A Christmas Gift of Love to All Our Wonderful Mothers

Willie Mae Williams, at home in Bastrop, Texas.
Willie Mae Williams, at home in Bastrop, Texas.

Since I first did this post last year my Mother, Willa Mae Williams, has seen another Christmas and is a young 95 years old. My sisters and I feel the blessing from God that she is still with us. For that reason I have decided to share these words of praise I wrote last year, not only for my Mother but also for all the mothers, who have made us a better people. So here it goes once again, my Christmas tribute from last year and still applicable in 2015.

Willa Mae Williams just had a hip replacement on this past Monday and by Friday she was up and walking. What makes this worth writing about is that Willa Mae is 94 years old, and she has no plans of slowing down once she completes her rehabilitation.

Born in 1920 in a small southern town in Arkansas, Willa Mae was part of that great migration of Black Americans who left the South during the early part of the Twentieth Century and moved North, seeking better opportunities and escaping from the ugliest aspect of American racism. She arrived in Saginaw, Michigan in 1933 and by 1937 had married Bill Williams, who was five years older. Their union was a synthesis of the traditional southern culture with the emerging northern culture. She was 17 when she married her husband and 75 when he passed away. Willa Mae dedicated her entire life to her husband and to raising her family.

Willa Mae’s mother, Lucy Perry, at the age of 39 lost her husband to tuberculosis one month before giving birth to her youngest son. At the time she had two young sons, one teenage daughter and a baby still at home.

Despite the tremendous hardships she confronted, Ms. Lucy raised her sons and daughter by herself.

Nina Williams, Willa Mae’s mother-in-law, married George Williams in 1912 and stayed married to him until his death in 1962. She gave birth to five boys and three girls and dedicated her life to raising her family, also.

Willa Mae Williams, Lucy Perry and Nina Williams are no different than millions of beautiful Black women who, over the decades, have dedicated their lives to the family. They have been the glue that has held our culture together. These particular three Black women are the ones that took time to raise my brother, two sisters and me. I am sure that all my readers have similar mothers and grandmothers that assisted them in the navigation through this life. Oftentimes their biggest fears would be that their children would face a hostile environment and respond to it in a negative way. And that negativity could get them locked up or killed.

The burden of mediating with their children to keep them out of harm’s way, has weighed heavily on the Black mother from slavery to the present day. Often times slave mothers would prefer to whip their children than to have the overseer or oppressor do it. Leon Litwack in his historical work, Trouble In Mind, writes that, “During slavery parents were helpless to protect their children from a whipping and they were sometimes compelled to inflict the punishment themselves in the presence of whites to teach the disobedient child a lesson-and to avert even harsher punishment if meted out by the overseer or owner.” (Leon Litwack, Trouble In Mind, Vintage Books, New York, 1999, pg. 25)

After Emancipation, the problems increased because a generation of young Blacks born into freedom never accepted the rules of segregation, and often rebelled against them. Black mothers again took on the burden of explaining to their young why they could not talk back to a white person or fight with a white boy, even if they were attacked. This often caused a great deal of conflict between the mothers and their children.

But through it all, the Black mother never lost her grace and dignity. She brought us up the rough side of the mountain and made it possible for her children to prosper and succeed in life, despite all the inequalities of this society. For that reason, I suggest that during this season of giving, we all give the greatest gift possible to our mothers, grandmothers and in some cases great grandmothers, and that is the gift of love. That would mean so much to them, who have given so much for us. Despite all the hardships, suffering and pain, if they can only hear four ingratiating words from their children, it will make all of it worth while and those words are, “I LOVE YOU, MOTHER.'”


The Fighting Spirit of Barbara Johns Lives On With Kayla Wilson

On April 23, 1951, Barbara Johns, a sixteen year old girl who was the niece of the firebrand minister, Vernon Johns, summoned all 450 Black students attending R.R. Moten High School in Farmville, Virginia to an assembly in the school auditorium. Against the protest of the faculty, she stood in front of the student body and rattled off a series of complaints about the condition of their school. When the faculty attempted to remove her from the stage, she ordered them out of the auditorium.  Barbara recognized the futility to get adults to do what they should, so she was determined not to let them stop the other students and her from eradicating the evil of racism.


She told her fellow students that Plessy v. Ferguson was nonsense and the white apartheid system would never comply with the Supreme Court decision that separate must be equal. As early as 1951, it was the youth that made it known they would no longer attend classes in tarpaper shacks, having to wear coats in the winter to stay warm and dodge the rain in the spring that freely flowed from the roof down into the building. They objected to riding in buses that often broke down before arriving at their school, always a long distance from their homes. Barbara further told the students they should be outraged that their history teacher had to drive the bus and had to gather wood and start the fire inside the school in order to keep them warm.

