Struggle To Climb The

When my mother was a teenager in Memphis, Tennessee, my grandmother didn’t allow her to go to the local store to shop for school clothes.

My grandmother didn’t take my mother to go shopping for clothes to protect her from the harsh reality that since she was colored, she would not be able to try on clothes like white shoppers and would receive horrible treatment from store associates and others.’

When my father was young, he had to sit at the school bus stop, listening to people from his neighborhood shout at him because, according to them, no black man was going to make it in college.

No black man from segregated Memphis was going to go anywhere but back to the neighborhood that he came from.

‘We are determined to be people. We are saying that we are God’s children, we don’t have to live as we are forced to live.’

Despite my mother’s stellar grades that would allow her to pursue just about any career path she wanted, her guidance counselors pushed her to be a nurse or a teacher (not to take away from those honorable jobs).

Those were the two career paths acceptable for young black women.

Still, my mother and father worked hard despite poverty and the fractured, racially-divided country they lived in, becoming the first members from both their families to attend college.

‘But I wouldn’t stop there.’

They both met at Washington University in St. Louis. My mother became a physical therapist and my father earned his Ph.D. in Nuclear Chemistry.

‘But I wouldn’t stop there.’

As my parents were growing up, Ruby Bridges was somewhere surrounded by U.S. Marshals protecting her from crowds that shouted and threw objects at her in order to prevent her from entering their all-white school.

But that didn’t stop her.

She was the beginning of integrated education.
‘But I wouldn’t stop there.’

‘ Now, over forty years later, Barack Obama is walking into the White House with different kinds of shouts. He’s walking into the White House with the nation’s encouragement.

Once, blacks only entered through the back door; now Obama is walking in the front door as the President of the United States.

Some have tried to downplay the significance of this moment in history.

But, my great Aunt sat in the church where Martin Luther King gave his last sermon.

My mother, father, grandmother and grandfather remember that speech, the hope that it gave them and what it felt like to have that hope all but stripped away the very next day when Dr. King was shot down at the Lorraine hotel.

Now they all saw Obama’s first inaugural speech, a man in a position most people in those troubled times never thought would exist.

‘And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.’
That our nation has turned on its head holds so much significance,at least to me.

My family, in one lifetime, has lived in two different worlds.’

There are no words that can truly capture how grateful I am to all that made this moment in time possible, which is why this is a thank you.

Thank you all of those who worked, strained, cried, marched, and held their ground against violence to prevent the justice that you pursued.

Thank all of you for refusing to stop, refusing to move until justice was served.

Thank you for allowing myself and so many others to have the opportunities we do.

We will not forget you because to do that would be forgetting a part of who we are.

Thank you, Dr. King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, the countless masses of people who fought for what was right so that we could get to where we are today. My thanks have never been more sincere or heartfelt.

Thank you.

‘And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!’ ‘-MLK ‘I Have Been to the Mountaintop’

Nicole Robinson may be reached at

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