On the crisp winter afternoon of Monday, January 24, 2022, my mother, Zura Frances Sanders, transitioned from this life. She was the third of five children born to Missouri King Williams, Benjamin, Lily Ruth, Abraham and Susanne. She was predeceased by them all. She had been the widow of Guy Edward Sanders, who also predeceased her, and the mother of three children, Guy Jr., Kenya and Saluba, who passed away several years ago. She was also the grandmother of four, Randy Baker, Renee Ashley Smith, Jermaine Russell and Tamieka Russell-Brown as well as seven great grandchildren.
For the past couple of months, she'd been telling me that she was tired. She said that she wanted peace. Yesterday afternoon she found her peace.
The Queen has made her journey. May the ancestors embrace her and be pleased with her. My mother, Zura, the woman who gave me life, taught me to appreciate reading and academics, the person who taught me a sense of style, the woman who taught me to respect and revere Black women and all women has transitioned and joined the ancestors.
She was always regal. My late father spoke of seeing her walk down the street in her little outfits including dainty gloved hands, strutting confidently on her 5'8 1/2" frame (I always had to include the half inch) as his friends told him there was no way he had a chance with that princess. She was too good for him, but he wooed her... and she told me he was the only man she ever loved.
As a mother, she was strict but not pious. She was generous to a fault. When my Jehovah's witness mom cooked for one of our "gatherings" (because JWs don't have "parties"!) people would show up with Tupperware because her cooking was that good... and we'd still have food for a week!
She truly valued education. Her efforts made my siblings and me academics at an early age, all of us reading before we got to public school. Because of her I was public speaking at the age of six. We all were always a minimum of three to five grades ahead of our peers in reading and math. She had us doing workbooks during the summer months before we could go outside to play. Teachers and my fellow classmates still remember her as a fully involved parent, making all of the open school days, conferring with teachers and being serious about how we acted and performed in school.
But it wasn’t just a secular education that was important to her. A spiritual education was a priority with her as well. I learned how to read in the book, “Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained”, a Watchtower Society publication designed for children. She went out of her way to make sure all of her children had a strong spiritual foundation and she maintained one for herself. She was happy when my sister enabled her being able to access the JW.org website. When I was able to help her get the JW.org channel on television for her. She would find peace in the programs and in reading the publications. At her most difficult times, I could hear her praying fervently to Jehovah for answers and for relief. In her most difficult and trying moments, she maintained her faith in Jehovah. She looked forward to the resurrection so that she could be reunited with my grandmother, my father and my sister. She did find solace in that even when in pain or under duress. Her faith has impressed me and I greatly admired that about her.
But that wasn't the only lasting influence she left upon me. She is the one who introduced me to the style of dress I would relish into adulthood: suits, pocket watches, pocket squares, collar bars, shirts with French cuffs, cufflinks, and fedoras. I wore them as a child, even wearing suits or blazers and ties to school until I was a high school senior. Former classmates still mention that to me when we speak forty and fifty years later and I'm very proud of that.
She was my gold standard and I would try my hardest not to hurt or disappoint her, many times falling short. She wasn't one to mince words or to suffer errors quietly, but she taught me discipline and infused me with the ability and desire to overcome. She also taught me not to bow.
I'd like to describe her as a "strong Black woman" but she hated that. She would say, "I'm not strong! I just do what I need to do for my family!" And she did. When my youngest sister was still in diapers, she went to college to get her degree in child care psychology to make a better life for us. At work, she struggled hard to advance herself and repeatedly did the hard work necessary to move to positions of leadership, which wasn't easy for a Black woman or any woman to do in the environments she worked in.
In the last months together, even as dementia altered her and there would be bad and very bad days, there were those sweet moments we'd laugh at comedians on television or watch nature documentaries or game shows together, sharing those precious happy moments together. Sometimes she'd just walk by me and slap my bald head as I sat in the den and ask me why I cut it all off. But the best moments were those when she told me she loved me and thanked me for being there. I lived for those moments and will forever hold them dear.
My father and youngest sister have left already. A queen joins them.