The Value of Sung and Unsung Heroes

The Value of Sung and Unsung Heroes

The Value of Sung and Unsung Heroes

As we celebrate, Black History Month, I’m reminded of the 1993 song written by Mariah Carey and Walter Afanasieff entitled “Hero”. The words to the chorus went like this:

“And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you”

Heroes: Sung and Unsung

Big Mamma

Emma White, “Big Mamma”

A hero is defined as a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. People like Harriett Tubman, a leading abolitionist and the most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad, are  “sung” heroes. 

An unsung hero is defined as one who does great deeds but receives little or no recognition for them. Respectfully known to her family as “Big Mamma,” Emma White was an African American woman who fits the definition of an “unsung” hero. She was a matriarch and an example of strong family values.    

Finding Our Heroes

During the month of February, we often think about those well-known African Americans who have made a notable mark in history. Too often individuals who are everyday heroes in our own lives don’t get much recognition—those who have found strength inside to provide and care for their families.

Think of a time when an unsung hero gave you hope and strength to carry on? Was it a teacher, pastor, friend, boss, or  family member?

For me, it was this determined and hard-working African American woman named “Big Mamma”. A short, petite woman in stature who had a commanding voice like an army sergeant that immediately got your attention. You dare not speak or move unless you were called upon. Everyone in the family (young and old) respected and obeyed her. Big Mamma was my great grandmother and the stern matriarch of the family. She was an unsung hero!

A Hard Working Hero

Big Mamma was not only physically strong but she had a high work ethic. She chopped wood, milked cows, toiled her own land, and grew and maintained her own garden. These are only a few of the labor-intensive jobs she performed to provide for her family. Every weekend, Big Mamma (a dedicated entrepreneur and business woman) opened up her very own fruit and vegetable stand to sell to neighbors or people passing by. I am  unaware of the struggles she encountered as a black business owner, but I am certain there were many. Whatever those struggles or barriers were, Big Mamma persevered in order to provide for her family. To many black entrepreneurs, she was a hero. 

Big Mamma with her familyFamily was everything to her. She provided food, clothing, and shelter not just for her immediate family but for near and distant relatives. Her cooking always brought the family together. She laid down the law about family with these words of wisdom: “Never forget where you came from” and “family is always going to be there for you in good times and hard times.” She was the real example of strong family values. To so many families, she was a hero.

The matriarch of our family, “Big Mamma” died at the ripe age of 91. She is gone but not forgotten. Her strong values of hard-work and family first have left a lasting impression on me. She was and is my hero.

Remember Your Heroes

As an African American woman, I have been impacted by both Harriett and Big Mamma’s heroic efforts. Headlines or no headlines, Harriet and Big Mamma were both strong African American women who paved the way for their people. 

While there are many known influential and famous African Americans who have been and are still being recognized for their notable achievements (like Harriet Tubman), let us not forget the many African Americans who have contributed and impacted the lives of their families and communities greatly without any accolades or world-wide recognition (like Emma White, a.k.a. “Big Mamma”).

Both heroes are equally important. Both found the strength within to carry on.

I salute all African Americans, “sung” and “unsung” heroes, who have paved the way for us.  

That’s why the work that I do at GCO in the Healthy Families Initiative is so meaningful—because we not only help African American families but we help all families THRIVE no matter their ethnicity. Many of the people we partner with are the real unsung heroes.

About The Author

Katherine Greene

Katherine Greene

Program Manager, Healthy Families Initiative

As the Program Manager of the Healthy Families Initiative (HFI) at Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO), Katherine works closely with the Program Director and Hispanic Outreach Liaison to strategically build community partnerships and manage relationship skill-building education classes throughout Georgia.
You Don’t Have To Be African American In Order To Appreciate Black History Month!

You Don’t Have To Be African American In Order To Appreciate Black History Month!

You Don’t Have To Be African American In Order To Appreciate Black History Month!

As I reflect on Black History Month, I remember when I first started working at the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO). Randy Hicks, GCO President and CEO, and I entered into a discussion about African American families. In reality, it should be called more of an awakening than a discussion.  

When one group does not succeed, it affects us all.

Randy spoke for several minutes on some of the experiences African American families were having within Georgia and across the country. For instance, the rate at which black people were getting married was drastically dropping while the number of single African-American parents was at an all-time high.  He asked me if I was aware of this plight within the black community and I said no. I remember asking him why did HE know so much about this group of people when he was so clearly not one of them, and his response was stunning.  He said, “It is important that ALL people flourish.”

