Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Setting sail on our own star

Don't set sail on someone else's star. (Swahili)

Dear Zayda,

Our star will guide us, if we let it. However, we sometimes allow other people’s stars to outshine ours. For example, we might follow the stars of those we want to please. We may ignore our own stars in an effort to win the approval of parents and teachers. Later we may follow the star of a spouse, employer, or even politician.

Moms and dads will have ideas on what they want their children to be. The usual choices are professions linked to status and money: law, medicine, accounting, or engineering. A spouse may need us to support his career; and children may claim our attention. Parents may need us close by so they feel more secure as they grow older. Following someone else’s star may seem safe or dutiful, but we can never set sail on that person’s star.

Althea was a teacher whose parents were also teachers. She seemed settled, with a husband, a child, and a job in one of the best high schools. But she yearned to be a model. She was very dark-skinned at a time when the more light-skinned models seemed to be in demand. She was already 28 years old – close to retirement age for models who usually start on the runways at about age 16. Althea struggled with remaining in a safe harbor, but her desire to find herself remained. So she set sail with just a glimmer of her own star to guide her. She entered a modeling competition with girls little more than half her age – and she won! Althea went on to a career in modeling that took her overseas. She even made the cover of Essence magazine.

Until recently, Juds worked in sales. She did well enough to support herself and her son, but she also knew she was treading water. With an uncertain economy, she was glad to have a job. Still, she wanted to do what gave her the greatest joy: cooking. When she got a chance to go to China to teach cooking for a year, she agreed right away. Sometimes, even when we can see and know our star, we are scared to leave port. Juds could have decided that China was too far away. She would need to adjust to people and places and tastes that were foreign to her. The Chinese would find her as unusual as she would find them, as Blacks are unknown (except for Usain Bolt) in many parts of China.

Juds is now in China, having the best experience of her life – except for when the Chinese insist on touching Juds’ locks for the hundredth time! She had to step away from all that is familiar to her, but that is the price we pay for setting sail and following our own star.

As we grow older, we may wonder why we are in a rut, why we feel so unfulfilled. We may have traveled far, but not yet reached our own destination. Fortunately, our own star is always waiting on us, and it is never too late (or too early) to set sail.


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