Doors of Opportunity
Mother-daughter stories are legacies of love, hope, and pride. This story is told by Lucimarian Roberts, mother of ABC anchor Robin Roberts, in My Story, My Song: Mother-Daughter Reflections on Life and Faith
Sitting next to Eleanor Roosevelt at an elegant dinner seemed a foggy dream. Who could have imagined that Lucimarian Tolliver, daughter of a domestic worker and an alcoholic father, would be a foot away from the former First Lady of the United States? I was a senior at Howard University and could barely wrap my mind around the reality.
A few years before the luncheon, Mrs. Roosevelt had made newspaper headlines when she abruptly resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution in protest of the DAR refusing to rent its Constitution Hall for a concert given by black opera singer Marian Anderson. Now I was seated next to her, the First Lady who had done so much to publicly confront the injustices of racism and segregation.
Dr. Mordecai Johnson, President of Howard University, often invited dignitaries to the campus as a way to introduce students to prominent individuals who were involved in humanitarian causes. I was one of only two seniors invited for this particular occasion. As the president of Howard University Women’s League, I was asked to sit on one side of Mrs. Roosevelt. A male student representing the young men of Howard sat on the other. I remember being impressed by how articulate Mrs. Roosevelt was, asking questions then listening attentively to my answers. But it is only in retrospect that I realize just how blessed I was to have had that opportunity.
My years at Howard University were filled with other opportunities I had never expected. Besides the honor of sitting next to the First Lady and being selected as the president of Women’s League, I was the president of my dormitory, Frazier Hall, during my junior year. For my senior year, I was elected by my classmates to be one of the mentors at Sojourner Truth Hall, the residence hall for freshmen women. It was a special honor because students were asked to select a senior classmate they would most want to mentor their younger sisters. I also took great pride in participating in my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, which was founded at Howard back in 1908. And of course, I was active in the chapel choir program.
I confess that there was a certain amount of esteem that came with these leadership positions. But if ever I began to feel too puffy and proud, the words of my wise mother came circling back through my mind. It was a simple but weighty warning. When you strut, you stumble.
During my junior year, I was especially pleased that my mother was able to attend a mother-daughter tea hosted by the university. She preferred to travel by bus and had saved enough money for a ticket for a long weekend in Washington. A fashion-conscious friend from Akron helped her select clothes suitable for the occasion. I met her at the bus station then took her on a tour of the campus where she met some of my classmates and their mothers. As evening came, my roommate and I gave our dorm room to our mothers while we bunked in another room with fellow students. In truth, we should not be credited for our gracious hospitality. We just didn’t want to share a room with our mothers who snored.
On the day of the tea, my eyes rimmed with tears of joy. My mother was so proud to be included in this special event. I remember glancing at her work-worn hands and thinking of all the things she had sacrificed to help get me to this place in time.
Whenever I'm waiting for mom down in baggage claim people from her flight will stream past me and let me know she's on her way. I always wonder how do all these people know she's my mom...it's because she has never met a stranger. She talks to everyone. She enjoys visiting me in New York and having lunch at a sidewalk cafe. She gets a kick out of looking at people up and down as they pass by our table. I'll say: "Mom, stop staring!" She responds: "I'm not staring, honey, I'm people watching." Mom has a wonderful sense of humor.
One day, some years ago, I was in the car with her and she accidentally cut off another driver. At the next light the driver pulled up next to mom's car and was telling her off. I wanted to jump out and give this guy a piece of my mind. But before I could, mom calmly rolled down her window and sweetly said to him: "Your momma." I don't know who was more stunned, him or me.
Excerpted from My Story, My Song: Mother-Daughter Reflections on Life and Faith, by Robin Roberts and Lucimarian Roberts with Missy Buchanan. Used by permission.