What Keeps Me Standing: Letters from Black Grandmothers on Peace, Hope and Inspiration

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9780385506359: What Keeps Me Standing: Letters from Black Grandmothers on Peace, Hope and Inspiration

In his previous bestsellers, Think and Grow Rich and What Makes the Great Great, Dennis Kimbro revealed the success secrets of highly touted entrepreneurs, corporate climbers, and Olympic athletes, as well as famous black Americans from George Washington Carver to Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, and Jesse Jackson. In What Keeps Me Standing, he turns to another group of sages and mentors: the grandmothers who have long been the backbone of the African American family and community.

Over a period of five years, Kimbro contacted one thousand grandmothers--women from a wide range of backgrounds and locations--asking, "If you had to write a one page letter to your children or the next generation, what would you tell them about life?" Their answers, collected here, show that success in life cannot be measured in terms of wealth and material goods alone. The lives they describe and the advice they proffer capture both a richness in spirit and a strong belief in the power of every individual to take charge of his or her own destiny. In the face of racism, both blatant and subtle, financial struggles, and personal setbacks, black grandmothers have helped their communities in thousands of tangible and intangible ways, providing support, inspiration, and love not only to their own children and grandchildren but also to neighbors, friends, and extended families.

Filled with examples of how even the smallest acts of kindness and compassion can make a difference in the world, What Keeps Me Standing is a treasure trove of the wisdom that comes with years of experience, transformation, and growth. It is the perfect gift.

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About the Author:

DENNIS KIMBRO is a motivational speaker and the author of the bestselling Think and Grow Rich, Daily Motivations for African American Success, and What Makes the Great Great. He lives in Decatur, Georgia, with his family.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Life Is the Greatest of All Statements

How late we grow smart. To be honest, there were times when I thought I knew everything. However, after absorbing the letters contained within this passage, I found I knew nothing. And I am not alone. Millions of people blessed with the miracle of sight never really see the world. Millions with the innate capacity to love, and to know the joy that love brings, wait too long to express it. Too frequently, a visit to a nursing home will reveal the following: Patients who realize that their days are drawing to a close will often say, "I waited too long to start living." You should find their remarks strange. What they're really saying is that they failed to enjoy life even during those years that they were living it most fully. It's like the person who puts the best china and silverware away for some rare, special occasion. Unfortunately, these individuals die before it is ever used.

Few people, it seems, develop an awareness for living. While possessing the greatest gift--life itself--they pass through their days like robots. Even worse, their actions clearly demonstrate that they don't have the slightest idea of life's value, let alone an awareness that life is to be treasured and enjoyed each and every day. It's only when their days grow short and their hour draws near that life's precious value begins to take hold. I find it amazing, but most of us place the greatest value on the cheapest commodities--possessions, that if lost or stolen could easily be replaced--while the greatest gift of all goes unnoticed. The most fortunate people in the world are those who have been taught to place value where it belongs--on an awareness for living.

So if you are about to graduate from high school or college, consider these letters the homework assignment you failed to complete and the commencement speech you never heard. If you've grown weary of an uninspiring religion and find your spirit thirsting for renewal, here's the sermon you missed. If your parents failed to provide the loving guidance and sense of direction that is necessary for fulfillment in today's embattled world, here is the firm but tender heart-to-heart talk you should have received in your youth. At last your life and your future are in your hands--and yours alone. You now possess the power and the means to make all your tomorrows a special heaven on earth. You may now walk with head high and shoulders erect toward the future you deserve. Live your life well!

October 16, 1998, Glenmora, LA

What I learned about life and success in the cotton fields of Louisiana

Mother used to say, "You will hear me long after I am gone." The first time I heard these words I had no idea what she meant. When conveying the facts of life, my mother always spoke in parables and proverbs. This remarkable statement would be an important lesson that neither of us would verbalize during her lifetime. Now, fifty years have come and gone, and I realize she could not have taught me in a more excellent way. As I look back from my lofty perch in academia, sitting behind a mahogany desk in a high-back leather chair, surrounded by walls draped with citations, mementos, and diplomas, my hearing is as sharp as ever. I can only admire the wisdom and subtlety my mother displayed as she prepared me for the future. "You may not agree with all I've got to say, but sooner or later my words will ring true," was the message my mother was trying to convey.

In those days, I was as full of questions as my mother was of answers. A lesser individual would've knuckled under due to the stress and strain long ago, and certainly wouldn't have had the time to guide me. A pillar of strength, here stood a woman who could've easily been overwhelmed with the responsibilities of earning a living, caring for her children, and just plain keeping her head above water. Whoever said no one is irreplaceable never met my mother. Though she is no longer with me, her advice continues to make a difference in unexpected and unexplained ways.

