When I think about Black History Month and what it means to me it is refreshing to look back and remember trailblazing African American women like Betty Shabazz, Dorothy Irene Height, Shirley Chisholm, and Marian Anderson. Each of these women, in their own right, opened doors and paved the way to opportunities for inclusion for many African Americans and in particular African American women. As a black woman in white America, I realize that I stand on the shoulders of ordinary black women who were extraordinary achievers.
It’s one thing to recognize the accomplishments of well-known women and yet we each know someone we have admired and revered as a role model or mentor. For me, it begins within my own family. My maternal grandmother, whom I was named after was always a VIP in my life. As a child, I always felt loved, nurtured, and admired, even when being disciplined. And discipline she did exercise and she did it the old fashioned way. Does anyone remember when you had to go outside and get your own switch for a whippin’? And you dare not bring back something that you thought might make the experience less painful, that always cost you more. My grandmother, Dr. Helen Jefferson Goodwin taught me so many valuable lessons as a child that I did not fully appreciate until I was a woman on my own in the world.
My grandmother, Dr. Helen Jefferson Goodwin taught me so many valuable lessons as a child that I had to grow into in order to fully appreciate the pearls of wisdom she bestowed. It was not until I was a woman on my own in the world that I came to cherish every moment I had to love and experience what it means to have a “loving grandmother.” I was truly blessed.
She was so many things to so many people, and yet in her humanness never seemed to be untouchable or inaccessible. She was the mother of four by birth and the mother of many by life. She instilled in me a strong sense of education, hard work, service, and unconditional love. As I think about how we honor those who have touched our lives and made them better today I want to honor my grandmother, Dr. Helen Jefferson Goodwin.
My grandmother was one of the first black women to receive a Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University in 1974. She retired as a reading specialist and continued to mentor and tutor young and old for many years thereafter. She was an avid home remodeler and before I was born she and my grandfather built homes in Virginia for black families in the 1950’s, before being driven out of their business by racism and discrimination. an ordinary woman who was an exceptional achiever.
There’s a saying that fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree and for my family this holds true. All of my grandmother’s children are accomplished in their own right having made an impression on the world through academics, hard work, and service. Dr. Helen Goodwin was an ordinary woman who was an exceptional achiever. Grandmother, I salute you for I know the woman I am today is largely because of the woman you were. Thank you.