12/07/2012 12:18 pm ET Updated Feb 06, 2013

Black & White in a Multi-Colored America

It's not every day that you lose a best friend who also happens to be your mother. That day came for me on March 15, 2010. My mother, who was returning home from working her 12-hour nursing shift in Vanderbilt's Adult Emergency Department, was involved in a fatal accident. She struck a garbage can that had come loose from a truck and was quickly returned to Vanderbilt, this time as a patient. Freeda J. Simmons-McMillan passed away that morning, but something beautiful evolved from what some may view as a tragic ending.

Freeda was not only known for her compassion and ability to provide the highest level of excellent medical care, but also for her artwork that decorates the halls of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. It signified the beginning for me, the time to pick up the pieces, carry on her torch and finish what she had once envisioned. I followed in my mother's footsteps and became a registered nurse, but there was another mission for me.

When I was 14 years old, my mother told me I would publish books in my lifetime, but I would not be the one to write them. I laughed it off, but nine years later, her prediction has come true. The first volume of Black & White in a Multi-Colored America has been published, comprised entirely of my mother's stories and illustrations. The book is not only special because of my promise to my mother. I believe it has the potential to change the hearts and minds of its readers.

The book focuses on messages of cultural equality, dispelling stereotypical ideas that exist between different races and cultures. It attempts to bridge the gap that my mother believed was a product of ignorance and unfamiliarity. All of the stories in the book are true and include real people that my mother encountered during her lifetime. Although the book covers a variety of topics, there are many underlying key messages throughout.

We are human.

Despite whatever differences exist outwardly, we are all human. According to my mother, "when considering the diversity of racial attributes, obvious physical variations exist between the races. These variations are of little importance in that they should not define us as people, but rather prompt us to look beyond these variations to discover the individual."

We are beautiful.

My mom explains, "I find it profoundly disturbing that we as a society are continuing to place our futures in the hands of outward appearance, never stopping to look at the heart, the mind and the soul." The challenge here is to examine our views and look within the hearts of others before making decisions on the basis of race, color, culture or ethnicity.

We are fortunate.

In the book, my mother urges readers to appreciate what we have in our lives. She believed there was far too much effort devoted to trivial matters when there are larger issues at hand. "There was a man who cried because he had no shoes; then he met the man who had no feet." Perhaps we should consider the man who anguished for lack of a spoon, until he came upon the man who had no food.

We are part of a whole.

I have to quote this because I cannot find any better way to sum up what I believe is the most fundamental message of Black & White in a Multi-Colored America.

"It's about how we treat people, about priorities and shifting the focus from minor, unimportant issues such as skin color, position, age, or social standing," my mother said. "It's about caring, concern, sharing and understanding."

We must refuse to allow ourselves to focus solely on the exterior and the superficial.

Looking past the color, we are all human. My mother's message is not a difficult one, but it is one that people all over the world struggle with every day. We should view cultures and ethnicities as we do a box of crayons: multiple colors and endless possibilities.

About the authors

A nurse for more than 20 years, Freeda J. Simmons-McMillan met and interacted with people from many different backgrounds and races. As a nurse, she worked in many different capacities, including surgery, intensive care and emergency. Sadly, she passed on in early 2010. Following her death, her daughter Galileo Simmons compiled and published Freeda's works into Black & White in a Multi-Colored America. Freeda's daughter, Galileo, is also a registered nurse.