When You Know Your History…..You Know Your Greatness!

With Grandma Thelwell

As we go through this month of reminding some and informing others of the contributions of Blacks throughout history, let us remember our greatest resources….our elders.

There is an African proverb which states: “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.” I want reiterate to you that that is absolute truth. There are many tidbits of history that have been recorded and that we are able to draw from. But there is no greater connection with history than hearing the intimate, first hand accounts of times that we have never seen, experiences that we have never felt.

Do not let another second go by without connecting, without hearing the stories that so many of our elders carry in their memories. I would encourage you to sit down, talk with family members or friends of the family and ask them questions about their lives, the lives of their parents, and so on. Without asking, we will never know.

My sister recorded my grandmother Ruth over the years. She would ask her questions about life as a child and the life of her mother and father. Those are stories that will never be found in books. We learned so much about a time that we hope never to see again and what it felt like to live in segregation, coming out of the depression and living on a county farm. We never would have heard, had we not asked.

If you have elder family members, I urge you to talk to them, while you can. Write down some of the things you are told because you never know how you can use that to help you in going forward. I always taught my students that when you know your history, you know your greatness. Many people are trying to connect with their roots and in order to do that you need names, you need places and you need associations. These are things you hear from your elders.

This photo on my page is a picture of Grandma Thelwell http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/western-focus/20150228/miss-stella-104-and-going-strong who is my daughter-in-law’s grandmother.I was fortunate enough to attend her 100th birthday in Jamaica and we are blessed that she is turning 106 this year. It was indeed a pleasure and an honor to hear her stories a few years ago on what life was like for her a century ago in early Jamaica.

Some suggestions in getting started are:

  • Ask you elders if you can record them, if not video recording, get audio. Listen to their voices because down the road when they are no longer with us, you will have it to treasure.
  • Have a list of questions prepared. There may be specific things you want to know, but unless your write them down, you may forget. Not every elder wants to revisit the past. But you never know until you ask.
  • Take the time to not only talk, but to listen. Some will tell you that was a long time ago, but as you go, they may open up. Ask them about every day life and maybe what was going on when big events were happening in history.
With Grandma Ruth

All of this is treasured history that we may never hear again and certainly not from their valuable perspective. Most of our history has not always been written down and if it has, it has often been from the perspective of the dominant culture. If you want to know, start asking now. Start building family bridges. Begin to treasure those who can help us on our journey in understanding who we are.


  1. Love – Love – Love – Love – Love – this one!!! I miss talking with my grandparents and god parents! So much of what they shared with me has guided me all through my adult life. Things they warned me about such as how to spot fake friends. How to deal with coworkers and/or negative people, and staying true to my faith because there are those among us who will do what they can to draw me away from it. There is a woman at my church who is well into her 90’s that I talk with on a weekly basis. I think I will start writing down a few questions of things that have been on my mind…thanks for the suggestion Pam!


    • Thank you friend! Spending time with our elders is a gift that keeps on giving. Hopefully more will treasure it and not regret it when it is too late. As I am aging, I have stories I want to tell and that is why I talk so much through social media…it is often things to help young people.


  2. There is a great book written by Bob Greene and his sister, for the purpose of taking down all the wonderful info that our elderly family members have to share. If you google Bob Greene, the book name should pop up. It’s available on Amazon. I interviewed my dear friend and my mother-in-law and we laughed and cried! The book is a treasure!


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