“the number is 4” was whispered into my spirit as I began my move from New York to Houston in 2003. I had no idea what it meant. I speculated that in my 4th year in Houston something spectacular would happen. Nothing did. I talked to 1 of my friends who has a similar sensitivity to spiritual enclaves, and we both knew that whatever it was, it would be much bigger than the 2 of us, and it would signal a transition to something the world had never seen before.
I grew up in a segregated southern town, on the west side of Dallas (the side where Black people lived, at the time before we were “African American”, but not too long after we were “Colored”). I was born to my parents late in their lives. My father died when I was 5-years-old. After his death, my mother struggled to keep food on the table, despite the fact that she worked several jobs. She cleaned people’s houses and worked as a cook in a local public school, because even though she had a college degree, she wasn’t “qualified” to teach. That was the first generation.
My 4 sisters, who are significantly older than me, built on what my parents started and made it just a little further along. My favorite sister retired from a bank job, a coveted job of her generation, where she worked over 30 years. She loved her job, and she was very good at it – so good that whenever the bank brought in new managers, my sister trained them to manage her.
She couldn’t be a manager because although she had taken many business courses in college and gotten practical experience on how two-thirds of the departments in the bank work, she didn’t have a college degree. The new managers had degrees in music, several had degrees in art (including dance). And there were some managers who had no college degree, who worked their way up to be managers. They were not people of color. That was the second generation.
I, the third generation, built on the two generations that preceded me, and entered the journey even further down the road. Access to a college degree was easier, and new career possibilities emerged. And I had something that my dad gave me – one of my earliest memories – “you can do anything you want,” he told me. I earned my BA from Columbia University, and my MA and PhD from the New School for Social Research, both in New York City.
11months ago I donated one of our office spaces to the Obama Volunteers in Houston. I went into debt paying for the building. That debt was magnified by the impact of Hurricane Ike. But I have every confidence it was a good investment. Because on November 4, I saw us – all Americans – evolve to the next generation – the fourth generation, inspired by our 44th President.
“the number is 4”