So many of the paths that I have traveled during my lifetime can be traced to Josephine Anderson Kennedy, my mother’s dear friend who became my Godmother. She grew up and was educated through the collegiate level in Daytona Beach, Florida. Early on, my Godmother’s parents recognized that she had a God given musical talent. They encouraged her to develop and use this talent. And that she did! At nine, she began sharing her gift by serving as pianist for the Sunday School at her church. Once I was able to read, she told my mother “It’s time for Patricia to learn how to play the piano.” While music was not my gift, under her tutelage I learned how to play the piano. Like her, I faithfully played for my Sunday School and Sunbeam Choir.
Josephine Kennedy was driven by the urge for excellence to earn her Master of Arts degree in Music Education and Music Supervision from Columbia University, New York. She returned home to teach in the schools and become the County Music Supervisor. My Godmother was committed to exposing youth to music. In 1955, she under-wrote the First Youth Concert for Blacks in Volusia County, thereby enabling more than 2,500 children to witness their first symphonic presentation. I can remember when I was in elementary school, boarding the bus to hear the Florida Symphony orchestra. Every child was dressed for the occasion because she had sent a letter home with instructions about “what to wear.” On the way to the concert, we were reminded of the expected decorum-how to behave appropriately, how to recognize when the concert was about to begin, when to clap, when to exit, etc. Today when I am at a concert with my husband, he looks to me for the cues because he knows I was trained by my Godmother. I really didn’t understand the significance of her commitment to our learning to appreciate the arts until much later, when I found a tribute to her.
“At the Peabody Auditorium I saw an audience composed of 2,500 or more Negro children, youth, and young adults sit in breathless attention listening to an hour’s program of the finest production a Symphony orchestra could offer. They participated in that cultural hour with an appreciation equaled to that of any group of music lovers… I bring my gratitude to our marvelous Florida Symphony, and to our efficient Music Supervisor in Volusia County, Mrs. Kennedy whose persistence in promoting this program, demonstrated to our entire county that little Negro boys and girls who have so long been denied the better things, do have great appreciation for the music of the ages.” Mary McLeod Bethune (February, 1955, Daytona Beach News-Journal)
My Godmother was an effective leader in the community as well, serving as Past President of the Daytona Beach Alumnae Chapter, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Daytona Beach Chapter National Council of Negro Women, and Daytona Beach Chapter, The Links Incorporated, to name a few. She exposed me to two of these groups in hopes that I would follow in her footsteps. Upon arrival at Hampton, I knew there was only one sorority for me to join and that was Delta Sigma Theta. I would have been disappointed if I did not make the line and was elated to inform her when invited to pledge that I was following her footsteps. My Godmother passed before our Sorority’s Centennial Celebration. But I was able to carry her with me as she had given me the charm she purchased at the Golden Anniversary Celebration which she attended. Similarly, I was delighted when invited into The Links, Incorporated. Unfortunately, she was unable to know that milestone. On a trip, when serving on the National Executive Council, I found in our new national headquarters a plaque that bore her name. She had served as a National Officer during her tenure as a member. I smiled knowing she would be happy to know that I was following in her footsteps.
When it was time for me to think about a career, my Godmother was right their telling me about the opportunities that were available to speech-language pathologists. Needless to say, this was not a traditional career for minorities, but the exposure to it peaked my interest, resulting in me heading to Hampton in pursuit of my degree. Of course, my Godmother was right there reminding me that I must continue on and get my master’s degree like she did. Many years later, when I authored my first book, Opportunities in Speech-Language Pathology Careers, I reflected on the path that her suggestion in the 10th grade had taken me.
Now there was one area in my life that she remained concerned about and that was my love life. She constantly reminded me that I needed to balance my professional career and personal life. Every time she would see me as the years passed, she wanted to know “who” the boyfriend was and “when” I was going to get married. At Last, in 1994, my Godmother was by my side, coordinating my wedding. She smiled and whispered to me that I had completed all of her wishes for me on that day. She reminded me that “love is the greatest gift.” As I look at the both of us on that day, I see something I hadn’t realized before- we have a similar smile. Perhaps, that too is something I emulated.
I am grateful for HER VOICE! Today, I honor Josephine Anderson Kennedy as we celebrate Women’s History Month. Take time this month to reflect and honor those women whose voices have made a difference in your life!
“You give but little when you give of your possessions; it is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” – Gelbran