Last week, the world lost an iconic voice in the literary world. Writer, Princeton professor emeritus, teacher, novelist, Cornelian, and iconic African American legend, Toni Morrison passed away at the age of 88. Her quotes are resonating around the world, as people of all ages, races, social and economic backgrounds reflect, remember and celebrate her life. As Cornell alumni, my husband and I received emails from the university, celebrating the life of one of its most extraordinary alumnus. Although we were saddened by the news, we were proud to know that Toni Morrison, who once studied in the Ivy League halls of our beloved alma mater, had made such an incredible impact on the world around her.
I first became acquainted the works of Toni Morrison, as a young professional, trying to juggle my life and career in energy management, with being a wife, mother, Christian singer and musician in addition to my corporate career. Some of the women I met through my company and beyond, decided to start an African American Women’s Literacy Society. It was named after the historic African American writer Phyllis Wheatly. We were all university educated professionals, from different companies and organizations, with a common love of literacy. I was the youngest woman in the group, and I will never forget the impact those women had on my life. We would read the chosen books, and later meet to discuss them in detail, enjoying conversation and advice, taking turns to host at each other’s homes, over a delicious meal.
When Toni Morrison came to town, all of us were thrilled to attend her lecture at the University at Buffalo. I can still see her honey-brown, flawless complexion, with her silver-streaked, tastefully styled dreadlocks as she lectured in the warm, rich tones of her eloquent voice. My only regret is that cell phone cameras had not been invented, and I didn’t take a notebook to write down everything she shared during that lecture. It was a legendary moment, and I am glad I got to hear her speak in person.
I confess to you that Toni Morrison’s books are not for the faint-hearted. I as an African American who has stood on the shoulders of those who have gone before me, I was spared most of the atrocities of racism, abuse, hatred, incest, discrimination and self-loathing that Morrison shared in some of her novels. I often found myself, heartbroken, shocked and overwhelmed at this aspect of the African American experience, as shared through the eyes of some of her youngest characters. The books I read were a challenge. They did, however arise in me the need to make a difference with my life---especially in the lives of my own children, the people around me, and the music students who were later to be entrusted to my care, when I changed careers. Morrison’s works are insightful, challenging and inspiring. She also opened several doors of opportunity for many who followed in her footsteps.
There are simply too many pearls of insight and wisdom from her works, lectures and interviews to say simply that these are ‘the best’. I invite you to explore some of her countless quotes that are available online, or challenge yourself to read some of her books. I encourage you to purpose in your heart to live a life that makes an impact on the world-- as Toni Morrison clearly did.
Jackie Davis is an experienced Inspirational Vocalist, Musician & Music Instructor. Her column appears in the Union Sun & Journal every other Friday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.