I’ll never forget the day that big care package came to me in the mail more than fifteen years ago. There I was, an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania—being schooled by the likes of Farah Jasmine Griffin, Ira Harkavy, William Labov, James Peterson, and James Spady (both Jameses had introduced me to Docta G’s classic Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America)—sittin on the floor of my dorm room, tearin through that package as quickly as I could! I had sent Geneva Smitherman my senior honors thesis on Black Language, and she responded! I was blown away by her generosity of spirit—in that package were numerous articles and copies of her books, including her latest at the time, Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner (hardcover too!). What I’ll most remember about that package was the inscription: “Stay on the case. We need your work.” It’s difficult to describe all that those few words meant to me. The “we” made me feel like I could become a member of a strong community of scholars, and the fact that anyone would “need” scholarly work was a sign that academic scholarship can and should be marshaled for the purposes of social justice.
Over the last decade and a half—whenever I may have gotten weary of the academic enterprise—G’s words stayed with me and kept me goin. Since then, we have worked together in multiple capacities and developed a strong, nurturing relationship. So, for me, the first person I gotta show love to is Docta G, a.k.a. Geneva Smitherman. G, I would tell you that the opportunity to coauthor this book with you is like a dream come true, but you already know…. Thanks for being my conscience and a true guiding light for more than two generations of scholars…. Much love and much respect, now and always.