When one group does not succeed, it affects us all. To this day, I am still amazed by that conversation, especially because I wasn’t aware of the horrifying statistics affecting my neighbors. After all my parents raised my sisters and me to know about Black History.

I had no knowledge about the state of African-American Marriages or the incredibly high out of wedlock birthrate.  As part of my work, I attended The African American Healthy Marriage Initiative conferences and I began to learn more.  This education has not only shaped my work but shaped my life in how I think and care for others.

Today, my life is devoted to helping relationships (of all kinds) be healthy and strong. If I’m not doing something to solve the problems, I am part of the problem. As Black History has taught us, it’s through strong individuals and communities coming together that we all become one and see success.

I am very thankful for my conversation with Randy almost 15 years ago.

About The Author

Joyce Mayberry

Joyce Mayberry

VP of Family Formation

As VP of Family Formation at the Georgia Center for Opportunity, Joyce works in the community to build strong families through local collaboration, event planning, and outreach.

Recognizing Black History Month Is About Recalling Where We Came From

Recognizing Black History Month Is About Recalling Where We Came From

Recognizing Black History Month Is About Recalling Where We Came From

Seeing Black History Month through the eyes of 114-year-old Gertrude Baines

To celebrate Black History Month, let me take you back to November 2008.

The morning of the election—an election that would make history with the victory of Barack Obama, first African-American president in U.S. history—a small headline appeared on websites and in papers: “At 114, a daughter of former slaves votes for Obama.”

Gertrude Baines celebrating 115 yearsGertrude’s story really typified the reasons why. She was born less than thirty years after the conclusion of the Civil War, during the presidential administration of Grover Cleveland—at a time when African Americans were often kept from voting and subjected to unspeakable abuses. Her life had overlapped those of many of America’s (and history’s) great black leaders, like Frederick Douglass (he died about six weeks prior to Baines’ first birthday), W.E.B. Dubois, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

She had lived through some important milestones in the fight for civil rights and equal opportunity. She was 53 when Jackie Robinson jogged onto the diamond at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, 60 when the Brown v. Board of Education ruling was handed down, and 61 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus.

She has also been witness to some of the most shameful moments in our nation’s history. She was 61 when 14-year-old Emmett Till was brutally murdered in Money, Mississippi, 69 when four black children lost their lives in a Birmingham church bombing, and just two days shy of her 74th birthday when Dr. King was assassinated. (Please take note: those are just the high profile abuses she witnessed as a senior citizen.)

Gertrude’s story reminds me of how exceptional and amazing American democracy is. How many other countries have elected ethnic minorities to lead them? Generally speaking, elsewhere in the world, such transitions don’t happen without military coups and civil wars. The fact is, America is exceptional in large part because of the many people of color who helped rise above and form it that way.

President Barack Obama taking his oath of office in January 20, 2009.

Can you imagine Gertrude’s parents ever having said to her, “One day you will cast your vote for a black man who will win the presidency”? I suspect they never could have imagined it. And yet, on November 4th of 2008, Barack Obama became America’s president-elect. And it was not by court order, legislative edict or military force, but by popular vote. The majority of American voters—black, white, Asian, Hispanic, etc.—chose him to be their leader.

The fact is, America is exceptional.

It’s worth pointing out that this is a trajectory we have been on for decades as evidenced by the fact that people of various ethnic backgrounds have been elected or appointed to become governors, lawmakers, cabinet secretaries, judges and so on.

We celebrate that this Black History Month.

Admittedly, I’m just a white guy from Orange County, California, now living happily in Atlanta. My ability to understand the plight of minorities in the U.S. is obviously limited. But I am a human. And I am able to recognize suffering, heartache and inhumanity when I see it. So I am also able to recognize both the source and manifestation of profound joy felt by millions of African Americans – and people of African descent worldwide—in seeing Barack Obama elected to the White House in 2008.

While that was a great moment, so much more remains to be done to ensure that everyone, of every color and ethnic background, has a legitimate opportunity to flourish. We’ve come a long way—but we have a long way still to go.

Gertrude Baines passed away in September 2009 at the remarkable age of 115—at the time, the oldest living person in the world. What a lifetime of progress she saw toward the realization of the American ideal—laid out (but not always carried out) by our visionary and courageous founders: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”

And that’s why we at GCO we will be celebrating those who have contributed so much to our nation—those from the African-American community who, like Gertrude, remind us of what is great about this country.