From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul


When I was asked to co-author Chicken Soup for the African American Soul, I had to say yes, if nothing else just to shock my old schoolteachers. I mean, it isn’t every day that a C-student (at best) like me gets this kind of opportunity.

But it’s amazing what we can do if given the chance. The odds get even better if that chance is backed up with encouragement, support, guidance and high expectations for success.

I got all those things in my little town of Tuskegee, Alabama. I grew up in a community full of black folks with something to prove. The people in my community were always busy upgrading everything from their cars to their add-on dens; in fact, whoever sold wood paneling to Tuskegeeans should have been filthy rich! In spite of the segregation and racism that loomed over the South at that time, they set high standards for themselves and their families. They weren’t settling for “as good as;” they wanted to do better! And more importantly, they believed they could.

I’ve done a lot of thinking over the years about my hometown and its “can-do” spirit, and I’ve wondered what made it so unique. For one thing, much of its population was made up of men and women, like my parents, who moved there to participate in the Tuskegee Airman program, which was really an experiment that set out to prove that black men could fly planes! They were young, college-educated, success-oriented people who were willing to take a chance. Everybody, of course, didn’t make it as an airman. My daddy washed out of the program, but worked until he retired at the V.A. hospital. My mother was hired as a secretary for the program, but what she really did was use her writing skills to make her bosses look a lot smarter than they were!

But much of the can-do spirit possessed by the people that lived there can be credited to my alma mater, Tuskegee Institute, a black college founded by Booker T. Washington. It was the heart and soul of the town.

As I began reading what the writers contributed to Chicken Soup for the African American Soul, I was reminded of how our lives can be shaped and inspired by the wisdom, success, pain and sorrow of others.

Growing up I’d spent countless hours watching and listening to men and women who shared their stories. Like the writers of this book, those who contributed to my life ran the gamut from people of prominence to guys running their mouths at the barbershop. If I’d had the forethought I would have carried around a notebook and jotted down some of what I heard and saw and put it in a book. It would have included Tuskegee Airman Chappie James, George Washington Carver, Mrs. Ritchie (Lionel’s mom), Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks and many more. I didn’t realize it then but Tuskegee really was a happening place. Everybody that was anybody in black America, or Negro America as it was considered back then, made a stop in Tuskegee to speak or perform, and my family made sure we were right there to see people such as Malcolm X, Leontyne Price and James Brown—not all on the same bill, of course!

The Tom Joyner Foundation, which raises money to help students who have run out of money at Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), is an outgrowth of what I gained from a town that gave me the confidence and desire to believe that I could be anything I wanted to be. My wish is for every black child to get the chance to go college. That’s a tall order. A more realistic one is making sure that those who have chosen to attend HBCUs get what’s needed to keep them there—support, encouragement and expectation of success. Like chicken soup, the meal and the book, a variety of ingredients ensure a winning outcome.

My role as host of the Tom Joyner Morning Show allows me to reach millions of African American radio listeners daily. We have fun together, but we also try to make a difference by encouraging our audience to take a more proactive role in their health, education and the political process. That’s what a community is all about, and whether our community consists of 15 hundred or 15 million, our responsibility to our neighbors doesn’t change.

I see this book as an extension of our efforts to reach the souls of black folks all around the country, and I’m very proud to be a part of this project.

Chicken Soup for the African American Soul includes stories of inspiration, humor and wisdom that we all can relate to. There are perspectives from everyone from Colin Powell to Yolanda King. From Sojourner Truth to Snoop Dogg. . . . Okay, Snoop Dogg is not included, but you get the picture. There are also great quotations from Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Reggie Jackson, Jesse Jackson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the list goes on and on. The pot is full and seasoned just right! You can take a big helping all at once or dip a little at a time.

Enjoy the book! I hope it warms your soul as much as it warmed mine.

Tom Joyner

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