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Of mamas, papas and "big mamas": authors weave a rich tapestry portraying strong African American kinships.

Families are the blueprints for how we build our lives. Mothers, fathers, grandparents and surrogates--the "architects" that shape us--hold our precious destinies in their hands.

The following books create a multilayered portrait of today's Black America and the influence that family has on our character and our choices. They also underscore the strength and the resilience of African American families.

In Mending the World: Stories of Family by Contemporary Black Writers (Basic Civitas Books, December 2002, $25.00, ISBN 0-465-07062-0), Rosemarie Robotham, senior editorat-large of Essence magazine, has compiled an uplifting anthology. Through fiction, memoir, essay and poetry, established writers such as Alice Walker, Pattie Marshall and Edwidge Danticat, along with lesser-known ones, fill pages with the many facets of the ties that bind.

Stepparents Share Love

The voice of caring stepparents, for example, comes through in a way that is seldom heard. In the essay "My Daughter, Once Removed," William Jelani Cobb poignantly describes the love he feels for his stepdaughter and the pain of losing her after her mother divorces him: "I believed that genes don't make the parent, but now I wonder what does a voided wedding vow make me?" He did not want to be the absent black father, wanted so much to be "a keeper."

We are shown the strong bond and camaraderie between mother and daughter in Martha Southgate's short story "Show Business" a touching tribute to a starstruck mother who had put her dreams on hold for motherhood. Beautifully written and honest companion essays by Alice Walker, "The Two of Us", and her daughter Rebecca Walker, "The Good Daughter" address both the adoration and the struggles of mother-daughter relationships.

With introductions by the ever-brilliant Maya Angelou and Pearl Cleage, Mending the World reveals all the joys and complications of family ties.

Fathers, Take a Bow

Kristin Clark Taylor, author of Mothers: Songs of Praise and Celebration, has released Black Fathers: A Call for Healing(Doubleday, January 2003, $22.95, ISBN 0-385-50249-4), an invitation for African American fathers to congratulate themselves, mend relationships and make a difference in their children's lives.

Taylor's book praises fathers "who somehow manage to blend and balance the qualities of courage, leadership, and authority with compassion, gentleness, humility and respect. Who reach out to their child during both the happy and the sad times, or when the one thing that child wants more than anything in the world is to hold his daddy's hand and secure that special place in his heart."

While she acknowledges black women's strength, her point is clear: women cannot be both mothers and fathers to their children. And she refuses to "dance daintily around the ugliness of the absentee father." It is their duty to be there, she argues.

Taylor interviews divorced fathers, single fathers, incarcerated fathers and mentors on what fathering has meant to them. She weaves these dialogues with loving stories of her own father and husband, and the positive influences they have had on her life. In her tribute to fathers, she calls out for men to love their children, be a father, but don t be afraid to also be a friend. She encourages affection, spirituality and putting children in touch with the history of their families and ancestors.

Kin, Fictive or Not

Blood ties alone do not make a family; they do not guarantee love, stability or a warm safe haven. Tony Brown, the television host, author and self-empowerment advocate, reveals the source of his strength in What Mama Taught Me: The Seven Core Values of Life (William Morrow, April 2003, $24.95, ISBN 0-060-18869-3).

Brown learned that when he was only two-months old, a woman came to rescue him because she had heard his mother was unable to care for him. His mother had fallen into deep depression after her husband abandoned the family. Elizabeth Sanford, a concerned woman from the community in West Virginia, not a friend, not a relative, knocked on the door and simply said, "We've come for the boy."

From that day forward, until her death 12 years later, she raised Brown with the love and support that contributed to making him the balanced person that he is today. Of course, it took him years to accept Mama's wisdom, and years to truly acknowledge her. He wanted to Romance readers may enjoy these fictional portraits of Black family life: be successful, and while he never denied her existence, he "just didn't mention her" on his rise to top. He never wanted to be pitied or have people condemn his parents.

