Why I Love Roots

Not the band, though they are a personal fav of mine (ask me about the time I sang backup for them). I’m talking about the classic 1970’s miniseries Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Starring a young LeVar “Gordy” Burton, John “Mr. Evans” Amos, Robert “Mr. Brady” Reed and Louis Gossett Jr. Cicely Tyson. Ben Vereen. Lloyd Bridges. Burl Ives. Leslie Uggams. Richard Roundtree. Todd Bridges. Maya Angelou. And OJ Simpson for crying out loud. Pretty much every black actor with a SAG card in 1977.

I remember watching Roots when I was a kid. One of those things my Dad insisted we sit through to learn about our ancestors. Somehow my sister doesn’t remember this. Maybe he saved this special brand of what I’m sure amounted to torture at the time, just for me.

Then in middle school and high school we would watch the whole Middle Passage sequence during obligatory February Black History Month units. Though I don’t ever remembering having seen the whole thing, at once, in context. Then there was college. I minored in Africana studies and watched several different parts of Roots for research. But again. Never all together. Never the whole thing.

It was getting to be the middle of February and it dawned on me. It’s Black History Month. Since being out of college and the library it seems like it just fell off my radar. There’s no special programming on TV. (Wait, to be fair, there’s not really any black programming on TV as it is. Oprah. Tyler Perry’s shows. That’s it. But I digress.) There were no black history playdates or craft days in my Mom’s group. No trips to the Charles H Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.

I felt guilty. I felt like I missed such an important opportunity to celebrate my heritage and to teach my daughter about hers. So I self-assigned a large undertaking. Watching Roots. In it’s entirety before the end of the month. And I’m just about done. I know, it’s March already. But I don’t have nearly enough time for marathon TV watching that I used to.

And you know what? It was fantastic. It captured our country for eight straight days and spawned two sequel miniseries for a reason. It is engaging and imaginative and heartbreaking and moving. Sure, maybe it’s a bit hard to get over the production value, it was the 70’s and made for TV, so it doesn’t look too pretty on an HDTV. But modern aesthetics aside there are so many pure and important moments to experience and some incredibly difficult ones as well.

At the heart of the story of both the best-selling novel and the miniseries is the idea of recapturing and passing down our family stories, our collective past. From one generation to the next they pass down the legendary story of Kunta Kinte, the Mandinka warrior and proud African that was the first of his family in America. Each generation passes his dreams and aspirations to be free to the next. Each passes the pride and hope that one day their children’s lives will be better off then their own.

Cedella is 1/4 Black, 1/4 Lebanese and 1/2 White (German, French & English), though she is truly and completely American in her multi-ethnicity. Though she’s still too young to appreciate the breadth and scope of Roots, what she can begin learning now is this, the stories of her people.

She should know her great great grandfather Elam Sims that was a black soldier in World War I, who enlisted even though blacks were still second-class citizens and relegated to menial labor duties with the Army.

She should know about her ancestors tending to the centuries old olive trees in Lebanon only to have their trees and land taken from them by Israel during the war.

She should know about her 7th great grandfather that served in the Revolutionary War, not only because that makes her eligible to be in the DAR, but because ironically his parents left Germany to flee the violence ravaging their nation.

These are all stories I have learned in researching our family tree on Ancestry.com. An obsession passed down to me from my maternal grandmother Rose and my great aunt Billie. But it’s not the research and facts that have sucked me in. It’s the stories.

And so as our new tradition and to honor the struggles and triumphs of all of our ancestors, not only will I take the reigns as the family genealogist, but I will tell her these stories. Like the story of her stubborn great great aunt Garnet refusing to wash the dishes for three years because her husband insulted her.

The story of her 4th great grandmother who was born into slavery but died a property owner.

How both of her grandfathers were the first in their families to have not only college degrees, but Master’s.

This new tradition may come in the form of bedtime stories but they will be an integral part of the fabric of Monk’s character as she grows. Because these people, these ancestors, what they did, who they were, make us who we are now. That’s what Roots teaches us.

And my new tradition? Watching Roots, in its entirety, every February. And when my kids are old enough, this will be required watching for them too.
 

I Think I Can…

So I know, most of you don’t make resolutions.  In fact nearly everyone I know claims not to make resolutions cause they don’t keep them anyways.  It’s become this antiquated and trite notion.  But you know what?  I like the idea of having this clean slate with which to begin again.  Like a cosmic reset button.  The problem is that a resolution implies that you have resolved to make a change, or rather to have a firmness of purpose.  I guess that’s why people don’t make resolutions.  Cause they know their intentions aren’t there and that they’ve set their sights too high.  But I have resolved to work on things I KNOW I can accomplish.  For crying out loud I grew a person last year!!  I can do anything!!  Or at least I’d like to think I can…I think I can…I think I can…

