Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Adding raindrops to the sea

Even the sea accepts raindrops. (Ghana)

Dear Zayda,

You are free to express yourself freely and then some more. People in Jamaica will call you “nuff” [too much to handle] and perhaps even “boasy” [boastful]. Others may even think of you as an “uppity” with the N-word added to it.

President Barack Obama gets labeled “uppity” because, as a Black man, he dared to think big. He dared to dream of being president of the most powerful country in the world, even though he was a Black man raised by a single mother. To get to be president means usually that you have to be rich, and Obama didn’t have the wealth of George Bush, for example. Definitely not the wealth of a John F. Kennedy. So Obama became inventive about fund raising. He built a community of funders among regular people who could send him ten or twenty dollars at a time. He thought big, and then some more. He could well have thought that being a candidate for the presidency was enough. He could have thought that winning the primaries was enough. But no, he believed in himself enough to think he and his family deserved to live in the White House.

Some of us think that he may be limiting himself these days. Sometimes he may seem like a turtle that wants to play it safe and not stick out its neck too far. He may need to realize that we are always on a journey, so we can’t just sit back and decide we have arrived and all is well. Just as there is always room for raindrops in the sea, so there is always room for another leaf on the tree.

Muhammad Ali was always over the top. His sea always had room for more raindrops. He knew he was the greatest boxer in the world, even before he won any titles. By seeing himself as the best, he won his fights even before he got into the boxing ring. He would predict exactly which round he would knock out an opponent, and he was usually right. He believed in himself more than anyone could possibly believe in him. People criticized him for chatting so much, and some called him “the Louisville Lip” as he came from Louisville, Kentucky. He silenced the critics by proving the truth of what he was saying. Ali became a boxing legend for boxing with brains as well as fists. He had 56 wins and only 5 losses in his career.

Ali did not believe in war, and so he refused to be in the United States army fighting the Vietnamese in their own country. He said, "No, I am not going 10,000 miles to help murder kill and burn other people to simply help continue the domination of white slavemasters over dark people the world over. This is the day and age when such evil injustice must come to an end."

He knew he could damage his boxing career by standing up for his beliefs, but he would not allow money and fame to limit him. He had challenged the sports system with his confidence as a boxing, and he challenged political system with his confidence as a Black man.

Ali identified with militants in the Black struggle for civil rights. He joined the Nation of Islam, even though he knew his views on race and religion could lose him support from boxing fans and therefore his career.

My grandniece, you can never be too much of yourself. There is always more to do and more to discover. People at the top are bound to slide down if they just sit there. If we stop dreaming (and dreaming big!) we stop living (when we could be living big!).

So live, Zayda, live fully and then some more!!


Your shangazi Nothango (Yvonne)

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at