The People In The Park Featured on Splinterfire

I am thrilled that my YA novel, The People In The Park, is a featured book for August on the Splinterfire website.

To read click: Featured Books

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In the News section, Splinterfire also posted an update of what I’m doing, along with updates on several authors.

Be sure to browse around the Splinterfire website and check out the wonderful books by Donna Eastman & Gloria Koehler. Their motto is: Wholesome Books For All Ages

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Uncle Jed's Barbershop, A New Musical title

The Music Of Uncle Jed’s Barbershop

The music of Uncle Jed’s Barbershop exemplifies the rich cultural heritage of African American music. In honor of African American Music Appreciation Month, I’m taking a moment to highlight the music in Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, a new family musical created by David Wohl, Kenneth Grimes, and Susan Einhorn and adapted from my book of the same name.  Inspired by the music of the 1920’s through the early 1960’s, the musical is uplifting, sizzling, and glorious!

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The songs hook you with their rich creativity. An evening at the Uncle Jed’s Barbershop musical is completely satisfying, with theater music influenced by blues, gospel, jazz, spirituals, bebop, and a variety of pop and classical influences.

A joyous celebration of music, the actors deliver emotional punch in every song. But don’t take my word for it. Below are quotes from theatre critics, theater goers, and the creators of the show.

“When the creators of Uncle Jed’s Barbershop decided it was time to finally, fully stage their unapologetically sentimental new family musical, they weren’t messing around. Their cast features Broadway veterans Ken Prymus, Nora Cole, and Terry Burrell, along with a host of local stalwarts including Mary Louise Lee, Harvy Blanks, Leonard Barrett Jr. and Anna High. And they weren’t messing around when they unearthed a then 12-year-old named Yasmine Hunter to share with Lee the leading role of Sarah Jean. Lee brought the backbone and Hunter brought down the house on a solo called ‘I Will Go Where You Go’.”  – John Moore, Theatre Critic

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“Get ready for some toe-tapping fun! The brainchild of composer David Wohl and co-creators Kenneth Grimes and Sarah Einhorn, this heartwarming performance tells a story of faith, determination and family to the backdrop of a soulful score that traverses decades of musical styles. Theater-goers will find themselves immersed in the story of Sarah Jean Carter and her Uncle Jed, who dreams of one day opening his own barbershop.”  –  Denver Life Magazine

“Uncle Jed’s Barbershop leaps from the bookshelf to the stage! Colorado composer David Wohl drew inspiration from the music of the 1920’s and 30’s for the score.” – Colorado Public Radio

“Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, an award-winning play, is an inspiring story which all families can learn from. This is the type of show where you don’t get bored. It will get you up and get you moving.”  – Good Day Colorado, Fox 31 Denver

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“Oh, my God! I have never been to a play where I was so caught up in the music! It touched my soul! I had to go back the next day. The music gripped me even more. I was completely swept back in time. I was mesmerized.” Ira Johnson, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

“Uncle Jed’s Barbershop is a stage play the whole family can enjoy. Loaded with life lessons about perseverance, financial, and personal struggles, the music ties everything together. It is fantastic.” – L. R. Henderson, Houston, TX

“This is a show whose family, community, and generational story lines and dynamics tell a powerful and moving universal story for all people of all times. The music is theater music that is both eclectic and ‘rooted’. Influences include blues, spirituals, romantic music, gospel, Motown, country, and so forth. The main purpose of every musical number is to advance plot and to continually fill out the lives of the characters.” – David Wohl, Finale Blog

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“To do this show has really been a faith walk. We don’t have systems of support in place to really help independent artists to pull off productions on this scale. We are hopeful that this will launch us to take it nationally.” – Kenneth Grimes, Denver Urban Spectrum

To learn more about the new musical, Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, and its music, visit:  Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, A New Musical

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I Am Featured On Inspire Me Today

I’m so excited to share some great news with you! Today I am the featured Inspirational Luminary on InspireMeToday.com, sharing my wisdom with the world.

