Marquel, the thinker, at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in June 2017. Marcus Jr. & Jaiden are below.
My nephew, Marquel, made the varsity chess team as a freshman! When my Dad shared the news with me, we lauded Marquel's old man wisdom and his confidence. He's a brain and a baller; a black boy, yes, that is important, who rocks his middle school championship chess sweatshirt as much as his basketball jersey. Dad and I laughed that his other grandsons of age, Marcus Jr. and Jaiden, had little patience for the game.
Then we went wordless. We knew we had to leave space for Nina. Tears well up in my eyes, now, just thinking about it.
This is what filled our silence: Ma was the one who decided when her grandsons were in about the 4th grade that they needed to take chess lessons. She harassed me (and if you knew my mother, you know her mastery of this skill) about bringing Marcus down to her house, so her three grandsons could take lessons together. She drove them and took them additionally to play with old men in the park. Marquel, she always contended, was a natural like her brother John. She bought each of her grandsons a chess set for Christmas that year. Marcus Jr used his to play checkers ...once. Marquel continued to play because Nina told him how good he was at it. He played Dad who was at that point the best player in our family until he decided Poppa was too slow and was only taking so much time to make his moves in an effort to avoid inevitable defeat.
Important detour: In the educational equity world, there has been much talk and research about access (something I am so interested in and hope to make it part of my future doctoral thesis). Access to opportunities and learning beyond a textbook or a basketball court (not that those are not vast and important learning experiences) is vital to young people of color. Access opens doors and broadens horizons.
Ma's large/loud voice: No one opened doors like Beverly Ann Bradley-Flanagan. I thank God for the access she provided so many but especially me. She opened our home to Natalie who was an exchange student from the south of France. She and my Dad sent me to France as a French exchange student in high school. This gave me a world view. She always said I came back more refined whether that was true or not I believed her and held tightly to that notation of self. It has allowed me to exist comfortably and combatantly (yup, I made up that word) in spaces I might otherwise feel intimidated in, but for the voice of my mother in the back of my head reminding me I am a refined, world traveler.
She provided jobs (GOOD JOBS) for so many people I can't even begin to count; giving us access to people and experiences outside of the confines of what was typical. Moving clear across the country to Cape Cod is a prime example of access for many. We lived less than 7 miles from the Kennedy's compound, and I sometimes felt the Census Bureau only needed to come to our house to count the black population of Cape Cod outside of Martha's Vineyard.
In her leadership position at Cape Cod Health System, she provided access for the people of color in the organization then and those to follow because she exuded intelligence, poise and confidence while maintaining her blackness resulting in a cult following of those who loved and others who hated her power. For friends and family back home, my parent's East Coast home was an open door, and they had a revolving door of visitors. Ma made sure everyone who came got to experience "the Cape" always introducing them to something new and encouraging them to try something beyond the Southside of Chicago or the cotton fields of the South. ACCESS!
Tejay has more stamps in his passport and more confidence than most because of the access Ma provided. Camps, colleges and support abound. ACCESS!
Kayla, my oldest and the oldest grandchild, got her first pair of golf clubs from Nina and Poppa when she was 3 years old. She played golf all four years in high school. ACCESS! Nina bought her horseback riding lessons in middle school. ACCESS!
Katie's stacks of diaries and opportunities to write big were because of Nina. ACCESS!
Jaiden's knowledge and confidence of the multitude of his talents including but not limited to baseball, basketball and an innate sensibility are because of Nina's support and ACCESS!
Bev's best moves:
Dad and I sat on the phone wordless for at least a minute. A moment of silence to honor all the access my mother gave to our family.
"Beverly did that. She would be so proud," brought us back into conversation. "Yup!" is all I could manage.
Marquel's accomplishment is AWESOME and we could not be more proud of him, nor of my mother for blowing the doors off so many things for us and so many others.
Documenting my evolution by filling in space and matter one word at a time.