It Began with a Gift
Fordham, Pam, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History
The GIFT is a thread that runs through almost every facet of our human experience. Regardless of race, religion, political beliefs, economic status, age or gender, we are all at some point - in some way affected by a gift. Some characterize our entrance into this world as the gift of life. Some say that we are born with gifts or cultivate gifts in ourselves or others as we live. Memorable events in our lives are often celebrated with the giving of gifts. At times we give gifts to say "I love you" or "forgive me." Only the most selfish people criticize gifts because, after all, even an unwanted gift is still a gift.
Approximately five years ago, my parents began writing what was to become an invaluable gift. At that end of their project which they entitled, An American Story, I was charged with the task of writing their biographical sketches. The task seemed simple and only required that I pull together different resources that allowed me to consolidate their life's work and accomplishments. My role was to say, "This is who they became..."
In 2010 I began preparing the second edition of their original book. My plan was to utilize the resources that everevolving technology had made available to create a more accessible, "newer-looking" version of the original text. At my dad's request, I took on the task of writing the foreword which proved to be much more difficult. My initial reading of the text had been with an editor's perspective. However, prior to writing the foreword, I reread the story they had passed on and discovered the gift. In the foreword I hoped to be able to craft the words to describe and honor the gifts of history, inspiration, memory, hope, family and legacy that could be found in An American Story.
One of the gifts of growing up as a Fordham has been the ability to embrace the power of history. My dad was a history teacher for years, and his passion for the rich legacy of African American history was seamlessly passed on to our entire household. The knowledge of history that he shared with me went beyond just names and dates. Both of my parents passed on the gift of understanding the principles and values that encouraged generations of families to press through some of the darkest days in American history. Their stories about growing up poor and black in the segregated South, the stories of sharecropping and migration, the stories about the hard choices families made every day in pursuit of the "American Dream"-pulled back the curtain to reveal the desperate and hopeful faces behind the statistics. The stories are a reminder of the resiliency of the human spirit in general and specifically the African American spirit. In this manner, An American Story is a gift of history.
My mother's story is a gift of inspiration and memory. In An American Story, she describes her father's tenacious ambition to be a provider and her own mother's selfless surrender to circumstances that allowed her family to thrive. Many of the stories were shared with her through "talks" that she had with her mother which began when she was about four years old. She shared those stories, in part, as way of inspiring the reader to first "discover your unique role or mission" and then to live in order to "fulfill that mission." Her story is a call to action. Although only a couple of years have passed since my mom began recording the details of those stories, Alzheimer's disease has claimed her ability to continue to share those stories in a coherent way. Her willingness to write, retell and re-live her coming of age journey is a gift of memory, captured and preserved in the pages of the book. The story is a reminder that time is precious and fleeting. The gift of story is not just in the story, but also in the storyteller's ability to share the gift.
My parents must have known that hope would be one of the most beneficial possessions they could pass on to their family, although upon receiving An American Story some would be too young or too immature to truly appreciate the enormity of such a gift. …