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Lessons from my Sister

When you lose someone important to you, it's natural to want to memorialize them in some way. The larger that person's presence in your life, the more ambitious your goals may become. It's an even stronger impulse among black folks in America -- our stories are regularly erased or turned into a footnote in someone else's story. Mamie Till memorialized her son Emmett by making his body a rallying point for the civil rights movement. Trayvon Martin's mother Sabrina Fulton was inspired to run for public office in Florida. Tragedy made George Floyd a martyr, and now you can see him staring back at you from walls in places as diverse Houston, Los Angeles, Manchester England and Barcelona Spain.

Every death is a tragedy to the people close to it. Sabira's death was unexpected and painful, but not symbolic of the larger injustices she spent so much of her life fighting. It was tragedy at a community and domestic scale. And there is freedom and grace in that. Her life and our understanding of it will be shaped by her ideas, passions and joys, not something that was done to her.

If you're looking at this website, you understand that my sister loved film and TV. Sabira could expound on the latest episode of Unsolved Mysteries with the same joy and gusto as an obscure African film. What you may not realize is that she was a natural teacher. She her love of the arts and community activism were driven by her desire to educate and uplift her community. And like any good teacher, you could learn as much from what she did as the things she said. The following is a list of lessons I learned from her. Later, I hope to expand on some of these with stories, or ask others to do so.

Interesting point -- if you knew Sabira, she could be tough. But looking at this list, many of the lessons were about love. Go figure.

  1. Get mad, then get busy.

  2. Become an expert on the people and things you love.

  3. Inspiring a little fear in people is useful.

  4. Children are a gift. Cherish them enough to tell them the truth.

  5. They don't have to like you, but they must respect you.

  6. Learn to laugh at yourself as much as Sabira and Pat are going to laugh at you when you leave the room.

  7. Everyone you meet can teach you something, if you pay attention.

  8. Fall in love with someone you like giving things to, just because.

  9. Travel whenever you can.

  10. Don't settle for allies. Look for accomplices.

  11. Love your mom. Even when she drives you crazy.

  12. Be tenacious about the things that matter. Be honest about the things you don't give a damn about.

  13. Doing good work should be fun.

  14. Titles don't make leaders.

  15. Wear your heart on your sleeve. If you love people, tell them. If you don't, let them know that too.

  16. Anything worth doing is worth doing while dressed fly as hell.

  17. If you do things excellently, you never have to worry about who gets the credit.

  18. Don't let anyone else define your blackness.

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