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Excerpts from Decide To Shine Wherever You Are:

Don’t be afraid of becoming who you are.

The minute you decide that you are going to become who you are meant to be in this world, is the moment you begin to soar.

Criticism stops us at times. But look at your critic as a person, not as a god. When we place critics in the proper perspective we can get on with our life’s mission.

Click to continue reading: Decide To Shine Wherever You Are

 

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June Is African American Music Appreciation Month

President Obama has issued a proclamation naming June as African American Music Appreciation Month.  Now is a great time to teach children about the contributions to music made by people of color.

When Grandmama Sings tells one such story. Set in the 1940’s, Belle is going to spend the summer touring the South with her grandmother and a swing jazz band.  Belle has never been outside Pecan Flats, Mississippi. And she can’t wait to go on the road with Grandmama. There are so many new things to see on their travels through the Deep South. But some things aren’t new. Everything is segregated, just like at home. But Grandmama stands up for what’s right.

At the end of the tour, Grandmama says, “Belle, tonight was special. I could feel all of those folks with me. I want us to feel this way all the time. I want to sing in a place where black people and white people aren’t kept apart. That’s the kind of world I want for you.”

President Obama’s official proclamation is below:

A vital part of our Nation’s proud heritage, African-American music exemplifies the creative spirit at the heart of American identity and is among the most innovative and powerful art the world has ever known. It accompanies us in our daily lives, and it has rung out at turning points in our history and demonstrated how our achievements as a culture go hand-in-hand with our progress as a Nation.

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During African-American Music Appreciation Month, we honor the artists who, through this music, bring us together, show us a true reflection of ourselves, and inspire us to reach for the harmony that lies beyond our toughest struggles.

Songs by African-American musicians span the breadth of the human experience and resonate in every corner of our nation — animating our bodies, stimulating our imaginations, and nourishing our souls. In the ways they transform real stories about real people into art, these artists speak to universal human emotion and the restlessness that stirs within us all. African-American music helps us imagine a better world, and it offers hope that we will get there together.

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This month, we celebrate the music that reminds us that our growth as a Nation and as people is reflected in our capacity to create great works of art. Let us recognize the performers behind this incredible music, which has compelled us to stand up — to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice, and to defend our country’s enduring promise of freedom and opportunity for all.

Now, therefore, I, Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2016 as African-American Music Appreciation Month.

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I call upon public officials, educators, and all the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate activities and programs that raise awareness and foster appreciation of music that is composed, arranged, or performed by African-Americans.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand sixteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and fortieth.

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Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, A New Musical

142nd Running of the Kentucky Derby – A Time To Remember

Did you know that an African-American jockey won the first Kentucky Derby?   Oliver Lewis was the jockey and he won on “Aristides.”  In fact, African-American jockeys dominated the sport of thoroughbred horse racing for over 25 years.

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As we prepare for the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby, lets take a moment to remember the unsung heroes of thoroughbred horse racing and the contributions they made to the sport.

Listed below are the black jockeys who won the Kentucky Derby, the horses they rode, and the year they won.

1875     Oliver Lewis on “Aristides”

1877     William Walker on “Baden Baden”

1880     George Lewis on “Fonso”

1882     Babe Hurd on “Apollo”

1884     Isaac Murphy on “Buchanan”

1885     Enoch Henderson on “Joe Cotton”

1887     Isaac Lewis on “Montrose”

1890     Isaac Murphy on “Riley”

1891     Isaac Murphy on “Kingman”

1892     Alfie Clayton on “Azra”

1895     J. (Soup) Perkins on “Haima”

1896     Willie Sims on “Ben Brush”

1898     Willie Sims on “Plaudit”

1901     Jimmy Winkfield on “His Eminence”

1902     Jimmy Winkfield on “Alan-a-Dale”

Although these jockeys made nothing like the $2 million guaranteed purse offered in the 142nd Kentucky Derby, some of them made a very good living plying their trade.  When Isaac Murphy died in 1896, his estate was valued at $50,000.

