It’s Where You Are Going That Counts

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Note: This month, the Office of Equity and Diversity will be talking with UTHSC leaders in recognition of Black History Month.

Chandra Alston, EdD, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Chandra Alston, EdD, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Associate Vice Chancellor
Human Resources
Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor

OED: What does Black History Month mean to you? Why is it important?

Dr. Alston: Black history month is a time of reflection for me to honor and pay tribute to black women and men who sacrificed so that those who came after them could have a smoother path.

OED: Do you have a favorite soul food restaurant in Memphis? What is one of your preferred soul food dishes?

Dr. Alston: The Gay Hawk lunch buffet, at 685 S. Danny Thomas Blvd., is my favorite because they serve a variety of soul food offerings daily. The late Lewis Bobo, Jr. opened the Gay Hawk restaurant on Danny Thomas back in 1963. He made the Gay Hawk a popular restaurant where Memphians, retired police officers and celebrities socialized and dined and he was even featured in TV documentaries. The Tunica, Mississippi native’s restaurant featured down-home Southern cooking that drew people in and they kept coming back as they still do today. The Gayhawk cornbread is DELICIOUS!!! My favorite soul food dish is cornbread dressing with giblet gravy.

OED: Will you share a favorite quote of yours, attributable to a figure in Black History?

Dr. Alston: I have two favorites. I love this quote by Ella Fitzgerald because it is motivation for everyone. She said, “It isn’t where you come from, its where you are going that counts.” It’s critical to know that our past doesn’t define our future. So many people of all backgrounds come to America to find their dream. They come with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, passion, and hope. Hard work, perseverance, and faith (I call it faith, some call it luck) propel them to a life beyond what they could have hoped or imagined.

A quote that has remained in my head and heart since I read it many years ago is from Oprah Winfrey. She said, “God can dream a bigger dream for me, for you, than you could ever dream for yourself. When you’ve worked as hard and done as much and strived and tried and given and pled and bargained and hoped…surrender. When you have done all that you can do, and there’s nothing left for you to do, give it up. Give it up to that thing that is greater than yourself, and let it then become a part of the flow.”

I love this quote and I remind myself of this when I become afraid, tired, or overwhelmed…I remember to surrender.

OED: Is there a book, movie or author that you would recommend to others to learn more about Black History?

Dr. Alston: The Imitation of Life is an amazing movie that handles subjects such as race and class in such a real way. My favorite version features Mahalia Jackson, but it is a remake of a remake. The plot of the 1959 version of Imitation of Life was significantly altered from the original book and the 1934 film version. In the original story, the “Lora” character, Bea Pullman, became successful by commercial production of her maid Delilah’s family waffle recipe (the 1934 film version features a family pancake recipe instead of a waffle recipe). As a result, Bea, the white businesswoman, becomes rich. Delilah is offered 20% of the profits, but declines and chooses to remain Bea’s dutiful assistant.

OED: What is one experience that has shaped the person you are today?

Dr. Alston: I’ve always wanted to be a mother. Since I was a little girl playing with dolls, I imagined raising and loving my two little boys and two little girls. But life can be interesting and you can’t always call the hand you are dealt. In my early twenties after marrying Michael Alston, we gave birth to our first child, Joshua Michael Alston. He was perfect and my plan was on track. Eleven months later, our son became gravely ill and passed away from mitochondrial cardiomyopathy. This was devastating and was a defining moment in my life. The geneticist said there was a chance that any future child we had could have a genetic issue. I do have faith, but I’m also a realist and the pain of losing a child is REAL, so we made the decision to forego biologically having another child.

Eight years after Joshua passed, we approached the TN Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to inquire about adoption. They identified two sisters who had been in foster care for five years. They were ages 9 and 10 when we met them in 2004. We immediately fell in love with them and pursued the adoption route. Ironically, our adoption was final on June 6, 2005 (9 years to the day after our sons death June 6, 1996). Two years later, their older sister joined our family and we adopted her in 2007. Now we are the proud parents of three thriving adult daughters and two beautiful grandchildren (Jaylen, 6, and Aliyah, 1).

Adoption has been an incredible experience, the fact that you are choosing your children and they are choosing you (because older children have a say in their placement) is so important. You give up a lot in adoption (not having kids that look like you or all the biological attachments), but you gain so much more. I won’t say that it’s perfect, but it is GREAT (love, support, and purpose).

God did dream a bigger dream for me…and I’m so glad He did!