Young Barbara Johns shouted loudly for all to hear that the students demanded their rights as Americans to equal treatment. Since the adults couldn’t get the job done, then the young people would. The white school board had regularly rebuffed the demands of the adults to improve the conditions in the school, and reneged on a promise to build a new high school.  The adults appeared impotent in their negotiations with the whites, so Barbara and her fellow students decided they would strike. They marched out of the school building and downtown, prepared for a confrontation with the power structure.

After their demands were denied, the students then appealed to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for legal assistance. A week later when the officials from the NAACP arrived in Farmville, under the assumption that it was the adults who had made the request, they were surprised when they walked into a room full of students.  The NAACP lawyers informed Barbara and the students that their strike might be illegal, and they could be arrested. Barbara boldly retorted there was too many of them for the small jail in their town. But if arrested, they were willing to be incarcerated in defense of their God given rights and liberties. Eventually, the NAACP agreed to argue their case and ultimately it became a part of the larger lawsuit, Brown v. Board of Education that led to the famous 1954 United States Supreme Court decision ruling separate was not equal, and that schools should desegregate throughout the south.

Sixty-four years later another young Black student, over a thousand miles away from Virginia has taken on the same kind of racism that Barbara confronted. It has been over a month ago that I first wrote about the courageous Kayla Wilson, a student at Robert E. Lee High School in San Antonio, Texas. She attends the magnet school for the arts and must go there if she wants to pursue her love for creative writing. In an earlier post, I shared with the readers her outstanding poem titled “Ebony.”


Kayla’s struggle is with the name of her school. She finds it incomprehensible that the North East Independent School District will not consider her request to change the name from Robert E. Lee.  I have, in the past, written an article for the San Antonio Express News expressing my unwavering support for Kayla’s position. I outlined four basic reasons for the need to change the name.

  1. Every student should always be proud of the high school from which they graduate. Years from now they should be able to shout to the world that I got my degree from and then name a school with no shame. That is not the case with Kayla. She will always be ashamed to call out the name of her high school. And what is really shameful is that the school board doesn’t care enough for Kayla and the other Black students, and also many Hispanic students to change the name.
  2. Kayla and other Black students throughout this country are being taught that slavery was a terrible evil, however, it is long gone and it is time to move on. But how can she possibly move on when everyday she shows up for school, she is reminded of the tragic suffering of her ancestors when she looks at the statue of Lee right out in front of the school.
  3. Kayla and other Black students are taught that loyalty to country is a virtue and that we all must adhere to the dictates of the constitution that guide America. Kayla recognizes the duplicity in these lessons when a statue of a man who was a traitor to his country, stares at her as soon as she walks out of her civics class.
  4. Finally it is hypocritical for that school board to suggest to Kayla and other Black students that the evils of the past are gone forever and they need to move on. They are taught that we are now in a post racial America because a Black man was fortunate enough to be elected President. When the school board and the teachers tell Kayla that racism is now dead, but still retain the school name as well as symbols of racism in a statue, they are being dishonest.


Kayla Wilson is our own modern day Barbara Johns. Just like Barbara, Kayla has challenged the school board with very little support from the leaders of the community or the civil rights organizations, with the exception of former Mayor Julian Castro who was the first to call for the name change. But just like Barbara, Kayla now needs the legal, political and moral support of her community, and all communities interested in improving the racial climate in this country. The elected officials of the city, the NAACP, the national and local leaders, even the leaders of the Million Man March, should show up in San Antonio and lock arms with Kayla and let her know she has their support. Nothing less than a mass protest is going to force a change in the status at Robert E. Lee High School. This is a case with strong national implications for the future. If the national leaders of the Black community can ask us to boycott Black Friday in November, they can also come to the aid of a seventeen-year-old high school student who is doing the work that the adults throughout the country should be doing.

The Precocious and Creative Mind of Kayla Wilson

This past June a very close friend of Dr. Maya Angelou organized a tribute to the great lady here in San Antonio, Texas. As part of the program, Ms. Aaronetta Pierce asked me to organize a writing project involving young men and women. The goal was to have each of them write an essay or poem expressing what Dr. Angelou meant to them. As a result I was able to organize their writings and publish them as a collection in book form. If possible, I would share every one of these young people’s works with you the readers. They did an outstanding job, and I know Dr. Angelou would have experienced a few tears and some chills of joy, for the expressions of love that emanated from the pages of the publication. Although I could have easily chosen any one of the works to feature on this post, without a doubt, one stood out and that was Kayla Wilson’s poem “Ebony.”