While she lacked the pedigree and education of Brown's biological parents (Mama was a maid and dishwasher), she gave from the bottom of her soul. "Her love allowed me to recognize the brilliance of my own spirit," he writes. He believes his success comes from the values that Mama imparted:

1 Reality, the value of being yourself.

2 Knowledge, the value of understanding your purpose.

3 Humanity, the value of being one race, the human race.

4 Wisdom, the value of understanding history.

5 Truth, the value of being true to yourself.

6 Patience, the value of "keeping the faith."

7 Love, the value of living joyfully.

"She honored me in the way she loved me. She honored me in the ways she shaped my Character," Brown says. "And she honored me with her example of a life lived well. In everything she did for me, Mama taught me that people who chart their own course--in other words, people who are self-empowered--always have a destiny that is different from that of people who allow others to define them."

While this book is a tribute to a specific Mama, it is also an ode to all of those unofficial mamas, aunties and uncles who are there with hugs, support, encouragement, open ears and a hot meal when no one else is.

Grandma's Hands

Sometimes the best advice comes from those who have had time to step back and reflect on the world, those whose thoughts have had time to season. The sagacity of grandmothers is legendary. Dennis Kimbro, an entrepreneur and coauthor of Think and Grow Rich: A Black Choice, has captured some of that magic in What Keeps Me Standing: Letters From Black Grandmothers on Peace, Hope, and Inspiration (Doubleday, April 2003, $23.95, ISBN 0-385-50635-X).

For five years, Kimbro asked 1,000 grandmothers from across the country one simple question: "If you had to write a one-page letter to your children or the next generation, what would you tell them about life?" Out came pearls of wisdom that would put Maya Angelou to shame: "It's never too late to become the person you were meant to be. Let your imagination soar. It's the secret language of the soul" are the words of one grandma. And from another: "I am convinced that our actions on earth hold eternal life. It is up to each of us to determine whether our acts will increase the light in the world or add to the darkness."

From the Spelman graduate to the washerwomen, their words often hold the same basic truths: Give love, lots of love, and learn to receive it. Live life to the fullest, pursue your dreams and live up to your potential, and at the base of it all, have a very strong spirituality and a connection with God. None of it sounds trite coming from these women for they have been through it: the stings of racism, the births and deaths of children, good marriages and bad. They've weathered financial difficulties and personal losses and lived to tell the tale. What Keeps Me Standing is an uplifting treasure and a great source of inspirational quotes.

Quest for Freedom

Another book reminds us that families influence the way we look at the world. Those discussions at the dinner table, or that comment said in passing all feed into where we stand politically. Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Civil Rights Movement by Tananarive Due and Patricia Stephens Due (See BIBR, NONFICTION REVIEWS, March-April 2003) looks at a family that has dedicated itself to the fight for civil rights. The young Patricia Stephens was an activist during the height of the struggle. As a student at Florida A&M, she worked with CORE. In 1960, she took part in the landmark "jail-in," where students chose incarceration over fines for just sitting at a Woolworth lunch counter.

The mother recounts the struggles and achievements of her life and the lives of her fellow activists the rallies, marches, protests and sit-ins--all in the name of what was fight and just. Her husband, John Due, a civil-rights lawyer, also fought for the cause working alongside great leaders of the movement.

Growing up with such powerful role models, Tananarive Due learned to embrace a sense of political responsibility: "Our parents gave us ballet lessons, drama lessons, piano lessons, ettiquette lessons--and life lessons. From a very young age, we were taught that there were injustices in the world and that we could have a role in rectifying them."

Patricia Due always knew that she wanted to write a book about her experiences, and Tananarive always knew that she would be the one to help her mother make that book a reality. Told in alternating mother-daughter chapters, Freedom in the Family offers both a history lesson on the Civil Rights era and social commentary about growing up black in this country. In their dosing chapters, Tananarive and Patricia reflect on the world today, making clear that while things have changed, much is left to be done to protect our freedoms. This book is a labor of love and a testament to their strong and beautiful bond.

Romance readers may enjoy these fictional portraits if Black family life:

To Mom With Love: The Gift of Romance ... for Mother's Day by Deirdre Savoy, Jacquelin Thomas, Karen White-Owens, BET Books/Arabesque, April 2003, $9.99 ISBN 1-583-14389-0

Man of the House: A Heartwarming Celebration of One of Life's Greatest Gifts--Fathers by Felicia Mason, Adrianne Byrd and Doris Johnson, BET Books/Arabesque May 2003, $9.99, ISBN 1-583-14401-3
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Title Annotation:five books on family
Author:Rust, Suzanne
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2003
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