Gather at the Table is #1Posted July 21st, 2013 by Sharon Morgan
We arrived at the Phillis Wheatley Book Awards program at the Schomburg Center right on time for the 7PM program. After jumping into a “black taxi” at 116th Street for the short ride up Malcolm X Boulevard, we wondered aloud if we had missed something because the entrance was so quiet.
My date for the night was my son, Vincent. Once inside, it was clear that our original impression was wrong. The house was packed. A resident of Harlem, Vincent knew lots of people and was warmly greeted as he introduced me around. We claimed seats in the reserved section of the front row, just down the line from where one of my idols, poet and activist Sonia Sanchez, was sitting.
The award, a major element of the annual Harlem Book Fair, is presented in honor of the first published African American female writer, Phillis Wheatley. Named for the ship that carried her to America, her book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773), brought her fame both in England and the American colonies. There are so many intersecting points of resonance between her life story and the saga of Gather at the Table, it is uncanny.
As the next to last category for Nonfiction/Biography & Memoir came up on the screen, I held tightly to my program. When the winner slide came up — I was stunned. It was the cover of Gather at the Table and my name was being announced. I erupted in a spontaneous expression of joy….. jumped to my feet, fists clenched, screaming “YES! … WE WON! … Gather at the Table WON! … That’s MY book!”
I turned to see the equally ecstatic look on my son’s face and headed for the stage. After stumbling around at the podium with gasps of “I can’t believe it… I am so happy….” — I drew a deep breath to regain my composure and unfurled the crumpled “cheat sheet” of remarks I had written “just in case” — not really expecting that I would be given the opportunity to present them.
What happened next was like a movie script. I told the audience “our book is dedicated to ‘our ancestors who guide us, our children who inspire us, and our grandchildren who keep our hopes alive’ and shouted out my son by saying ‘I am hopeful and inspired by a new generation of leadership like that of my son, Vincent Morgan, who is campaigning to represent Harlem District 9 in the New York City Council. He delivered to me two grandchildren for whom the future awaits.'”
At that very moment, there was a commotion in the back of the hall. My grandkids (who I thought were at home with their mother) were screaming “SHAMA!” (my grandma name) at the top of their lungs and running down the aisle toward the stage. (Their mommy had brought them to the event as a surprise.) It was one of the most perfect moments of my life.
With an overflowing heart, I finished my remarks to a huge round of applause from the audience. Sonia Sanchez hugged and kissed me as I returned to my seat. Julian and Violet jumped into my lap and continued the love. Julian kept repeating “You won, Shama… you’re number one!”
Selected from a field of five extraordinary books in honor of an extraordinary woman, Gather at the Table was determined to be THE NUMBER ONE BOOK in our category — one that “transcends culture, boundary, and perception.” And that is — indeed — what Tom DeWolf and I hoped to achieve. We long for our book to be a guiding beacon for people who want to heal from the ravages of an egregious past that has left America broken…. stuck on a continuous replay …. with race as the leading arbiter of our social and political condition.
Two days later, I am still doing a happy dance. We gotta make things better people…. We have to be the change we want to see in the world.
Here is the full text of my remarks:
PHILLIS WHEATLEY BOOK AWARDS; 19 July 2013, Schomburg Center, NYC
I am sorry my co-author, Tom DeWolf, can’t be here tonight. He is stuck on the other side of America in Oregon — where they are fighting fires instead of heat waves….
When Tom DeWolf and I began work on Gather at the Table, we had no idea where it would lead us. We just knew we needed healing and jumped off a cliff into the unknown. Our experiment could easily have failed.
Fortunately, it did not, so I am able to stand before you tonight to receive this award. It could not be more timely.
Last week’s verdict in Trayvon Martin’s trial – and, yes, it was Trayvon’s trial – proved the premise of our book. America/Americans – all of us – need to heal from the egregious legacies of our past. Until that happens, no matter who is in the White House, true democracy cannot exist. The whole systems is broken and it is up to us to fix it.
Our book is dedicated to “our ancestors who guide us, our children who inspire us, and our grandchildren who keep our hopes alive.”
I am hopeful and inspired by a new generation of leadership like that of my son, Vincent Morgan, who is campaigning to represent Harlem District 9 in the New York City Council. He delivered to me two grandchildren for whom the future awaits.
If you haven’t read it yet – READ IT – and let it guide you to Gather at the Table to seek your own healing and power.
We THANK YOU – deeply and sincerely – for this honor!
Eastern Mennonite University
Harlem Book Fair
Phillis Wheatley Book Award
Post Racial Society
Summer Peacebuilding Institute
Tulsa race riot
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