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African-American jockeys travelled the elite racing circuit in the 1800’s.  However, because of injuries, illness, and lack of proper care, only a few became stars.

By the turn of the century, the sport began to change.  Growing racial tension between black and white jockeys began to erupt on and off the track.  The time soon arrived when black jockeys were no longer welcome on the track.  The days of the great black jockeys were over, never to return.

Today we salute the African-American winners of the Kentucky Derby and their place in history.

 

The People In The Park – Chapter One

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Chapter 1

I had my front-page story, finally!

After two years and one semester of working on the school newspaper, and after talking to a vast majority of junior and senior girls and some boys, I had a front-page story.  “Students Travel The World For Prom Attire” by Lauren Moffit.  My school mates proudly told me where they were shopping for their prom dresses, from the salons of Paris to designer showrooms in New York, from private dressmakers in Kansas City to vintage clothing stores online, everybody was excited to share their dress plans for that special evening.  Me?  I was going to Chicago to shop with my cousin Tiffany, along with Mom and Aunt Ira, of course.

The newspaper rested in the passenger seat of my car as I entered my neighborhood.  Mom and Dad would be so proud.  Ever since I joined the newspaper staff my freshman year, Mom had said it would only be a matter of time before I was writing front-page stories.  A sidebar in my story featured the boys, some of whom had plans for their first custom tailored tuxedos.  They were going to their fathers’ tailors for measurements now, in order for the tuxedos to be ready by prom.  When your family had gazillion dollars, getting a tuxedo from a rental shop wasn’t an option.  At least three-quarters of the boys planned to purchase their own tuxedos, even if only from a department store.

With newspaper in hand, from the garage I pushed open the mudroom door.  Mrs. Robinson, our cook, had the week off, cruising the Caribbean with her sister.  Usually when I reached this area, smells of dinner wafted from the kitchen.  Today I didn’t smell anything, which was unusual because on Mrs. Robinson’s days off, Mom took over and cooked favorite meals from her childhood.  Being in the kitchen was natural for her, having been taught by my grandmother to cook up a batch of collard greens, pork chops and gravy, fried corn, salmon croquettes with rice, fried chicken, barbecued deer ribs, macaroni and cheese, black-eyed peas, fried okra, you name it, Mom could cook it.  Sharing meals from her childhood was her way of keeping me in touch with my African American heritage since otherwise I didn’t come in contact with many black people in Fairfield.

None of the familiar smells greeted me today.  Maybe we were going out to dinner.

I knew something was wrong when I walked into the kitchen and saw big ugly tears flowing from Mom’s eyes as she sobbed uncontrollably.  She quickly wiped her eyes. Without saying a word, she beckoned for me to sit down at the table with her.  With my eyes I questioned her.   But she didn’t say anything.  Instead she grabbed the TV remote and pointed it at the television set that was mounted on a wall in the kitchen.

I sat there mesmerized as the CNN anchor said, “Peter Williams, Founder of Williams Ortiz L.L.P., was arrested this morning.  He is accused of bilking clients out of millions of dollars.  An early estimate puts the figure at $300 million.  Arrested along with him were other top officials of the law firm, including Samuel Ortiz, Chief Financial Officer, and Roger Moffit, Managing Director.  It is not clear the role they played in the fraud, what is known…” the anchor continued.

But my mind stopped when the reporter said Roger Moffit.  My Dad.  Roger Moffit.  It couldn’t be.  There had to be some mistake.

Roger Moffit, who always taught me right from wrong.  Roger Moffit, who always told me that stealing is wrong.  Not that Roger Moffit.  It must be somebody else.

I sat there in a stupor.  Mom reached out her hand and touched mine.

“Your father will be home soon,” she whispered.  “He called right before he went to the police station.  His lawyer will take care of bail.”

Bail.  Roger Moffit.  Those words did not belong in the same sentence.

