When I was young, growing up in a family with seven
other kids, I was often referred to as the “Tom Boy” because I
followed my brother and my father and worked in the field with the horses
and in the woods rather than inside the home. Housework, much to my
happiness, was left for my sisters to do.
Winters in those days seemed colder with more snow
than we have today, especially during the month of February. It was fun
for me to be outside when the snow was so deep that my head could barely
be seen as I trudged through the tunnels that were dug in order to get
from one place to another around the outside of the house. My desire was
to be outside; the cold weather was not a deterrent.
February, the second month of the year, is also the
shortest and often the coldest. Many of the outstanding leaders of our
country and of the world celebrate birthdays in February. Anyone born on
the twenty-ninth of the month was teased for having a celebration every
four years. Other celebrations such as Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day
are observed by some.
The entire month of February is considered Black
History Month: A time set aside to study, in depth, the history and
achievements of African-Americans. It began in the early sixties as Negro
History Week, but was later extended to include the entire month. This can
be attributed to the work of Dr. Carter G. Woodson and his associates for
the study of Negro Life and History.
I have deep admiration for those who weathered the
great storms of slavery and lived to see their offspring accomplish
greatness in their numerous fields of endeavor. The former heavyweight
boxing champion, Muhammad Ali, said, “Only a man who knows what it is
like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up
with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.”
“When the match is even,” is aptly stated because
so often the match is far from being even. The scales of justice are not
always balanced. Sometimes they are tipped to either one side or the
other. At that point an alignment is needed.
If I were to take the liberty of naming a few of my
African-American favorites, I would begin with Paul Laurence Dunbar, who
wrote 11 volumes of poetry, including his best-selling “Lyrics of Lowly
Life,” which gave him an international reputation and made him one of
the most widely read black authors at the turn of the 20th century. He was
the first black American literary figure to achieve recognition, appealing
to both whites and blacks. I remember him so very well because one of my
high school English teachers had each student in the class recite a verse
of his poetry each morning prior to the beginning of the regular class
period. Some of it was in dialect and that was where my trouble began. It
is still difficult for me to read or recite dialect.
I would also name Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the
dominant force in the civil rights movement during the 1960s. For the work
he did to bring about better understanding of the ethnic groups in
America, King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965. He was the third
black to receive that award. The effects of his work are still being felt
among young and old in our country today. Yes, we still have our dreams.
Dreams of a better world where there is no violence, no hatred, and much
In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Constance
Baker Motley to the United States District Court for the Southern District
of New York. Thus, she became the first African-American woman federal
judge. Since federal judges had always been of the masculine gender, much
concern arose in the minds of many people regarding the race and gender of
this appointee. Nevertheless, she proved to be outstanding in that
Langston Hughes, perhaps the most prolific and
popular writer of his
generation, is widely recognized as a poet, novelist,
columnist, playwright, and
children’s author. Many children today admire him
and enjoy reading his works.
Finally, I refer to the present-day Dr. Ben Carson, a
world-renowned neurosurgeon who captured worldwide media attention in 1987
for the successful separation of conjoined twins who shared a portion of
the same brain. This young man has become famous for his breakthroughs in
pediatric medicine. When asked how he stays focused, he replied,
“It is a matter of constantly being in the correct
state of mind. The first thing I do is pray. Then I read from the Bible,
the Book of Proverbs, which has an enormous amount of wisdom. Just give me
wisdom to know what to do and what not to do,” he said.
In his book, Think Big, the initials stand for the
following: T-Talent, H-Honest,
I-Insight, N-Nice, K-Knowledge, B-Books, I-In-depth
Learning, and G-God.
Perseverance, prayer, and self-respect, combined with
a devotion to acquiring knowledge, can overcome any obstacle in one’s
way. We can and should take charge of our lives, not only during the month
of February, but throughout the entire year.
As one grows older, life changes in many ways. The
“Tom Boy” effect in my life has all but disappeared, and the work in
the out-of-doors has diminished. It is done on an “as-needed basis”
and there are no sisters to do my work indoors. The snows and cold
February winds that nip the nose and bite the toes keep me enjoying the
warmth of the fireplace and looking forward to the sunny days of spring.
Elnora Tompkins is a retired
educator and is secretary-treasurer of the Northern Neck Electric
Cooperative board of directors. She resides in Montross on Virginia’s
historic Northern Neck.
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