Before I share this amazing young lady’s poem, let me articulate one of the many reasons why she is so special.  Kayla has just begun her senior year at the Northeast School of Arts, located within Robert E. Lee High School in San Antonio. She plans to attend Howard University and will major in creative writing and/or journalism. But recently, this young lady has shown the kind of courage that generations of young Blacks displayed in the 1960’s south, when they refused to be victims of a segregated society. Kayla has challenged the Board of Education for the Northeast Independent School District, insisting that they change the name of her high school.

Kayla’s request is based on her firm belief that no school should be named after a man who was a traitor to his country, and most important is not respected by a certain segment of the students. Graduates take pride in calling out the name of the school from which they graduated. There is no way Kayla can do that, if she has to call out the name of a man who she has all the reason not to respect. She took on this battle alone, with very little support. But now has the backing from a majority of Blacks, to include this writer, in San Antonio.

Kayla finds her strength to fight this battle in her love for who she is as a young Black creative artist. She, at the age of 17, has jettisoned the traditional definition of black, and formulated her own, for her comfort and satisfaction. In a school paper explaining the reason for her poem, she wrote, “I consider this poem to be some of my best work because it wasn’t just another poem… ‘Ebony’ represents me and how I view myself in contrast to society’s perception.”

I am pleased and honored to share Kayla’s beautiful expression of the color black in this space.


Black is not scary

or any form of fright.

Black is what holds the

glistening stars at night

Black is fierce and strong

yet gentle and kind.

Black is the juiciest berries

we make into our wine

Black is the passionate will

to win his fight

Black is the powerful back

that sustained every strike.

Black is the great stallion

running free in the wind.

Black is the gorgeous

array of mélange within.

Black is coal from which

diamonds are formed.

Black is the dark gold

that kept us warm.

Black is the thick, full,

and bodacious body parts.

Black is the beating drums

we have in our hearts.

Black is the strong stature

that can withstand burdens of time.

Black is not ugly.

Black is divine.


Kayla is our future. She has the courage of an Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the creative talent of a Toni Morrison, and the determination of a Fannie Lou Hamer. And she has parents who will nurture her natural gifts.  It is incumbent on all lovers of creative art to assure a path of success for this young lady, and by doing so we will know our culture’s sustainability is in excellent hands.

A Great Brother and Great Writer Moves On

clackLast Thursday, I was surprised to read a Facebook posting by one of the most respected men in the San Antonio literary community. Cary Clack, who had served for the past year as Communication Director for Mayor Ivy Taylor, agreed to resign from his position. Cary is a native of San Antonio, who as a young intern at the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, wrote a number of commentaries for the late and great Coretta Scott King for her appearances on CNN. He was a columnist for the San Antonio Express News for over seventeen years and served as District Director for the office of Congressman Joaquin Castro until he gave up that position to serve with Mayor Taylor. Cary is a brother who cares very much about his community and has always been one of the most principled human beings that it has been my privilege to know; and also a very polished and professional writer and communicator. Why he decided to leave the mayor’s office right at the beginning of her term is a discussion and subject he does not want to engage in publicly, because he does not want to become fuel for the fire of the Taylor haters and there are a lot of them in the community.

I believe Cary left he mayor’s office because he was not comfortable with his role. He is a writer and must feel free to express himself as he sees fit. That is what a good writer must do. Working for any politician, you must be willing to relinquish that kind of freedom and be nothing more than the mouthpiece for whomever you may work. One fact, however, is indisputable; Mayor Taylor lost a very good man when she lost our friend Cary. His character is reflected in the fact that just before Mayor Taylor decided to run for a full term in office, Cary was approached by executives from the University of Texas System in Austin about a job as speechwriter for the new Chancellor, General William McRaven, the man who led President Barack Obama’s successful operation to get Osama Bin Laden. He went to the mayor and asked what she planned to do and she then told him that she would run. He felt that his loyalty to her, in what would be a very hotly contested race, was more important than taking the job, and decided to stay put in her office.

Now that he has decided to move on, many in the community are wondering what is next for this man of many accomplishments. No doubt he’ll have a myriad of offers from various newspapers, possibly some national magazines and he already has one from Prosperity Publications. As a fledgling publishing company with limited resources, we are not in the position to offer Cary the kind of salary that his talent demands. But I do know he is the kind of person that we want to have as an associate, partner or maybe just a writer in our company. We want good, honorable people, who will not compromise their principles for financial gain. Writers who want to tell the story about our heritage and culture and in doing so make a positive impact on our race. Cary is that kind of person and the mayor should have done everything in her power to keep him in her office. But since she didn’t, some other literary entity is going to be blessed with a talented Black writer who will do great things for their company.