As I processed the BREAKING NEWS on CNN, I switched to HLN and saw the same thing.  MSNBC, CNBC, FOX, FOX BUSINESS, BLOOMBERG all carried the same news.

Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!  I would never be able to show my face in public again.  I never thought my Dad would bring shame to our name.  He always warned me against scandalizing our name.  When I went out with my friends he always told me, “Remember, you are a Moffit.  Act like it.”

Then the telephone started ringing.  Grand Mere’ called first.  Mom talked to her and said all the right words.  Dad was innocent.  He would never do what they were accusing him of on TV.

Grand Mere’ and Granddad, Mom’s parents, lived in Memphis.  If they had heard, the whole world had heard.  My life was ruined.  How could I go back to school tomorrow?  Ever?

Then reporters started calling.  Mom didn’t answer the phone, letting all calls go to voice mail.  She didn’t even want to talk to her friends.  I could see the fear in her eyes.  I couldn’t comfort her.  She was supposed to be comforting me.  Instead we just sat there staring at the TV, not saying a word.  Mom had muted the voices when Grand Mere’ called.  The voices of the people on the screen were still muted, their faces contorted as they worked their mouths and smirked as they rehashed the story over and over.  My newspaper story didn’t seem important anymore.  I didn’t even mention it to Mom, even though it lay on the table.

We heard Dad’s car when he entered the garage.  We waited for him to come through the door and make everything all right.

Dad enveloped Mom in his arms when he came into the kitchen.  He took one look at the flickering images on the TV and turned it off.  He led Mom back to the kitchen table where I sat.  He pulled out a chair between us.

“I did not do what they are saying,” he said.

What a relief!  It felt like a big weight had been lifted from one side of my body.  But the other side still had a heavier weight – Shame.

How could I hold my head up at school tomorrow knowing my Dad’s picture was broadcast all over the world as being a crook?  There’s no way I could go back to school.  But my friends were there.  What would they think?  I was planning to run for treasurer of my senior class.  The election for next year’s officers was in a few weeks.

“This is so messed up,” I cried.

“Kitten,” said Dad, “I will make this right.”

Kitten.  My Dad’s pet name for me.  Whenever he used to call me Kitten I always felt better.  Not this time.

“Why are they saying those things about you?”  I asked.

Dad looked me in the eyes.  “I have always been straight with you.  Somebody in the firm has probably not been above-board with the finances of their clients.  Because I’m a senior officer of the firm, my name gets dragged through the mud too.”

“Can’t you clear your name?”  Mom asked.

“I’m going to do everything I can,” he said.  “But…”

He stopped.

But.

But what?

Somehow I knew I wasn’t going to like what came after but.

He looked at Mom and he looked at me.  I could see the pain in his eyes.

“All of our assets are frozen.  At least most of them, everything that’s in my name and everything we hold jointly,” he said to Mom.  “Kitten, everything in your name is free and clear.”

“What does that mean?”  I asked.

“It means we’re going to have to downsize for the moment,” he said.  “I’ll need whatever money I can scrape together to hire lawyers.  Kitten, you still have your personal savings account.  Use it wisely, because I don’t know how long it’s going to be before I can clear my name.  Try not to use over one hundred dollars a week.”

One hundred dollars a week?  That was nothing.  I couldn’t get by on one hundred dollars a week.

“And don’t use your credit cards.  Give them to me.”  He held out his hand.  “I’ll return them when it’s okay to use them again.”

Stunned, I opened my wallet and handed him my credit cards.  “My gas card too?”

He nodded.  “You’re going to have to pay for gas out of the hundred dollars.”

“After paying for gas and lunch I’ll barely have any money left.”

“This is only temporary.  We all have to make sacrifices.”

“What about our house?”  Mom asked.

“We might have to move,” he said.

“Move where?” I asked.

“I haven’t put any plans into place yet, Kitten,” he said.   “It also means we’ll have to let Mrs. Robinson go, the gardener too, and the housekeeper.  We’re going into survival mode.”

