I’ve been posting about this centennial celebration all morning. My brain is aglow from the emissions from my computer. Murphy’s Law, Mercury retrograde. You name it, it got in the way. Between us on the team: we sent the wrong video; posted the wrong video and had to repost; couldn’t post on one place; didn’t know how to post on another; someone’s electricity went out; a date on the Centennial announcement was wrong. And then GoDaddy went wrong. But you know what? It’s all good. ‘Cause at the end of the day, it’s about how I remember my Daddy today, his 100th birthday.

I can hear him now complaining about all the fuss, but loving every minute of the family gathering that we would have at 44, the house in New Rochelle where we grew up. He would ask us about ourselves and tell us how proud he was and how important family is to whatever picture we had painted. He would eat his favorite food that would invariably include peanuts, okra, and sweet potato pie. He’d wrap his lips around his glass of chardonnay and take a long sip, then tell us jokes and stories that would make us all laugh. Stories we had heard before, but never tired of hearing again. He’d probably fall asleep in his favorite chair as we continued the conversation without hm.

I remember most my father’s hugs. His arms wrapped around me as he kissed my face and called me baby. I knew that, in that moment, nothing mattered more to my Daddy than me. I learned from him the value of grace especially in times of conflict and confrontation. I learned from him the power of the written word.

Today, I hear his words of affirmation. I feel the reassurance of his embrace. I sense his love for me. His pride. How blessed I am to have grown up with such a father. I know I am still wrapped in his hugs no matter how far his arms may be.


I’ve been dropping crumbs since 2009. I was listening to my mother tell me something that I had already heard, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her to PLEEEEASE not tell that same story again. I vowed that I would remember when I was repeating myself; that I would stop myself in mid mouth movement if I was telling the same story over and over no matter what “doggon shame.”

I’m sure that retelling stories is the human technology upon which rewind, replay, and rerun buttons are based; a remnant of traditional story telling by griots and those who recited scripture. I remember asking my father to retell a joke over and over and over. I would crack up and almost pee in my pants each time I heard the punch line. I would ask my mother to recite “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks. Each time her slick, low melodic voice let me in on the secret place between the words and the snap of her finger. And I always loved to hear my grandmother tell me stories about my grandfather who was missing one part of his finger because of something with a gun. He died when I was two, and repeated stories about him were the only way I got to know him.

Some stories are worth retelling and some are not. The key is to remember which one is which.


How and when do you learn what is important? I ask that question from the perspective of an adult who learned about what is important from my parents and subsequently taught those lessons to my children. Lessons that were co-mingled with those learned by my husband from his parents. Lessons that I revise in my head for the grandchildren I hope to have.

Like all great teachers, my mother and father talked to me and exemplified what was important.  There were no classroom chairs or chalkboards, rather the dining room table, the garden, and expeditions to cities or theatres or rallies served as my training ground.  My parents demonstrated what was important in the stories they told and by the history they highlighted.  They exemplified the importance of love.  Love of self, family, spouse, and the building of relationships. There were lessons about the habits of living.  Basic things like spirituality, education, health, cleanliness, honesty, survival, equanimity, struggle, respect, responsibility, order, and perseverance—stick-to-itiveness as my mother called it.  There were those step-here-a-minute-sit-your-ass-down-do-you-hear-me-talking-to-you lessons and there were those invisible and silent lessons that were the by-products of sharing a home and spending time with one another.  There were also lessons, prayers, and guidance written in my parents’ letters to me. In their absence, I often re-read their letters and cards and find in them the sound of their voices, the warmth of their arms, and the extent of their love for me.  Always exactly what and when I need to hear about what is important in life.  Especially today:

May your 14th birthday be full of surprises—gifts (or the promise of them)—and newer, deeper insights into the beauty of the human spirit as manifested through friends and those who love you.

May all your birthdays be a celebration of the discovery of the best possible in all people and all situations.

May you have the strength and determination to conquer—to overcome—all negative visions that dull the luster of your profoundly beautiful soul.

May you search for and find those aspects of work and pleasure that satisfy all your inner hungers.

And may this search of your own rich treasures bring forth a greater selflessness and dedication to truth.

We wish you a long, rich life, with good health and much deep joy.


—Love Daddy & Mom & Daddy & Mom


I challenged my parents when I could and strayed from their guidance from time to time, but I believe that I hold and practice what they deemed to be important as what I now deem to be important.   Some of the realizations came a while ago like when at 16 and I announced that I would not be going to college because I thought it was irrelevant.  My mother’s response lasted just a few seconds, and I have since gone on to get a doctorate.  Some of the realizations like the importance of planning and managing my time came much later.

