Celebrating the Rosa Parks in your Neighborhood

[audio:http://pattymackz.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/07-Momma-Hold-My-Hand-11.mp3|titles=Momma Hold My Hand]I teach at an international school with students of over a hundred different nationalities where the notion of racism is non existent, so during Black History Month every February I try to help my students understand how prejudice can pass through generations even in a nation founded on democracy. Though I grew up in small town, USA, at the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, I don’t have a racist bone in my body. I credit that to the two families who taught me that everyone should be treated equal; the white one I was born to, and the black one I adopted through basketball.

Barb Smith was as much a part of the history of my community, as the brick in the foundation of Sterling High School where I lived out my hoop dreams. As an adult, I saw only her once a year at the Smith-Hereford Family July 4th Reunion where I was welcomed home like a long lost child. It was no surprise that she was the catalyst for the event that united family, friends and neighbors, from Alabama to Wallace Street to 11th. She brought people together long before that tradition began.

She never aged. When she wrapped you in a hug, though small built, you felt like you could break in half from the strength of that love. Hardworking. Resilient. Courageous. She was like the Rosa Parks of the Sauk Valley, taking a stand for human justice long before the lawmakers got around to it. At a time when Jim Crow Laws were still deeply ingrained in the social fabric, she chose to remain colorblind, ignoring the dictates of society.

Didn’t matter what side of the tracks you were born on. All people were her people. And nobody went hungry. There was always a spare rib, a plate of greens or a piece a pie left to feed another hungry child.

She had 6 children, 23 grandchildren, 37 great grand children and 8 great great grand children, but it didn’t matter if you were kin folk or not; she knew long before the rest of the country all blood is red and “we all God’s children.”

She was meek but mighty, a tiny woman with an enormous heart. And a smile so big that it could light up the universe.

Any friend of the family was a friend for life. She made everybody feel special. Whenever she knew I would be back in town, she baked me lemon pie. We had a standing joke ever since I first tasted her famous lemon meringue pie as a teen, and announced, “I never tasted no white folk pie that good.”

She laughed and her laugh was infectious. Laughter rings throughout my memory of her.

She had a faith strong enough to move mountains and a love so enduring to withstand generations of hardship and loss. Yet she lived each day as though it were a blessing and loved each soul as though he or she were heaven sent. All who knew her felt gifted.

Although I can still hear her hollering her daughter’s and my sister’s name, the year they won the state basketball championship, she was a cheerleader for all of us. I can still see her smile, feel her hug; I can still taste her love filled lemon meringue, sweet and tart, smooth and creamy.

Though she no longer walks this earth, baking pie and bringing good cheer, she winks down on us in every ray of sunshine and each twinkling star. We know without a doubt, we are better people for having known her. Every time I help a neighbor, encourage a friend, care for a loved one, every time I do the right thing, I remember Mom Smith and stand a bit taller.

in remembrance of Barbara Smith, click on this link to listen to Momma Hold My Hand

Posted in inspiration.


  1. Oh sista Patty…
    Barb is smiling down on you and ALL of her children thinking… Good! My children are sharing the love with each other.

    • Oh Patty, you said it so perfectly, she was just one of those people that was always there. I remember when they asked us if we wanted cheerleaders at the state tourn., we said we have them already, that row of mothers up in the stands wearing those blue and gold shirts, Barb being one of them !! I never knew she made fabulous lemon meringue pie, I could never find another one like my Grandma Irma Taylor’s, two wonderful women, both in Sterling, IL making us smile in lemons !!!

  2. Awesome, Pat. I am now even more proud that Barb is one of the women we honored a few years ago in the Cross-Cultural Celebration of Women. Thank you for making her memory live so brightly today.

  3. Pat,

    What a moving tribute to an extraordinary woman. There could be no better way for someone to live life than to inspire others to be better people. What a privilege it was for all of us to have known Barb.

  4. Thanks for sharing such a lovely tribute. Makes us all think how we, as individuals, can help make this earth a better place for everyone, even if it is to just start with a smile.

  5. Hi Pat,
    My family was brought up with the same background as yours. Everyone was welcomed to our home. Thanks you for bringing back memories and writing such a great tribute to
    Barb Smith and her family.

  6. Pat, thank you so much for thinking of my mother and our family. I am sorry it took so long for me to respond. Our family is blessed to have a friend like you. God, sends you special people to get through the hard times. My mother loved you very much. She is smiling right now and praying for all of us. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.~Ernie Smith

    • Thanks Ernie and you know how much I loved your mom. Though I miss her, I feel her spirit with me. I am so blessed too to be a friend of your family. Hope to see you this summer. You have an email address?

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