He turned to me, “Can you excuse us?  I need to talk to your mother.”

As I left the room I heard Mom say, “What have you gotten us into?”

I heard something in her voice I hadn’t ever heard.  It scared me.  I wanted to hear Dad’s answer, yet I didn’t stick around.

I went to my room and closed the door.  My iPhone was filled with text messages from my friends.  I couldn’t bring myself to look at them.  I flopped down on my bed and just lay there.  Numb.

This evening wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.  We should be celebrating my front-page story.  The newspaper with my story came out this morning and the story about Dad’s firm came out this afternoon.  How ironic was that?  My day of glory had turned into a nightmare.

Suddenly my pity party was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell.  Since Mom wouldn’t answer the phone those reporters must be trying to get a face to face comment from us.  What nerve!

A knock on my door.  “Kitten, may I come in?”  Dad said, as he came through the door.  “Rev. Jones is here to pray with us.  Please come downstairs.”

I frowned.  “Do I have to?”

Dad held out his hand.  “Yes, we are still a family.  And we will pray as a family.”

Rev. Jones is the pastor of a small church across the river in Kansas City, Kansas that Dad attended sometimes.  Easter was the only time Mom and I went there and that’s only because Dad rewarded us with brunch on the Plaza afterwards.  Mom called Rev. Jones a “jackleg preacher” because he has no seminary degree, but he still goes by ‘Rev. Dr. Jones’ because of his honorary degrees.  I was too busy laughing at how he talked and acted to pay attention to his sermons.

I rolled my eyes as I walked down the steps.  I certainly didn’t feel like praying and from the look on Mom’s face, she felt the same.  Our world had been turned upside down and we didn’t feel like hearing some long, drawn out prayer from some tired preacher.

“I called Rev. Jones on my way home.  I know we don’t go to church as we should, but he was still willing to come and pray with us,” Dad said.

“Before we pray,” said Rev. Jones, “I’d like to tell each of you to not feel that you are alone in this situation.  God is with you and He’ll get you through it.”

Rev. Jones opened his Bible, “I’d like to share a scripture with you that can be a source of comfort in the days ahead.  Psalm 46:1-7 says:

 

“‘God is our refuge and strength, a very

            present help in trouble.  Therefore, we will

          not fear, though the earth be removed, and

          though the mountains be carried into the

          midst of the sea; though the waters thereof

          roar and be troubled, though the mountains

          shake with the swelling thereof.  There is a

          river, the streams whereof shall make glad

          the city of God, the holy place of the

          tabernacles of the most High.  God is in

          the midst of her; God shall help her, and

          that right early.  The heathen raged the

          Kingdoms were removed:  he uttered his voice,

          the earth melted.  The Lord of hosts is with

          us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.’”

 

We then all held hands and Rev. Jones prayed, “Our great and mighty God, ruler of heaven and earth. Lord, I lift up this family to you tonight.  Heavenly Father, a day that started on a mountain top full of sunshine and brightness for them has ended in a valley full of darkness and despair.  Lord, help them understand that you have not forsaken them.  Strengthen them Father, as you lead them through this storm.  I pray that Bro. Moffit’s innocence will be proven.  Give his wife and daughter the faith to see that this will pass and the sun will shine again in their lives.  In Jesus name we pray, Amen.”

“Don’t despair,” said Rev. Jones as Dad walked him to the door.  “Know that God will show up for you.  He’ll come through.  Just trust Him.”

I turned towards Mom.  I felt no different than before our visit from the Right Rev. Dr. Jones.  She didn’t appear to feel any different either.

___

Mom and I ate dinner together, mainly in silence.  Dad was in his study, on the phone with lawyers.

“He’ll straighten this out,” Mom said.  “But it will take time.”

She had ordered pizza because she wasn’t in the mood to cook.  Then she had felt sorry about doing that, saying she had to stop being frivolous with money.

We had never had to be concerned about money ever in our lives.  This had to be a horrible nightmare.