Seemingly through osmosis, what you learn as important shows up throughout your adulthood.  It comes out of your mouth as the words of your parents as well as their temperament. It stares back at you when you look into the mirror.  And you can only hope to see it in the faces of your children who, when you have with them the conversations that your parents had with you, remind you of yourself.

Certainly, however and whenever you learn what you deem important changes with experience and time. I believe that the most important lessons and guidance from my parents were in their prayers for me; the hope that I would find and facilitate joy in my life and in this world.  Reading the lessons in their letters to me is like finding pages from the Instruction Manual for Life along my path.  Crumb navigation indeed.

Crumb #94: May every lesson, each prayer, and all guidance create a path to joy and compassion—the truly important things in life.


HAPPY 95th BIRTHDAY MS. RUBY DEE-VA! – She Lied About Her Age


My mother instilled in my brother, sister, and me the importance of hard work, equanimity, and integrity, but Mom used to lie about her age. At various points in her life, Mom was between 2 and 14 years older than what was recorded, reported, or otherwise divulged. Mom had one age on her birth certificate, another age on her driver license, yet another on her passport, and another in the media.

Growing up, we knew better than to ask her how old she was. As we got older, she preferred for us not to divulge our ages. Conversations about age turned into conversations about how older actors were passed over for roles. She was already black. She was already a woman. She wasn’t about to be old too.

When Mom needed a new driver license, and when Homeland Security got involved with visits to the White House, Mom had to align her documents. Even then, I still didn’t know her age. After Daddy passed in 2005, their attorney blurted out, “Oh Ruby, you know you’re the same age as me. Eighty-two.” When she didn’t correct him or deny it, I covered my mouth and gasped. It was the first time I knew for sure how old she was.

My mother did not claim her real age publicly until 2012 when we celebrated her 90th birthday with a screening of, Life’s Essentials With Ruby Dee. It was then that she embraced her age and talked about galvanizing the elders to get their walkers and wheelchairs and roll against the injustices that never eluded her outrage.

Every once in a while Mom would say profound things. Once she turned 90, her pithy remarks were mostly about living and aging well. Noodling Ninety, she called it. Crumb Navigation features some of Mom’s quotes seasoned with  her wisdom, courage, grace, and her inimitable sense of humor about aging and life in her nineties.

There was no one like my mother. She was a generous, selfless, hopeful, rough, and rusty street fighter who loved her family. Along with my brother, sister, and our families, I will always be humbled by her compassion for us as well as for the People. She was a true believer in the human spirit, and marveled at what she called the “God stuff” in every living thing. She was proof that life is an incredible set of circumstances.


Photo by Anthony Barboza



Just unwinding from a weekend family trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC. In a section featuring James Baldwin, I found myself in this photo. I have a different photo from this event. In that photo, I am sitting on Daddy’s lap and James Baldwin is at the podium. It is 1963, and we are at a rally in NYC to protest the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. For me, that photo represents the precious times I spent with my father. But this photo. This photo taken by a different photographer broadens the perspective to include Mommy, my sister Nora, Odetta, and so many others singing and holding hands and standing up -even on very young legs. This photo isn’t about me being with my Daddy. This photo is about all of us standing up and doing what needed to be done about the terrorist attack that killed 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson and 11-year-old Denise McNair. And in the aftermath, the attacks that killed 16-year-old Johnny Robinson who was shot by a police officer and on 13-year-old Virgil Ware who was shot by a white teenager.

We were standing then as we must stand now. 

It was a humbling exciting moment standing there in front of this photo. One moment of many humbling moments during our time at the museum.


When giants fall

the earth stills


waves toward the horizons

pushing trees

Flowers bow

and large bodies of water hum

It is just a matter of time

For all things

Even the greatest among us

is merely passing through


fills the lungs of some

Keeps them afloat above our heads

As they lift our legs

and arms and spirits

Help us to survive the lower life


closer to the ground

When giants fall among us

Their breezes carry us

Their prayers

set us down gently

in open spaces

full of grace

where we inherit their strength

and creativity

Absorb their intentions

Put on their hands

When greatness breathes

the final breath

Flattens and falls mortal

around our feet

Our tears fall

from uplifted faces

elevated hearts

and clearer minds

We release

in whispers, murmurs, cries

that shake our shoulders

and remember that

we are giants too






is the honor and farewell

That we learn and grow and challenge and conquer

because we walked beneath those giants

whose words and work and dance and song

and music and care and love

and sacrifice

carried us apace in giant footsteps

Hoping that we were clinging to their

ankles, hips, shirttails, shoulders


that when they walked

we could fly