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Our Plates are Full

On holidays, we invite family and friends to share the day with us. Of course, the backdrop is the backyard where we grill meat— barbecue ribs, shrimp, maybe chicken or steak— and add three or four vegetables, potato salad, side dishes of fruits, and corn on the cob. The main dishes are complemented with homemade peach cobbler and pound cake. Libations are provided for every palate.

There are competitive card games and smack-talking that get louder as the libations get stronger. New connections are made as more people arrive and find a comfortable spot for themselves. A playlist reflecting our cultural roots includes everything from blues to rock with some hand-clapping and dancing as the sun moves higher in the sky and then inevitably starts to set. Conversations and funny stories abound.

This past Memorial Day gathering was particularly grounding for me as I sat and chatted with a group of dear friends…one of whom is losing her memories as we speak and experienced a great day among comrades who have known each other for fifty years. A day where her mind was clear, although her effect shows the progression of the disease for which we do not comment. Ordinarily, she roams from group to group, smiling, talking about the topics of the day. Today she sat among her oldest friends who have been privy to her journey over the last few years when she retired from work and returned to live with family who is her support system.

We are deeply attuned to our friend’s presence as she shared snippets of her rich professional life where she made numerous contributions and recognition for her accomplishments. A life dependent on her ability to analyze and synthesize living history, create state and national projects based on her investigative and research data. Work that she loved.

Her passion for living history was more than how to obtain a paycheck; it was her calling. She sat across the table from colleagues of other races throughout her career who want to co-opt, steal, or minimize her ideas or sublimate her voice. Instead of collegiality, they used a form of language to offend. Personally, I would rather you say the offensive word rather than hurl a euphemism like “don’t go all Cane River on us.” If you do not understand the Cane River connotation, just read Lalita Tademy’s work to uncover Tademy’s family’s roots as she delved into four generations of women moving from slavery to freedom.

This article is too short to cover the insult my friend’s colleagues intended and/or the slights colleagues inflict when we disrupt the status quo or point out the myriad contributions made by people of color to building this nation – contributions for which our white colleagues want to take credit. But that is what professionals who rise to the top of their chosen field endure, and when they take offense, the insulting refrain is “you too sensitive.”

On this holiday, my sister/friend experienced that rare day where her diagnosis did not cloud her words or memories. We laughed and delighted in eight hours of lucidity and conversations swinging back and forth between sorority days and careers and family. We relived college antics and commented on people we are still connected with and those we have lost touch with.

Half joking with a thread of pain underneath, my friend would occasionally comment about her situation. Late in the afternoon, she grew tired… this from a woman who used to have boundless energy… and she began to focus more on her immediate needs to get home before dark, although her driver would ensure she got home safely.

As I reflect on endurance, life’s challenges are better faced together. Love, acceptance, and steadfast support are necessary when facing the unknown progression of this disease. Spend time with your friends or family who may be changing in front of your eyes. Be the light and love they need as they face their uncertain future. All of us will endure challenges, yet the changes that result in us losing ourselves, our mobility, and finally, the sense of our inner greatness must be the worst loss. Together, we still make a difference.


– Joyce A. Brown

Joyce Brown is a motivational speaker and author who uses her creative energy to give voice and meaning to the challenges women face in all walks of life. She grew up in Rockford, Illinois in a household of strong women. She graduated from Bradley University with a B.S. and M.A.  Her professional career expanded her reach into Peoria, Illinois; and Battle Creek, Michigan. Joyce obtained a Ph.D. from Western Michigan University.

She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has served as a direct services worker, executive director, program director for a major foundation, and an entrepreneur. Joyce has experienced many uplifting moments as a professional and as a dedicated parent and strives to bring those events and lessons to life through her characters in contemporary fiction novels she pens.

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