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Toni Cade Bambara—A Member of My Small Village - The Feminist Wire

Toni Cade Bambara—A Member of My Small Village

By Sarah C. Poindexter

Helen, Karma, Toni, and Sarah (in the background) credit/copyright: Jane Poindexter

Helen, Karma, Toni, and Sarah (in the background)
credit/copyright: Jane Poindexter

I moved to Atlanta from New York City with my Mother right before my ninth birthday. It was 1979, the year the Atlanta child murders began. Over the next two years, over 20 African Americans children were killed. It was also the year that my Mom and I met Toni.

There is an African proverb: It takes a village to raise a child.

But not all villages are created equal. Some are large, while mine was relatively small. During that time, Toni, her daughter Karma, to whom I was close in age and became fast friends, Toni’s mother Helen (Nana), whom I loved very much, along with my Mom, made up that village.

Some villages don’t treasure young black girls, but mine definitely did. Some villages believe that children are meant to be seen but not heard. I got to do both. I was treasured, cared for, supported, encouraged, and educated in ways that—at the time—I may have taken for granted. As a child, you don’t know that everyone isn’t having a similar life. Today, I feel profoundly grateful.

Karma Bambara, Sarah C. Poindexter, Toni Cade Bambara circa 1980s photograph/copyright: Jane Poindexter

Karma Bambara, Sarah C. Poindexter, Toni Cade Bambara 
photograph/copyright: Jane Poindexter

As a child, I had thick curly hair that tangled easily, especially when wet. One day after having washed it, I was sitting on the floor watching TV as my mother patiently combed through it when a commercial for shampoo came on. It promised “bouncing and behaving hair” and showed a woman with silky, shiny, wavy, sun-kissed blonde, wind-blown hair. That is the one conscious moment in my life I remember wanting to be white.

Then I heard Toni’s version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. There was nothing enviable about being that blonde haired, blue-eyed, ransacking thief who imposed her narcissistic will on a lovely family of brown bears. I loved hearing Toni tell that story. It was a powerful and entertaining way of saying you must critically think; you must question the value system implied in the stories that you both hear and tell; and you must fight against both racism and self-hatred.

Toni, my Mom, Karma, and I went to the movies often. It was then that I developed my love of cinema. I credit my trajectory into filmmaking to those hundreds of nights of film-watching and critiquing and to Toni’s fierce stance on the revolutionary power of storytelling.

Toni Cade Bambara credit/copyright: Jane Poindexter

Toni Cade Bambara
credit/copyright: Jane Poindexter

Dearest Toni—it was at your memorial service in Philadelphia that I was struck by how widely you were known and loved. Your impact transcending my small village to persons near and wide—a whole world of people had read your books, watched your films, and been empowered by your words.

Your novel Those Bones Are Not My Child set in the world of the Atlanta missing and murdered children was edited by your friend Toni Morrison and published after your death. In the acknowledgments, you write, “And to Sarah, who makes me think I wasn’t too bad an example, as she writes a mean story among other things wonderful.”

Even from the ancestral world you offer new blessings. You continue to honor, inspire, and humble me. I love and miss you more than words can adequately express. I celebrate you in every way imaginable and thank you.

Happy 75th Birthday Toni.


Sarah_PoindexterSarah C. Poindexter has a diverse creative background having written, produced, or directed for both television (network and public) and film. As a filmmaker, Sarah has directed five feature films. Her latest, The Greatest Song, is a romantic comedy starring Lamman Rucker (Tyler Perry’s Why Did I get Married?) and has a distribution deal with Image Entertainment airing in Europe on Black Entertainment Network (BET), nationally on The Gospel Music Network, and on Bounce TV. Sarah has produced and directed numerous documentary films, including The Tolerance Project, which explores the way teenagers deal with issues of diversity. It received the National Telecommunications Award for best documentary series, and was nominated for a Mid-Atlantic Emmy. It airs nationally on public television, as did Culture Trek, a documentary series she created and produced that took economically disadvantaged teenagers from the United States abroad to meet teenagers in foreign countries. No matter what genre Sarah works in, whether it is fiction or nonfiction, she has a commitment to telling stories that are often ignored by mainstream media. Sarah currently works as a Membership Coordinator at one the most successful screenwriting educational institutions in the world, Writers Boot Camp in Santa Monica, CA. Sarah received an M.F.A. in Film and Media Arts from Temple University.