Black History Month: A Thank You

Our friend, Hallmark Writer Keion J., wrote about Black History Month for our internal Hallmark creative blog, Vibrant Voices. His words made us laugh and cry and think and hope, so we asked him about sharing it with you. Here it is. 

Hallmark writer Keion Jackson shares a tribute to his grandma for Black History MonthI was around eight years old and my face was mostly cheeks. I wore a crisp white shirt—starched and ironed with sharp creases—paired with black slacks and scuffed-up “church shoes.” I was wearing a too-small kufi: an “African hat” doing its best to fit my head. It was kente cloth, of course. Because how else would it match the sash thrown across my shoulders? Little boys are not good at wearing sashes: Sashes are flappy and flow-y and fly off when you run. But I was determined to suffer through the hat, and determined to hold on to the sash…because I was “on program.”

In this little Louisiana church, it was not uncommon to see bodies shake with Da Spirit. Hands were always reaching to Heaven. Every shout was loud; every prayer was urgent. It was hot like outside. Sometimes the songs sounded like a surprise party, but sometimes they sounded like The Blues. On special occasions, God stopped by, and sometimes He touched people. As my feet dangled from the pew, I would watch grown-ups give themselves over to something bigger until they got to feel God.

There was always a lot going on.

This particular week, we were celebrating Black History Month, so things were a little different. The every-Sunday extra was now elevated to extra and African. This Sunday, the church was packed, pew-to-pew, with beautiful Black women draped in African attire—lavish Crayola-colored fabrics and enormous head-wraps twisted into crowns. There was no such thing as too bright or too bold. It was time to peacock. The men wore regal dashikis, or fancy suits with bold explosions of African flare. Now, finally, the kings and queens had a day.

And the last thing I wanted to do was mess it up. Leading up to Sunday, I had been practicing my speech over and over again. Being on program was a big deal because I would have to walk up to the front of the church and talk on the microphone. I was a quiet kid. Well-behaved. If an adult told me to be quiet, I would sit still like a My Buddy doll. But being on program would drag me out of my shyness and drop me smack-dab in the middle of Black History Live: A Southern Baptist Spectacular! As the program rollicked forward, I continued to get ready—quietly reading over my speech, nervously mouthing it to myself.

See, I had been volunteered to be on program. If given more of an option, I probably would have declined. But at the time I didn’t know the difference between saying no to people and saying no to Jesus.

What I did know about, though, was Black History Month. I’d learned about it from coloring books, TV specials, school lessons, and my grandmother. My grandmother often told me stories of “how they used to do Black people,” while she peeled sweet potatoes or boiled turkey necks. It wasn’t always clear if she was talking about the past or the present because she was usually talking about both.

Her stories made me feel sad and scared, but I liked hearing about what she survived. She had picked cotton. As a girl, she had lost a classmate—a little Black boy who was killed by white people for allegedly whistling at a white girl. (My grandmother still cries for him). As frying pork-chops crackled on the stove, she would tell me not to “have hate in my heart.” She told me I should treat people right no matter the color of their skin, and that I should love, even when it was hard.

My grandmother was at church that Sunday. So was the rest of my family. I wanted to make them all proud, but perhaps, especially her.

It was almost time for me to head to the front of the church and read my speech about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I had written the speech myself, but you’d better believe it was Mama-approved. My mother had reviewed it to make sure I didn’t “go up there lookin’ crazy, and make her shame.”  There was a script and it was understood that I would be sticking to it. No free-styling.

The Mistress of Ceremony read through the program, telling the congregation what and who to expect. And then I heard my name.

It was my turn. My heart was beating like running feet. My ribs felt empty. I sucked in a deep breath. I was walking to the podium before I realized I was walking to the podium. The microphone was too high; I lowered it to me. The kings and queens were staring. It was the most quiet this church had ever been. Somebody from the usher board offered a pity “Amen,” to warm me up.


And so I read. In a mostly stumble-free performance I read about the amazing-ness of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and what his sacrifices meant for us all, even kids my age. I quoted from his “I Have A Dream” speech. In Southern Baptist fashion, there were outbursts of “Yes-suh!” and “Talk About It!” and “Hallelujah!”  This was going well. I talked about the mountaintop and how Dr. King’s dream was living on. Finally, I had gotten to the end of my pre-written, pre-approved speech…but I still had more to say. I don’t know what it was exactly, but something moved me to keep talking.

So, words kept happening. I went on about the role faith played in moving our people closer towards freedom. I reminded the congregation that even though things were not perfect, God was not finished yet.

There was an eruption of joy; excitement moved through the church. My mother’s face was a mixture of “I’m impressed” and “Oh no this boy didn’t.” She leaned back and smiled at me like, “Check you out!”

