By Gloria Dulan-Wilson
Sister Betty Dopson has written her first book. Or maybe I should say “our” first book, because she wrote it for us -- we Black women, and it’s appropriately entitled: SHARED SECRETS OF ELDER SISTERS WHO PROVE THAT AGE IS JUST A NUMBER.
Synchronicity is everything. I distinctly remember asking Sister Betty, at the recently held African Voices Awards Ceremony in June, what her beauty secrets were. Though she had just turned 76, she looks as though she was in her mid-40’s. She just smiled, but didn’t say a word about this book. So when I got the call from her to cover her book opening at Sista’s Place in Brooklyn, on July 10th, I thought, “how did she write that book so fast?”
Most people think of beauty in frivolous terms. But it’s much more than that. It’s the standard by which a whole race of people (us and other non-whites) have been weighed in the balance and found wanting by most mainstream (WASP) criteria.
But Sister Betty re-establishes the fact that beauty is not only more than skin deep, it goes to the very core of who we are. It includes Betty’s personal advice to Eclectically Black women of all ages and origins -- African, African American, Caribbean.
But the most significant feature is that she’s coupled it with interviews and profiles of Black women between the ages of 76 and 101 years of age, who are Black, proud, and beautiful. Is the list exhaustive? No. We each know someone, whether in our family or in our community who have defied the so-called accepted concepts about age and beauty, and maintained their youth, dignity, grace.
Among the women she included in the book are Dr. Adelaide Sanford, educator, and former New York State Regent, who is 84 years old; Agnes “Brooksy” Brooks, age 93; educator and cultural activist Nana Camille Yarborough, ?? Years old; actress Cecily Tyson, 76 years; the late Lena Horne, who lived to age 94; vocalist extraordinaire Aretha Franklin, ?? Years; and sister Lina Moore age 101; Sylvia Stokes, age 76; Mae Lewis, age 89.
In this book is the wisdom of ages being shared by a woman who walks her talk. Sister Betty Dopson is a natural beauty, who has maintained her beauty and her figure, while at the same time heading a proactive organization CEMOTAP, (Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive To African People) to protect us from invective media hype and onslaught of negativity that has been leveled at Black people from the day we were stolen from Africa and dragged kicking and screaming to these hostile shores.
Sister Betty is more than well aware of the distortions and lies that have been promulgated about Black women in the mainstream media; the false advertisements; the never ending barrage of crapola that passes for commercials that cause us to eat the wrong foods, chose cosmetics over natural beauty, and behavior patterns that don’t serve our highest and best good.
Sister Betty’s wisdom of ages is interlaced throughout each and every chapter, packed with advice for us no what our age, no matter where we find ourselves on the chronology of life. In fact, one of the first things she advises is that we stop lying about our age, and be proud of our ages regardless of what others may think.
And it truly is about time a candid, conversational, down to earth examination of what it is that we can do to mature, rather than just age, or get older. We’ve been mis-educated from a Eurocentric standpoint, which is counterintuitive to who we are genetically, culturally, and racially. Instead of celebrating our beauty and qualities, the mainstream has devoted most of its time to either denigrating us, or stealing our knowledge and appropriating it as though the concepts started with them.
This book is more a good study than it is just a great read -- and it is indeed a great read. Getting a peek into the lives of such great women, how they managed to stay so eternally beautiful -- look at Dr. Sanford, who dresses so beautifully, with those wonderful high cheekbones, and not a wrinkle on her face; or Viola Plummer, who is definitely an Ebony queen (no false eyelashes, no bleached blonde hair, no wigs here!) She also pays homage to First Lady Michelle Obama, who, she asserts, broke the mold for standards of Black femininity.
Issues such as whether or not going “blonde” really enhances who we are as Black women; concerns about dietary supplements, certain types of cosmetics, as well things that affect your mental, physical and spiritual health, are also included.
This book could not have come at a better time, with so many of our young women going down a path that is both hostile and negative; so full of hatred for their own people that their mannerisms toward their elders, and each other, borders on the confrontational.
In 1966 Stokely Carmichael enunciated the famous phrase, “Black is Beautiful!” Since then there has been a not-so-silent revolution going on among Black people; and SHARED SECRETS OF ELDER SISTERS is the culmination of at least 40 years of a struggle for the hearts and minds of Black people to love themselves, and enhance what it is that we have so naturally, rather than abandoning it for other standards.
