Both my maternal and paternal great grandmothers ironically have the same first names, Lillie: Lillie G. Hurst and Lillie Young. During my years as a public school teacher, every Black History Month I would call my great grandmothers and allow them to tell stories from whence we came.
My great grandmother, Lillie Young, would recall her parents who were children of slaves that lived through the post-slavery era, and the story of her father opening one of the first Black owned barbershops.
Both my great grandmothers served as caretakers of their families and community. They both finished school at third grade to help take care of their family before getting married and starting their own. I watched these women take care of families and keep communities together. Despite having a third-grade education, they made sure reading was fundamental for not only their children but every child they came in contact with.
To me, they are pillars of family and community engagement: helping to ensure the success of every child not just their own. They didn’t just do the work of family and community engagement, they instilled that tradition in others, too.
In my work with family engagement in Atlanta Public Schools, I helped create “Grandparents Initiatives” to ensure that grandparents, who are raising their grandchildren, are supported in navigating the school system. After the recent passing of my great grandmothers, in 2011 and 2014, my father had a vision to begin the Lillie’s Foundation for Change. The foundation’s mission is to help grandparents raising school-aged children find success.
Their stories of love, support and engagement helped inspire my parents who then empowered me to advocate for children, families and communities. In order for us to know our own strength, we have to remember the strength of those from whence we came.