcats. The series won the newspaper’s first Pulitzer Prize.

In 1987, when I was a young, very green reporter, John allowed me to work on a series of articles about race relations in my hometown. I was paired with a brilliant veteran reporter, Andy Mead, and an excellent projects editor, Harry Merritt.  John could have chosen a more seasoned reporter to take on the project but he saw I was passionate about the subject matter and had the local contacts to pull it off.

As our reporting progressed, I’m sure John fielded calls from civil and political leaders who questioned the paper’s efforts. John was the kind of editor who wasn’t afraid to speak truth to power or to the people who worked for him.

Andy and I examined race relations in Lexington schools, workplaces, churches, funeral homes and social settings.  We even went to a University of Kentucky basketball game and attempted to count the of African-American fans in the audience. It was a very small number.  When I interviewed then Lexington mayor Scotty Baesler, who graduated from the University of Kentucky and played basketball under legendary coach Adolph Rupp.  Baesler seemed dumbfounded at my suggestion, backed by months of reporting, that Lexington had a race problem.

“Divided We Stand” won several state and national awards and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. More importantly, it was reprinted and distributed to teachers, administrators and students in Fayette County schools.  John was instrumental in making that happen, along with managing editor Jim Green.

John used to take daily strolls through the Herald-Leader newsroom, stopping to talk with reporters and give advice. He was so cool and most of us looked forward to having him stop by our desks. It was his way of making himself available to reporters who may have been intimidated by the big glass office at the end of the newsroom.  One day, when John asked me what I was working on, I made the mistake of saying I wasn’t working on anything in particular.  He very calmly  told me that I needed to fix that right away.  I got the message loud and clear and always respected his gentle correction.

He was a great leader, but more importantly, he was a good person. When he returned to Lexington after retiring, he once ran into my father and someone introduced the two of them. My father asked, “Are you the John Carroll?” To which John asked, “Are you the Fred Duerson?” It was his way of saying my father was just as important as he was.

I will never forget that. And I will never forget him. Rest well John!