Engineers; teachers; pastors; social workers; small business owners; construction workers; university faculty and administrators; retired factory workers; pension fund managers; pre-school, elementary, high school and college students; skilled craftsmen and the unemployed were all there for the 61st celebration of the Anderson-Stokes Family Reunion. We laughed and reminisced about what life was like in the segregated Arkansas Delta before our families migrated to Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Flint and other Midwestern cities in search of a better life. To gain a better sense of the Black migration, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, Vintage Books, 2010, is an excellent treatise.
In 1952 when my maternal grandfather, Isaac Stokes, died, my mother and her six siblings vowed to commemorate the life and legacy of their parents, Isaac Stokes and Corrie Anderson, by holding an annual family reunion. Although my mother and all of her siblings are now deceased, their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren have continued the family reunion tradition that gets stronger with each passing year. To ensure the future of the event, ten years ago, older members of the family voted, reluctantly, to cede the planning and execution of the event to a generation of younger people, and they have performed with aplomb. Annual attendance averages between 125-150 participants.
This year, we gathered for the 2013 Anderson-Stokes reunion at a resort not far from Chicago. As I experienced this year's family interactions, laughter and hefty hugs, I could not help but smile, because I knew that our ancestors were with us and their prayers were in the process of being answered. I knew they would be proud of the fact that we have done well and good and the world is a better place because of the foundation they laid. Attendees ranged in age from my 6-week-old fourth cousin, Gabriella, to my first cousin, Minnie, a retired restaurant owner, who is approaching 80 years of age.
The Anderson-Stokes clan had its beginning in the late 1880s in the Mississippi Delta, amid the mosquito-infested bottom lands created by the unpredicted flooding of the Mississippi River. In fact, it was the flooding and the desire for a better life that led my grandparents, on both sides of the family, to move from Mississippi to Arkansas. In a few years after the move, my maternal grandparents went from being sharecroppers to making a down payment on 40 acres of farm and woodlands from which they sought to eke a living. Like those of their generation, my grandparents raised or processed everything they consumed, including flour, meal, molasses, milk, meat and vegetables. They even produced the wine and the moonshine!
My maternal and paternal grandparents were literate, as was my paternal great-grandmother. From my earliest memories, they emphasized the importance of education, family and owning land. So, as my family members and I gathered this weekend for our reunion, I know that my ancestors were not only there, but that they are with us every day encouraging us to keep on keeping on, even when it gets kind of hard.
The day following my arrival at the reunion, I received a heartwarming telephone call from a fourth-generation member of the Anderson-Stokes clan, my grand-niece, informing me that she had just completed her first week of classes at an excellent university. I assured her that she would excel because her ancestors were looking after her and that her aunts and uncles would provide the mentoring and fiscal resources she needed.
The moral of this story is twofold. First, we are standing on the shoulders of our ancestors, known and unknown. Second, we have an obligation to secure the future of successive generations through the investment of ourselves and our resources. The best time to start is NOW!