Like those before me, I began picking cotton as a young girl growing up in Louisiana. I was barely twelve years old. Throughout my childhood, though money and means were rare commodities, hard work could be found in abundance. Now, I don't know if you've ever toiled in the cotton fields but Lord, have mercy, I can think of a thousand jobs--from washing clothes to cooking and cleaning, to sweating away in the cabbage patch, you name it--I'd rather do. I've lived and worked the world over and, if I never pick an ounce of cotton in my life again, that would be fine with me. Somehow my mother sensed my disdain. "There's more to picking cotton," she would say, "than just filling a sack. If you look hard and long enough you will find a lesson or two." There was little chance that I would live out my life in those hot and humid cotton fields of central Louisiana, but once again I would lean on my mother's words to pull me through.

The human journey is short. We no sooner realize that we are here than it is time for us to go. Though you may never lift a cotton sack in your life, I pray that you will appreciate and benefit from the pearls of wisdom I plucked from the cotton fields of Louisiana:

Lesson One: The workday began at 3 a.m. sharp, and concluded somewhere between 5 and 6 p.m. The foreman's truck that carried me and other workers to the fields came bright and early and expected each worker to be on time. At an early age I was taught the value of discipline: If I failed to show up at the appointed hour that workday would be rendered wasted. I soon discovered "on time" means on time and success in any endeavor begins early and stays late.

Lesson Two: Never expect something for nothing. At the conclusion of each workday, within full view of everyone, each sack of cotton was weighed. One large sack--a good day's effort--brought at least three dollars, money I desperately needed. But each sack had to be filled with clean, dry cotton. Though human nature might tempt one to cut corners (I've seen field hands throw rocks and dirt into their sacks in an effort to add to their total weight), eventually their shortcuts and deception were uncovered. Never look for or expect more than what you put in. Never expect easy money, success without working, or to get rich quick.

Lesson Three: I was raised in a rundown clapboard house. As I lay in bed each night I could see the evening stars through my roof and the chickens beneath the floor. I dared not complain. Mother was doing the best she could. The following morning, as I moved from row to row with that bag of cotton on my shoulders, I carried my dreams for a better world with me. I took an inward journey and unleashed the power of my mind. I pictured a home in an upscale neighborhood. A house complete with indoor plumbing, carpeted floors, freshly painted walls, topped off with a huge kitchen featuring the latest appliances. As my imagination ran wild I came to rely on a spiritual secret: Trust the unseen more than the visible. I may have never openly shared my dreams, but I knew this was the life I was meant to live. Now, in more ways than one, I finally feel at home. Today, I live in the house that I envisioned--complete with all the bells and whistles--down to the smallest detail. And to think I began laying the foundation nearly half a century ago. It is never too late to become the person you were meant to be. Let your imagination soar. It is the secret language of the soul.

Lesson Four: Truth be known, I wasn't the fastest cotton picker in the field. To be honest, not only was I the slowest, but my inability to develop a rhythm (yes, there is a rhythm to picking cotton) many times caused bottlenecks as I struggled from row to endless row. To my surprise the older workers didn't seem to mind. As a matter of fact, they overlooked my shortcomings and wrapped me in a blanket of encouragement. Collectively, they knew of my dreams of going to college, and eventually earning a graduate degree. To them, I represented faith and hope for the future. Not just my future, but the future for every overworked and underpaid brother and sister who slaved away in those fields. With my head down, and back and knees aching, I can still hear them leading me on: "Come on, Baby. You can do it! You're gonna make it." Their words of hope and redemption touched me in a healing way. Since the day I set foot on the Grambling State University campus to the day I walked across the stage at Texas Southern University to receive my doctorate degree, I have lived by this lesson. Like those field hands who had the utmost faith in me, their daily words of encouragement set the tone for all that I would accomplish. On a word and a prayer, I pressed on.

Well, my mother was right. "There's more to picking cotton than just filling a sack." It was my mother who not only pointed me to the cotton fields but who knew I would uncover a number of life-changing lessons as well. Within each of us blooms a wellspring of abundance and opportunity. For in each of us rests a deeply personal dream waiting to be plucked. When we cherish our dreams and invest in hard work, faith, and discipline, we will achieve long-lasting success.

I have faith that you will hear my words long after I am gone,

Doris Price, Ph.D.

September 10, 1998, Nashville, TN

To dare guide a life

Well, where do I start? The best advice I've been given rests on the following: Life is oh so precious. In that brief space of time between birth and death each of us discovers life's true meaning. My life has been enriched by the lives I've touched, shaped, and molded in more than forty years of teaching. It has been gratifying to see those whom I have taught discover their unique talents and gifts. My job was no less than that of my parents who had the daunting task of convincing me, though I couldn't eat at certain lunch counters or use public restrooms or participate in a system that overlooked my a...

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