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Hooper: My mother modeled fairness, equality

The words the Rev. R.B. Holmes intoned at my mother's funeral still echo in my mind 10 years after her death.

"An Alpha Kappa Alpha in the 'hood? An AKA in the hood?" he asked rhetorically, using a booming voice and songful delivery you would expect from a black minister in the deep South.

"A professor in the 'hood? A Ph.D. in the 'hood? A Phi Delta Kappa in the 'hood?"

I was all too familiar with my mom's determination to remain in the neighborhood she had called home since 1957, but the good reverend crystallized her lifelong choice in a way that raised my appreciation of her remarkable open-mindedness.

My parents, Florida A&M University professors, married in 1957 and took up residence in a neighborhood specifically designed for blacks in a Tallahassee still operating under segregation.

The streets bore names that would appeal to blacks. Harlem, Joe Louis, Calloway (after Cab Calloway) and our street, Basin, named for the legendary New Orleans boulevard that inspired the classic Basin Street Blues.

My father, who grew up in New Orleans, purchased the concrete block home in the middle of Basin Street.

Opposite those Basin homes stood a wooded lot where the neighborhood kids built forts and played hide-and-seek.

That all changed in 1970 when construction workers cleared the trees to build Griffin Heights, a housing project.

Almost immediately, some of the FAMU professors began to ask my parents when were they going to move. Not if, but when. Yes, black professionals wanted to know when they would flee "the undesirables."

My mom, who grew up part of Atlanta's black elite, asked incredulously, "Move? Why would we move? I like my house. They're just like us."

She looked across the street and saw people. Nothing more, nothing less. She made sure to share that perspective with her kids. The parents became our neighbors, the teens became our babysitters, the kids became our friends.

We had no problems.

Some of her fellow professors became former friends.

She wasn't fazed.

She seldom discussed these lessons of acceptance, but modeled them all the time. It wasn't uncommon for us to host foreign students who came to study at FAMU or Florida State, even if it meant I had to give up my bed and sleep on the couch.

If I said something stupid like, "That French guy made my pillow smell funny," she just shook her head and said in her slow Southern drawl, "Boy, don't be silly."

Eventually, it became clear we needed to be accepting because we would want the same for ourselves.

After I graduated from high school in 1982, I distinctly remember coming home from the University of Florida and calling to order a pizza.

"Sorry, we don't deliver to Basin Street."

The crack epidemic caused crime to rise. The streets were less safe. The police built a substation in the projects.

But I didn't know because my mother never complained. She refused to fear her neighbors.

When she pulled up with groceries, kids rushed across the street — and carried in the bags. She gave them a tip and thanked them kindly.

They called her, "Dr. Hoop."

I want to believe such random acts of kindness were why the desperate never victimized her during her 45 years on Basin Street.

Maybe, just maybe, the kids looked out for her because she was a Ph.D. in the hood — because she was their Ph.D. in the hood — and proud of it.

That's all I'm saying.

Hooper: My mother modeled fairness, equality 05/12/12 [Last modified: Saturday, May 12, 2012 4:30am]
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