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  • Dr. Vonnetta L. West

Dear Vonnetta / Dear Kayla (Part 2)

Dear Kayla,


When I was a little girl, and my mind wandered, it wandered to music and books.

As far back as I can remember, I have loved great lyrics, the organ as an instrument, and guitar riffs. My mind also wandered to the lives of characters from epic movies. As a 10 year-old Black girl growing up in Tuskegee, Alabama, I watched ‘Out of Africa’ repeatedly. So there’s that.


In books and music, I found two sources of inspiration and encouragement that are essential to me now. I found Aretha, The Supremes, Dolly Parton and Donny Hathaway. I developed affection for James Taylor, Whitney Houston and The Eagles. Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones, too. And I discovered Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Hemingway. I read encyclopedias. I can still tell you the layout of Chicago because of the time I spent in ‘C.’


I’m grateful that my mother, my aunts and my grandmothers encouraged my exploration of books and my love of learning. I thank my father for my hungry ear for music.


When I look back on my childhood, I realize that one place that I did not feel the safest was home. Until the 3rd grade, the only home I knew was a home with an alcoholic father. I never knew what home would be from day to day because of mood changes and traumatic encounters. Sobriety doesn’t change the wounds we carry. I had to welcome healing from God and help from listening ears, loving counsel, wise elders and Holy Spirit. And I had to open myself to the powerful understanding that Jesus saves completely, not just eternally. He is not far away, but present, and building something in me so that I can build something great in service to Him and to humanity.


The more I understood this, the more it influenced me as a student, a leader, a family member, and then, while attending The University of Alabama, as a young, Black woman encountering racism in ways that she didn’t encounter it in predominantly Black Tuskegee, Alabama. I didn’t know about systemic racism then; I only knew words and spirit. In college, I met the words and spirit of white supremacy. I recognized it when I encountered it in 2000. I recognize it when I encounter it in 2021. The most profound difference is that, over the course of my life experiences, I have grown tremendously in my approach to injustice and in my belief that I am among the ones that the world has been waiting for.

In being among “the ones,” I try to live authentically, boldly, and lovingly. The main rule I live by is one I see demonstrated in the life of Jesus Christ, in the legacy of Dr. King, and in the examples of my most precious ancestors, my grandmothers. It is the mantra for my life and the title of my podcast, “Let your life be your sermon.”

That’s what I’m committed to: Living a poured-out life that Christ refills again and again.


I’m graced and I’m growing.


Vonnetta


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