1. I’m gonna lose my baby weight.  Yea, so this is what everyone starts out thinking in January right?  That they’re going to start this whole new diet and exercise routine and be like five sizes smaller by bikini season, right?  Well I’m just not that unrealistic.  First of all, I’m no gym rat.  I’ve never actually joined a gym cause, well, they kind of intimidate me.  Treadmills are fine, elliptical are tricky but alright. But I have NO IDEA what to do in a gym beyond that.  The weights, the machines, the sweaty people.  Not really my bag.  I need to go to a gym or to classes with someone I know so that I can figure it all out.  I’d much rather mall walk or do a yoga tape or do a Wii Fit thing.  So realistically…I’m not going to get a get a bikini body until I’m done having kids and get some lovely reconstructive surgery and laser treatment on my midsection.  Cause seriously, crunches or not, NOBODY wants to see what’s going on down there.  Come January 3rd I reinstated my Weight Watchers account because it works.  I’ve lost weight with WW before and I know it can be done.  Besides, have you seen Jennifer Hudson?!  She looks frakking amazing!  And she just had a baby…  40 pounds by summer?  I think I can…I think I can…

2.  This blog will be redesigned, I will get my own domain name and ::gasp:: may even switch to WordPress.  If this past year of blogging has taught me anything it’s that I really really really need this outlet.  And I want to take it more seriously.  I’m not sure how my Google Followers stalled out at a measly 24, or why my Facebook Fans stopped at 129.  It’s not really about how many people like me, I just want what I write to reach more people.  I want other Mamas out there to feel like they’re not alone.  Like they have a friend out there somewhere.  Cause those first few lonely months of being in a new city with a new baby I was literally rescued by the likes of Teresha and Eliza and Diana and Kate & Lydia.  When I went back to read some of my earliest posts it’s easy to remember just what it was like in the trenches of new mommyhood.  But let’s be honest, if I’m going to pay for a fancy new page with a button and all that shit I’m going to have to start taking it more seriously and writing more consistently.  It’s exciting to think about a whole new year of writing and communicating again.  So two to three blog posts EVERY SINGLE WEEK.  I think I can…I think I can…and speaking of writing…      

3. I’m going to write a screen play.  With my sister.  A family drama with a healthy dose of sarcastic humor a la classic Sims sisters.  She came with a pretty genius premise and now it’s just a matter of getting down to business and committing to the process.  Writing a screenplay is hard.  The format is rigid.  The language is tricky.  You have to be perfectly descriptive but concise, which I’m sure you could already tell is a bit hard for me to do.  But when you consider that most screenplays are 90 to 110 pages long, it’s doable.  It will require a lot of discipline, like turning the TV off when Cedella goes to bed.  Or ::gasp:: having Michael watch Cedella for a few hours a week so I can get out of the house and go write somewhere.  But writing something with my sister is something I have always wanted to do.  And using my incredibly expensive Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies is something I NEED to do.  A few pages a week.  That’s what I’m starting with.  I think I can…I think I can…
 
4.  I’m going to learn how to take absolutely amazing pictures of Cedella with my new Canon DSLR.  Sure, it’s not the newest model, but it’s a seriously kick ass camera.  On the Auto mode my photos have already become 10x better.  Imagine what I can do when I remember all the basics about photography like F-stops, shutter speed, depth of field and focal length.  And lighting?  Well I really have to brush up on that.  Though I like the idea of all the happy accidents that come from just trying different settings and taking a shit load of pictures.  I’m going to give myself assignments and teach myself how to use every last single button on that thing.  First assignment?  Cedella’s One Year Old photos this week.  We’ve got wardrobe changes and everything.  Can’t wait!  I know I can…I know I can…    

5. I am going to find out all I can about my ancestry.  After literally receiving an Ancestry.com subscription for Christmas I have no choice but to dig in even further than I already have.  My Grandma Rose and Great Aunt Billie were pretty serious weekend geneologists.  They used to travel all over Indiana and the rest of the country going to graveyards and court houses.  Making notes by hand and photocopies on ancient Xerox machines.  The furtherest back they were able to go is our ancestor in the Revolutionary War.  And thanks to the magic of the internet, not only can I digitize all of the hard work they did, but I can go even further than they ever imagined.  In fact as of today I can go back to my 9th Great Grandparents on my maternal line.  That means I can tell you who my relatives were in the 1650’s in Germany.  There are so many empty spaces on our family tree.  So many mysteries to be solved.  So many stories and scandals and inspirations.  It is so much more than a hobby…it is an obsession.  I can’t wait to see what I find tomorrow and the next day and the next day.  I know I can…I know I can…

6. And finally, cause I haven’t given myself nearly enough hobbies…I wanna have another baby this year.  Michael and I have always wanted to space our children out by only a couple of years so that our kids grow up close.  And I’m not gonna lie, when I see my neighbor’s sweet little two month old boy, my ovaries go ::thump thump::  Cedella is such a big girl suddenly and she’s sweet and gentle with other kids.  She is going to make a great big sister.  So we’re thinking summer or fall, but the who knows, we didn’t have to try very hard to have Cedella.  I know we can…I know we can…

And that’s it.  Way more than enough to keep me busy and just enough that I certainly won’t get bored.  Who needs chores and housework when you have so many other things to do?  Cause if there’s one thing I’ve given up on resolving to do?  It’s keeping a pristine house.  We’ll have a spic and span house when and if we can afford a maid.  So what are you resolved to do this new year?  Whatever it is good luck and I think You can…I think You can…

And now your moment of gratuitous cuteness: