At times, wisdom comes to us at the most unexpected times during the most random conversations. We usually notice these blessings when we are hit with an “aha moment”. These moments are fleeting but indelible; it’s like serendipity kisses an obtuse comment and sanctifies the meaningless with a nugget of sage insight as someone gives us another perspective through a gentle nudge. My dalliance with a subtle education happened this morning while I was making my morning cup of coffee. It was a morning like any other as I found myself listening to Diana Ross’s “Why the Road Turns” while reflecting on life–the coffee I coveted was drip, drip, dripping in the background.
Chris, my roommate from Tennessee, emerged from the basement and jarred me back from somber thoughts as he embraced me with a good old southern conversation. Parenthetically, Chris is full of endless knowledge when it comes to music; par for the course I guess since he is a son of Memphis where music is king and harmony is in the DNA of the “volunteer state”. Chris started to tell me about the endless procession of singers who trace their roots to Memphis. From Issac Hayes and Johnny Cash to Memphis Slim and Elvis, the gambit of singers who call Memphis home let’s people know it is way more than a motto when Memphis calls itself “the birthplace of Rock and Roll”.
As Chris was telling me about the predecessor of Motown Music and giving me a brief rundown of Stax Record, I made a comment about Diana Ross and how it’s sad that she never reached the pinnacle that Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin attained. I was about to start lamenting how Diana kind of plateaued around the mid 80’s and how it’s not right that a talent like Diana does not get the proper recognition she deserves. At that moment I saw the Chris’s eyes furl and could see that he was about to say something profound. With his southern drawl and his story telling ways, Chris went on to enlighten me and lead me away from the cauldron of narrow thinking.
Chris said “you know, sometimes people become successful by helping other people and they thrive behind the scenes instead of being at the forefront”. He went on to explain how Smokey Robinson was the creative force behind endless stars and it was the road he paved that led to the fame and success of a litany of idols we fawn over. Though Smokey is no slouch and he too attained fame, Chris let me know that his greatest work–as those who know about the profound talent that is Smokey–was his creative abilities in producing music for other singers. Chris told me that Diana Ross did the same thing, that she too chose the path of fostering the talent of other people instead of insisting on being on the stage for the sake of self-gratification.
I started reflecting deeply on the wisdom that Chris imparted to me. Too often in society we celebrate the stars but rarely do we acknowledge and honor those who paved the way for them. Moreover, we have a tendency to hold the candle for those stars whose lives are either glamorous beyond belief or the stars who are constantly in havoc and chaos. But the ones who turn and take a road different and have a modicum of normality and don’t insist on staying in the spotlight, we are quick to dismiss as “past their prime” even though most of the time it is these stars who are doing the honorable work that we rarely attribute to the rich and famous.
Halfway to work as my own road was turning to Fort Collins, a thought crystallized in my mind. I started to think about Tracee Ellis Ross, the daughter of Diana Ross, and how it must have been hard to grow up in the shadow of the Supreme Diana. Most of the time, children of stars end up with hard lives as they struggle to outgrow the shadow of their parents. It is for this reason that we keep hearing of one child star after another beset by addiction, sorrow and why too many expire before their time. Now let me admit, I do not know Tracee Ellis Ross nor know anything about her other than what I have read from second hand sources. But from what I have read and observed about Tracee, she is a wonderful soul who has been commended over and over again for the kindness and charity that she gives to the less fortunate.
So what separated Tracee Ellis from the rest? Why did she remain humble even though she grew up a child of a famous star? Why did she not succumb to the demons of self-worship and get destroyed by the entitlement that comes with being born rich? I did a little research this morning and sure enough Tracee is the person that she is because her mother Diana Ross was such a strong influence and raised her daughter with kindness and love instead of making it all about herself and her career. Diana Ross gave of herself in order to provide for her daughter. Instead of insisting on remaining on the stage and hogging the spotlight for herself, Diana turned to a road away from the fame in order to raise Tracee Ellis Ross. Click To Tweet
You don’t have to take my words for it, I will let Tracee Ellis tell it and you will realize just how much of a profound impact her mother had on the life trajectory of Tracee:
“All my life I have witnessed her as Diana Ross the icon and Diana Ross the mother, and I have experienced her seamlessly bridge this incredible dichotomy with grace and ease. She is a nurturing and fierce mom, intimate and ancient, in a setting that isn’t meant to support mothering: on stage with the whole world watching,” she explained. “There is a way in which she creates privacy and makes space for the sacred in the most public of settings. It is profound, and defines an infinite depth and wisdom that my mom holds. She has always carved out space for her children. I have always known I was the priority.”
Tracee Ellis was able to climb the height of success unencumbered by expectations and drama because her mother gave to her in ways that made Tracee feel loved. This is why the star of ABC’s “Black-ish” is a supernova in her own right yet has retained normalcy and grace that escapes many stars in Hollywood. Though she is of Hollywood herself she is not really of that culture, Tracee could be our neighbor and our co-worker because she embodies humility in spite of her fame. It is easy to think that I am against anything and all things rich and famous based on the way I write against those who attain riches at the cost of humanity, but just know that what I am against is not wealth for I admire those who received their portion through hard work and have retained love and kindness in their hearts.
The greatest blessing is when we give to others as God gives to us. It is easy to make it about ourselves and seek always to serve our own egos. But that path is beset by trouble and there is no profit to be had in self-indulgence alone for the ego is a drug with a half-life more potent the most addictive opiate. The more you serve your ego the more you need to quench it; a vicious cycle of wantonness leads to endless pursuits until those who are self-serving end up dejected and broken. There are more stars who burned out from this disease of vanity and narcissism than there are stars in the clearest midnight Memphis skies.
So I’ve learned the folly of my way, I actually put Diana Ross in the league of Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner and the pantheon of legendary singers who have blessed humanity with their voice and their music. To this day, Diana’s song “You Can’t Hurry Love” is one that I can’t get enough of and that music is the inspiration behind the YouTube video I put together below about the meaning of love and why love is the most valuable treasure of them all. Love, love love, it was love that gave birth to Diana’s supreme talent and it was love that nurtured the aspiration of Tracee. Sometimes the road turns and we end up in a town called sorrow; at times the road turns and we end up in Loveland, Colorado. #Road2Love
“Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life.” ~ Sophocles
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Inspiration behind this article #RIPMarvinGaye
Just like Tracee was raised by a mother who sacrificed her life in order to provide love, likewise so was I by my mother Sara. It goes to show, love and kindness are universal when it comes to the grace that mothers have for their children.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.