Until recently, the word ancestor conjured up visions of distant relatives who lived solely on the pages of old photo albums. As of late, the word has serendipitously surfaced in my day-to-day. It played a starring role in the movie, Black Panther, it appeared in an acceptance speech I heard recently, and it peppered itself in casual conversations regarding family history.
Last Fall, I found this picture of my grandfather, affectionately known as Pa Pa. Immediately, I noticed my oldest brother, Michael, looked just like my grandfather. I knew he would appreciate the photo, so I framed it and set it on my dining table as a reminder to drop it in the mail. Every time I passed the photograph, Pa Pa’s sharply-focused eyes and warm smile made contact with mine. After a few days, I looked forward to seeing Pa Pa and I relocated him to my bookshelf. Unbeknownst to my brother, I kept his surprise gift.
Since Pa Pa died when I was young, I learned about him through my family members. Michael remembered Pa Pa running a post office, along with my grandmother, Gladys. He also spoke of his daily walks with PaPa around the neighborhood in his later years. My grandmother shared fond memories of their time in Manhattan. In the 1940s, they studied and received their Master's Degrees from Columbia University’s Teachers College. My grandmother’s diploma hangs on my wall and reminds me anything is possible. My mother reminisced about Pa Pa’s love for his community. He was known for asking young men on the street, “Why aren’t you in school?” The question was usually followed by a trip to Livingstone College to enroll the young men in college. My father, Rowe, recalled his fond memories of Pa Pa’s political involvement and entrepreneurial spirit and cites his endeavors as inspiration for his interest in politics and business. My father was also a keen observer of Pa Pa’s concern for his community.
For Christmas, I gave my mom and my four brothers a framed photograph of Pa Pa. I know the love from our beloved Pa Pa greets them every day as they pass by those sharply-focused eyes and warm smile. When I see his photo, I am now aware my ancestor is not so far away. Pa Pa's demonstration of love and cultivating community transcends time and it is woven into the fabric of my everyday.