When I think about Black History, I think about the history of my family.
My mother, Mattalyn Love Jones, fondly referred to as “Moms,” is one of the strongest women I have ever met. At 68, she’s going strong. She raised two hard-headed boys to be two productive men, both graduates of Detroit Public Schools.
Like her mother, she believed her children needed to go to school and to know their family’s history. If you don’t know where you’ve been, she taught us, then you wouldn’t know where you are going. She made sure we appreciated both.
She made it clear that if we didn’t work hard now, we would have to work much harder later, and would be unhappy because we did not have a high school diploma. Her plan was that we would graduate from high school and go to college or take some other route to becoming accomplished and independent, but we would not be staying at home.
Whenever we—mainly me—would act out and neglect school, we would definitely be given a strong reality check. A hard head makes a soft behind; if you don’t know what that means, you better go ask somebody.
While Moms kept our K-12 education on track, she also made sure we stayed connected to our roots. Among other visits we made two annual family reunion trips “down home” to Memphis, Tennessee. This city is the central point of my family. It’s where I go to get refueled with the gasoline of my family spirit.
During reunions and holiday trips, we always tell stories of my family’s history. We would discuss the struggle through racism and Jim Crow and how back then there were White bathrooms and Black bathrooms.
My family owned the Fairview Cafe Café in South Memphis. The cafe was an old-style diner where everyone in the neighborhood—and some from other part of Memphis—would come for a bite of homemade cooking. Here you could listen to music from the jukebox that played classic R&B from Motown and Stax Records.
The Café is no longer around, but the spirit it created is still with our family.
Know Your Story
To this day, it still makes me proud to know my family produced so many professionals who have planted roots in Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Dayton, Washington, D.C., and a host of other cities and towns. I’m very proud to know these branches of the family are carrying on the tradition of teaching our kids their family history, which is Black History.
These stories inspired my Moms to go to the Library of Congress while in D.C. on business and research the family tree. Hard work and lots of research allowed her to trace our family’s history from Memphis down to Mississippi and across to Richmond, Virginia.
Richmond was my family’s Plymouth Rock. It’s where my ancestors were brought into this country and sold into slavery.
I come from a family of slaves who fought and grew to become a family of professionals, entrepreneurs and hard workers. Many of my family members have served this nation going back a hundred years or more.
I myself first served as a Marine and then went on to fight to secure an equitable education for all of Michigan’s most challenged students. Like Moms, I want better for them and I want them to contribute.
I’ll say it again. When I think about Black History, I think about the history of my family. The struggles and the triumphs. I think about all of the stories I have been taught. And I remember I learned all of this from my first teacher. My Black History Hero. My Moms.
Black History Month is about remembering what African-Americans have endured and what we have contributed to the United States of America. This is our country too. And we are not going back to Africa.