[audio:http://www.pattymackz.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/07-Momma-Hold-My-Hand-11.mp3|titles=Momma Hold My Hand]I teach at an international school with students of over a hundred different nationalities where the notion of racism is non existent, so during Black History Month every February I try to help my students understand how prejudice can pass through generations even in a nation founded on democracy. Though I grew up in small town, USA, at the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, I don’t have a racist bone in my body. I credit that to the two families who taught me that everyone should be treated equal; the white one I was born to, and the black one I adopted through basketball.

Barb Smith was as much a part of the history of my community, as the brick in the foundation of Sterling High School where I lived out my hoop dreams. As an adult, I saw only her once a year at the Smith-Hereford Family July 4th Reunion where I was welcomed home like a long lost child. It was no surprise that she was the catalyst for the event that united family, friends and neighbors, from Alabama to Wallace Street to 11th. She brought people together long before that tradition began.

She never aged. When she wrapped you in a hug, though small built, you felt like you could break in half from the strength of that love. Hardworking. Resilient. Courageous. She was like the Rosa Parks of the Sauk Valley, taking a stand for human justice long before the lawmakers got around to it. At a time when Jim Crow Laws were still deeply ingrained in the social fabric, she chose to remain colorblind, ignoring the dictates of society.

Didn’t matter what side of the tracks you were born on. All people were her people. And nobody went hungry. There was always a spare rib, a plate of greens or a piece a pie left to feed another hungry child.

She had 6 children, 23 grandchildren, 37 great grand children and 8 great great grand children, but it didn’t matter if you were kin folk or not; she knew long before the rest of the country all blood is red and “we all God’s children.”

She was meek but mighty, a tiny woman with an enormous heart. And a smile so big that it could light up the universe.

Any friend of the family was a friend for life. She made everybody feel special. Whenever she knew I would be back in town, she baked me lemon pie. We had a standing joke ever since I first tasted her famous lemon meringue pie as a teen, and announced, “I never tasted no white folk pie that good.”

She laughed and her laugh was infectious. Laughter rings throughout my memory of her.

She had a faith strong enough to move mountains and a love so enduring to withstand generations of hardship and loss. Yet she lived each day as though it were a blessing and loved each soul as though he or she were heaven sent. All who knew her felt gifted.

Although I can still hear her hollering her daughter’s and my sister’s name, the year they won the state basketball championship, she was a cheerleader for all of us. I can still see her smile, feel her hug; I can still taste her love filled lemon meringue, sweet and tart, smooth and creamy.

Though she no longer walks this earth, baking pie and bringing good cheer, she winks down on us in every ray of sunshine and each twinkling star. We know without a doubt, we are better people for having known her. Every time I help a neighbor, encourage a friend, care for a loved one, every time I do the right thing, I remember Mom Smith and stand a bit taller.

in remembrance of Barbara Smith, click on this link to listen to Momma Hold My Hand