I felt bad that Mom felt guilty about spending twenty dollars for a pizza.  We couldn’t even enjoy it because now spending money was somehow forbidden in some unwritten rule that had invaded our lives today.

___

I cried myself to sleep.  No homework.  No nothing.  Sleep blotted out everything about today.  If I could only sleep forever, maybe the pain would go away, and along with it the shame I felt.

Even though I had done nothing but live and exist in this family, my entire world was shattered.

To see what happens to Lauren and her family, read The People In The Park

 

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Visit Margaree King Mitchell’s website

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3 Points To Cover When Talking To Children About The Importance Of Voting

As we enter the months leading up to the Presidential election in November, with caucuses, primaries, and debates in between, it is important to sit down with the children in our lives and let them know why it is important to cast votes for the candidates of our choice.

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The hope of every parent is that their children will have a better life than they had. Exposing them to the realities of history might instill in them a desire to change conditions through the political process. We must let them know that there was a time in this country when black people did not have the same rights as white people. Only by being frank with our children can the world change.

Life is meant to move forward. If children have no sense of history, mistakes of the past will be repeated.

This brings me to the three points:

  1. Talk about history – Until the late 1960’s the constitutions of seven Southern states had ‘educational’ requirements which were specifically designed to prevent black citizens from exercising the right to vote. Registrars had complete freedom to reject any answer as incorrect. Several Southern states also enacted poll taxes, which had to be paid before voting. These taxes kept many black people and poor white people from voting.

2.  Discuss tactics currently used to keep African-Americans and Hispanics from voting.

Some of these tactics are:

  •  Changing Polling Locations
  •  Eliminating Early Voting Days
  •  Reducing the Number of Polling Places
  •  Voter ID Laws
  •  Attacks on Groups that Register Voters

3.  Read and discuss a book for children that deal with voting, such as Granddaddy’s Gift. This is a story that teaches children that just one person with a little courage can change their world.

Granddaddy’s Gift takes place in the South during the 1960’s. It is the story of a man who is respected in his town and has a very good life. He owns his own farm, grows food for the family, and takes good care of his family. He raises livestock and harvests crops. But even though Granddaddy has a good life he realizes that there is something else to strive for, like having the rights that all citizens are entitled to, such as the right to vote.

One evening Granddaddy attends a meeting where people are asked to volunteer to register to vote. No one volunteers at first. Then Granddaddy raises his hand. He volunteers to be the first black person in town to try to register to vote, even though great harm can come to him.

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Although Granddaddy is not permitted to register to vote when he goes to the courthouse, bad things begin to happen. His name is printed in the newspaper as a warning to other black people who might try to register to vote. The local co-op will not sell him feed for his livestock anymore. In addition, his family is ostracized by other black people.

But Granddaddy does not give up. He studies for the test on the U.S. Constitution for several weeks. When he goes to the courthouse again, he passes the test and becomes a registered voter.

A big celebration is scheduled that night at a church to celebrate his accomplishment. As Granddaddy and his family arrive at the celebration they see big flames shooting into the night sky. Someone has set the church on fire. But instead of driving people apart, the fire brings the community together. And more people volunteer to register to vote.

The story ends with:

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“On my eighteenth birthday, when I went to register to vote, Granddaddy came with me. I didn’t have to take a test on the constitution. I just had to fill out a card with my name, address, and date of birth. Now I could vote and make my own voice heard.

Granddaddy had taught me to stand up for things, even if I was scared, and always to be proud. His gift never left me.

At the top of the courthouse steps, Granddaddy took my hand. We had come a long way. We still had a long way to go.”

Granddaddy’s Gift is loosely based on my grandfather and the importance he placed on voting. When I reached voting age, my grandfather took me to the courthouse to register to vote.

Open a dialogue with your children and share your experiences with voting. Discuss the voting process with them. Answer their questions. It will be a learning experience for them and a reminder to you about the importance of voting.

For further information: Granddaddy’s Gift

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