After church, my grandmother gobbled me up in a hug. She bragged to choir members, deacons, anybody who would listen: “Did you see my big boy up there?!”  I was happy that she was happy. In my mind, acknowledging Black History Month was a way to thank a woman whose blessings had trickled down to me. My life was one of her answered prayers.

That’s still how I look at Black History Month:  It’s a Thank You. I celebrate for my parents and my grandparents and all of the Black people who have fought and sacrificed. I celebrate them for creating a blueprint for survival—a blueprint I still follow when I encounter racism in my everyday life.

That Sunday changed me. It’s the earliest memory I have of knowing my voice mattered. Looking back, I guess that Black History Month program did exactly what it was supposed to do: It taught me how to be a little more free.

Get to know Keion a little better in our Artist Spotlight and read more heartfelt writing about his Mama here.


Leave a Comment

  1. 2.19.18 | Reply
    Verna Dogan wrote:

    Nephew, I am so proud of you and what GOD is continually doing in your life! Continue reaching for the stars as GOD carries you! I love you too the moon and back! Keep up the great work!

  2. 2.20.18 | Reply
    Jeneé wrote:

    If this ain’t a word! Thank you, Keion. You are always on time with the right harmony of faith and laughter. Keep glowing.

  3. 2.20.18 | Reply
    Tina Brown wrote:

    Keion I am so proud of you. I’ve always known you would reach great levels of success; your mom and dad raised you well and you are making them and your entire family extremely proud. God will take you even further in your career and I’m looking forward to what’s next to come. I’ve always said I know someone famous, Keion Jackson !

  4. 2.20.18 | Reply
    EARLINE wrote:


  5. 2.21.18 | Reply
    Cherylette wrote:

    Thank you for your bold spirit! I also thank you for sharing your love, life and God with the world! Amen

  6. 2.21.18 | Reply

    I cried real tears reading this account. I, too, used to “be on program.” Believe it or not, I was also shy. It was at church where I learned that the amen corner gives me life. Since then the microphone has been my friend. It’s a darn shame I can’t sing though. 😉
    Thanks for sharing, Keion. I love you.

  7. 2.21.18 | Reply
    Lauren Benson wrote:

    This is beautiful, Keion. I’m grateful to know more about the strong voices surrounding your own…and glad you’re still speaking so powerfully into that microphone.

  8. 2.22.18 | Reply
    Jose Huguez wrote:

    Beautiful, moving, inspired, honest, fun… You are more than a wonderful writer; you’re a teacher.

  9. 2.23.18 | Reply
    Demetric Slaughter wrote:

    I truly enjoyed this to the fullest. You painted a picture that allowed me to vividly see and feel what took place during that Sunday morning church service. Keep up the good work and may the grace of GOD continue to be upon you. We are so proud of you and all of your accomplishments.
    Rev. Demetric Slaughter

  10. 2.23.18 | Reply
    Peta wrote:

    What a wonderful story, thanks for sharing!

  11. 2.27.18 | Reply
    Sharon wrote:

    Awesomeness! Just awesomeness! That was so great! Thanks for sharing such a moving, true story about Black History Month! (Standing and clapping!)

  12. 2.27.18 | Reply
    Cyd wrote:

    This warmed my heart in such a special way. I’m grateful that you were able to share this authentic memorable account of a moment in your childhood. I can relate wholly. Keep on writing as the spirit moves you.

  13. 2.27.18 | Reply
    Bobbie Merritt wrote:

    Amazing Keion!
    You continue to bring a smile to my heart, just to be able to say I know you! What a glorious story that lifts the spirit in each one of us, and reminds us that as far as we have come, we still have a long way to go! But you’ve said it so eloquently that it landed exactly where it needed to! Bless you, abundantly, my brilliant brother! Continue to do great things!

  14. 2.28.18 | Reply

    ….this is be-you-ti-FULL, because THIS IS US….
    ….every summer and a lot of holidays, sometimes Christmas, sometimes Easter my family would trek from Kansas City to my mother’s hometown in Southern Arkansas, a few miles north of the Louisiana border and she’d put me on program. My other grandmother in Montgomery, Alabama would do the same, both FULL of love, joy and pride for me. I was they answered prayer, too. They had poured into me all the stories, all the memories that would sustain me during tough times, the tough times they knew that all African-Americans will sometimes find themselves going through.

    Black History Month is a thank you, indeed. A ongoing pouring in to us, a thank you and a continued prayer.

    Thank you, Keion J. for reminding us all…💜

  15. 3.12.18 | Reply

    Wow! Very inspiring. I found you through Laura Packer and Kevin Brooks memorial page on Facebook. You are a great writer and I’d love even more to hear you tell that story any chance you would be willing to record and post it?

    Thanks! Shari Lynn