For Black History Month – A Last(ing) Personal Reflection

Of those who have influenced me most, who more than William John Abernathy (1911-1996) and Clara Lolita Roberts Abernathy (1915-2015), my father and my mother…

The parent-child relationship is fertile ground; capable of producing the grandest outward fruits of ethically-conscious, societally-contributing adults and the greatest inward frustrations, imparting to that next generation long-enduring complexes of guilt and shame and struggles of self-worth. Thus, mixed is the legacy of my formative years.

I am grateful to my parents for the gift of my life. Even on my worst day, I rejoice to be alive in this world.

I am grateful for their treasured lessons. Exposing me, in my earliest years, to music and literature, history and science. Exhorting me to apply my gifts toward the development of an inquisitive mind. Sharing their witness of faith in God and in the life of the church, so to form my soul in the likeness of love’s virtue. Instilling in me a present consciousness of life’s inequities rooted in discriminations based on color, not character; so, to arm me with an awareness that though I dare never assume that the world would treat me with fairness, that was a value I was expected to practice.

Looking back over my 70 years, I see more clearly what, for so long, I did not comprehend. I understand my father’s bitterness in being denied opportunities because of his race. I understand my mother’s quiescent acceptance of life’s injustices. She was not possessed of the passionate temperament of my grandmother and aunt that might have compelled her toward civic activism. Rather, embracing an inmost spirituality of an abiding trust that God somehow would provide, her soul’s belief was given voice in words like those of James Weldon Johnson:

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,

Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;

Thou who has by Thy might led us into the light,

Keep us forever in the path, we pray.[1]

Home life with an angry father and a compliant mother was oft rancorous. Still, I am grateful for the family and the life into which I was born. For from this mélange of light and shadow, quiet and tempest, goodly, godly counsel and furious passion, I was formed as a person of love and justice – one who lives to share active benevolence and fairness with all, unconditioned by differences of culture, color, or creed, and unconstrained even by my most heartfelt opinions and soul-deep prejudices.

© 2023 PRA

#BlackHistoryMonth #theformativeyears #familyoforigin #learningandgrowth

[1] From the hymn, Lift Every Voice and Sing (1900); lyrics by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) and music by J. Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954).

4 thoughts on “For Black History Month – A Last(ing) Personal Reflection

  1. Dear Paul,

    Thank you for sharing both the visual picture and your verbal homage to your parents once again. I find myself captivated by the picture, which suggests so clearly the two identities you confirm with your words. These are two people, each strong in their own unique way, who each have a sense of being that is written on their faces. Your father looks out with a certain defiance at a world that underestimates and undervalues him. His stance is firm, his eyes clear, the strength of his will unmistakable. Your mother’s face exhibits a serenity that comes through in the calmness of her gaze and the set of her lips, but I also see a tiredness made of long-suffering patience in her face as well. Your own face mirrors both of your parents, but I think you most reflect your mother’s countenance and bearing.

    Your tribute to them is warm, considered, measured. Your honesty reveals long years of inner tension about your heritage from each of them. I appreciate that so much. It is so easy to conclude we must praise our inheritance from our parents unconditionally. It is also very easy to conclude the opposite. You have done neither. You know who they each were, and you know who you are. You are clear-eyed in your view of them and in your grasp of their histories and how they were reflected in their personalities. They are people who are precious to you because of the lives they lived and what they inherited from their own families, but also because of the deep love and other materials they bestowed upon you with which to make your life and your own still-developing legacy. Thank you for sharing them once again. I am so grateful to them for bringing into being you, my good friend, whom I admire and love.

    With gratitude and affection,



  2. My dear Karen, I thank you, most especially, for the kindness and perspicacious depth of your response. For I recognize a reflection of myself — who I am and who I have become and who I am becoming — in your words. For this and for more than I can express, I thank you.



    1. Paul & Karen!!

      I feel like both of you just took me to church!! Paul I definitely know the story of your parents, YET each time you share it I learn a little more! I used to tell people to “get over” their childhood and move on, but years ago learned how much we carry our family legacies on our shoulders even when that burden may be too heavy and weighing us down!! It’s not just something we “grow out of” what we carry with us about our parents follows us the rest of our lives and impacts all of our future relationships whether that’s our intent or not!

      Karen your description of the faces of Paul’s parents is simply incredible!! Wow!!

      I have always felt I was missing a huge part of my life having not met my dad. BUT given that he was an alcoholic maybe I missed a lot of the challenges that you endured with your dad Paul I could make up some of the things and traits about the dad I wish I had while you could not!!

      I now believe that as we get older we live into the legacies of our families without letting them control us and our behavior!

      Much love to you both!



  3. Loretta, you, per your wondrous norm, are most compassionate and heart-searingly (in the best way, for me) honest. Your word — “…I could make up some of the things and traits about the dad I wish I had while you could not!!” — touches me in a tender place of longing; both for you, for long I’ve wished that you could have what you have not (that is, memories of your father) and for me, for long I’ve wished, at times, not to have what I do have (that is, difficult and painful memories of interactions with my father). I thank you.

    I thank you, too, for your reflections on the meaning of our living (and creating, so to leave) our legacies vis a vis our relationships with parents. Poignant and profound.



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