She Is Me
I saw her.
She saw me.
Her name is Brooklyn.
She sat front row during an assembly at her Brooklyn school and our eyes locked.
Brooklyn is in her mid-teens and tightly held my book about my great-great-great grandmother Emma Wills against her chest.
“Can I call you up to the stage during my speech?” I whispered in her ear.
“Sure, yeah sure!” she sweetly responded. I whipped out my black sharpie and signed her book. I saw her eyes open wide with astonishment.
As I wrote “To Brooklyn.. with Love… ” in a flash, I saw myself at her age.
No author ever came to my school just a few miles away in Queens.
I focused on her neat afro-puffs and the part in the middle. I wore my hair the same way.
With the exception of my mother and my grandparents, I received little encouragement about the road before me when I was Brooklyn’s age.
As I addressed the hundreds of students in this packed auditorium, I opened my heart to the teenagers who looked just like everyone in my family.
They were familiar. Almost too familiar.
They were my siblings, my cousins, my friends growing up.
Growing up, I was broken after my dad died while I was in middle school. The sight of his mangled face after that terrible motorcycle crash crushed my little spirit. My shattered spirit didn’t know which way to turn. I considered self destructing, like so many of my little friends did after such profound disappointments, but my mother wouldn’t have it.
While sharing my truth with these students on International Women’s Day, no less, they applauded my speech.
Over and over.
As I invited Brooklyn to join me, her feet barely touched the floor and she leaped to meet me front and center.
I put my arm around her slender shoulders and I felt her beautiful spirit.
We were one.
I shared how my heroic 3x grandmother transitioned from slavery to freedom in Tennessee during the Civil War era.
Jaws dropped. “I wrote this book for you.. this is not just my story, it’s your story, too.”
Emma married Sandy Wills, my 3x great grandfather was a bonafide war hero and he was rendered invisible in a country that he helped to emancipate from slavery. They had nine children. Together, they started a new legacy of freedom from their humble hamlet in Haywood County, Tennessee.
They were forgotten.
Even by their great-grandchildren.
That’s why I didn’t find out until 10 years ago.
I’m on the hunt for their remains and won’t rest until I find them and have them reburied in Memphis National Cemetery.
That got the loudest applause.
After Brooklyn asked me a brilliant question about my family legacy, I answered her and thanked her for joining me and politely motioned for her to take her seat.
She shot me a wide smile of deep appreciation and admiration.
I saw her.
She saw me.
And we recognized each other.