Other highlights include: Sharp Tongue and Attitude: Nothing Ages You Faster Than A Wicked Tongue; Melanin Cannot be Manufactured; Sisters Suffer More Intense Public Degradation; We Live in a Racist World; Aging is Natural and It Does Bring About Physical Changes; Don’t Hide Behind Excuses; Face and Conquer Your Fears; Search Your Soul and Find Out Who You Are.
Sister Betty extols our skin tones, full lips, wide baby-carrying hips, thick, dark hair, almond shaped eyes -- all attributes of our African beauty heritage, which became popular during the 60’s. It was during this period of Black power that we began to really focus on things African, and our residual African nature; wear clothes that more accentuated our figures, hair styles than enhanced our faces, walk more proudly, and wear jewelry that was more organic and reflective of our natural origins. We began learning the languages, dances, music, and customs of our African ancestors. We began tracing our African roots and routes.
In many instances, while we were becoming more in tuned with our African heritage, many of our African sisters (and brothers) were trying to look more European. So we had Black women from Africa wearing wigs, while we African Americans were going natural or wearing corn rows (they are not “French Braids“, by the way - the French had nothing to do with that African hair style); or extensions. Interesting contrast, what? SHARED SECRETS will be as useful for them as it is for African Americans born and raised in the Diaspora.
In fact SHARED SECRETS picks up the continuity of where most of us were before we were so rudely interrupted by the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and this current new millennium, with bombardments of the direct antithesis of all that brought us together as a people. So intense has been the brainwashing, CEMOTAP’s focus on combating it has been a 24/7 responsibility.
SHARED SECRETS OF ELDER SISTERS should be a primer for women (and men) of all ages; but would be an excellent entre for pre-teens (as well as their own mothers, who are often the victims of media hype themselves). But it is an essential for those of us who are most assuredly planning to be here at least until age 100, and who may have already crossed the line of demarcation.
While we are all individuals, with our own personal issues and attributes, I think SHARED SECRETS has something for each and every one of us. And to make it even more action oriented, Sister Betty has included a helpful questionnaire to assist you in determining where you are (or need to be) on the continuum of ageless beauty. Her “Successful Sister Scale” can help the reader rate herself in how serious she is about living life to the fullest at least for a century.
Additionally, her “Age Busting Beauty Tips”, which I think should be framed and hung next to the mirror either in your bedroom or your bathroom (or both), are a must have.
I, for one, will be rolling around with this book for the next few weeks, adding to the repertoire of wisdom I’ve already gleaned from my beautiful mom, Ruby Love Dulan who, at 87, is still energetic, beautiful and sharp; my aunt Mary, her older sister, who at 88 drives a beautiful gold Cadillac Brougham and is living and thriving in Los Angeles. As a kid my maternal Grandmom Cornelia Gaines (a Cherokee beauty) and my paternal Grandmom Zady Dulan (Crow and Black), both beautiful women, taught me about cornstarch, baking soda, and herbs. In truth, we are surrounded by so many living, breathing examples of the old saying, “good Black don’t crack.”
Sister Betty states: “In order for a Sister to live a long, healthy, successful and purposeful life, she must maintain a healthy mental state, good personal health, a sense of humor, a cheerful personality, maintain good relationships with family and friends, enjoy sex, love a bunch of people and believe that she will live to reach the age of 100. “
While the media marvels on the likes of several white actresses who have made it to the age of 60, other timeless beauties, such as Sylvia Woods (83), owner and founder of Sylvia‘s Queen of Soul Food Restaurant, and former City Council rep, Una Clarke (??), are putting us (and them) to shame. While they may not have been included in the book, they definitely are well respected (loved), alive, well, active, involved and gorgeous. I often ask them the same question I posed to sister Betty Dopson and Adelaide Sanford: “What are your beauty secrets? How do you manage to maintain your youth; where did you get that fabulous outfit? I just love that jewelry! Where’d you get those shoes!! I love that hat!”
Now, with Sister Betty Dopson’s book, SHARED SECRETS OF ELDER SISTERS WHO PROVE THAT AGE IS JUST A NUMBER I finally have an answer to those questions and so much more.
Check it out for yourselves. Look for Sister Betty Dopson this weekend, July 17 & 18, 2010, at the Harlem Book Fair, where she will be reading excerpts from her book and signing autographs.
Also check for other Black writers who will be participating in this wonderful annual event that showcases Black authors. It takes place on 135ths Street, from Malcolm X Blvd. to Fredrick Douglass.
Stay Blessed &