My Black American history most intimately begins with these two – Willie Mac Lonon and Lonnye Jenkins Lonon– my grandparents. I am blessed to have known them both (my grandfather died when I was seven, my grandmother lived to see me graduate college), and I lived with them for a while when my mother was a student at Florida State University. My biological father, my mother’s estranged husband at the time, was no longer in the picture by then, so I lived with this striking two-some until I evidently got on my grandmother’s nerves and needed to be whisked away to my mother in Tallahassee, Florida.
The interesting thing is that I don’t remember being a pest to my grandparents. My memories of our times together are fond, and I prefer to keep those thoughts intact. Allow me to share:
My grandfather, Mr. Lonon, was also known as the “gas man” and people valued his cheery disposition. He sang in the men’s choir at Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, and he carried me around on his back. The floor mysteriously disappeared when he entered the room.
For some time, I thought my grandfather was one of the Tuskegee Airman. He looked like one, so I assumed as much. That’s not true. What is true is that my grandfather was stationed in Tuskegee, Alabama in the Air Corps, and I assumed as much. See that makes a little more sense.
In my teen years, I learned that my grandfather once owned a dry cleaner in the Tampa, Florida area, which really excited me. One day I will visit what once was and imagine what his life must have been like back then. I think he would be happy to know that his entrepreneurial spirit lives on within his formally educated girls who have also owned a business or two.
My grandmother, Mrs. Lonon, was an educator in the Marion County School system for over thirty years. She graduated from Florida A&M College (now University) and taught at Fessenden Elementary school. I remember us riding down that long country road with the trees hanging above our heads to her work and my classroom.
Grandmother taught English, she loved to read, and she enjoyed making me read to her. When I was small, she was also the church clerk at Mt. Moriah MBC, so she paid attention to grammar and diction. She must have loved Black History, too, because I recall writing short essays on heroines like Sojourner Truth and Leontyne Price, then standing before her while I made my presentation.
She always corrected me, and I never recalled whether she liked or disliked anything I wrote, but I will always remember that she pushed me to excel.
“You have to be 100 times better than them,” she said on one occasion when I was in middle school and had not gotten the highest grade on an assignment.
As an adult, I have learned to release much of that overachieving pressure. But I will never let go of
the drive to succeed,
the love of education,
the Church (done right),
and my black excellence history.
My message to Black families, today, is to begin your history lessons at home. If we have time to TikTok then we have time to read, study, and analyze our learnings. Furthermore, our children should understand that racism is only a fraction of our amazing history. With that knowledge, I believe our children and all children can succeed in this life, and no one will ever have to make an exception for them based on race. Our children are brilliant little additions to the world who can do whatever God created them to do. (Jeremiah 29:11)
Thank you for reading.