By Guest Contributor Sydney Magruder; originally published at Elixher
I am 10 years old, sitting in a booth at Applebee’s, and my Dad is grilling me.
“Okay, last one. Who was the first Black woman ever to enter space?”
I am stumped.
“C’mon, Syd. I know you know it,” prods Daddy.
I turn the question over and over in my head like a smooth stone unearthed from a riverbed. Who was the first Black woman ever to enter space? I bite down harder on my lower lip, considering all of the trivia questions Daddy has ever asked me, and trying to remember if he’d asked this one before. He had not.
I remember learning about her in school, and I could see her smiling face on a picture from my 6th grade classroom. Suddenly, a moment of clarity. A flash of brown skin, a cumbersome-looking orange suit, and the NASA insignia above a gleaming white name tag: Jemison.
“Mae Jemison! The first Black woman ever to enter space was Mae Jemison!” I offer confidently.
“Atta girl, Syd!” Daddy offers me a single french fry as reward for my effort.
As was customary, we played Black history trivia every time we went out to eat together. For each right answer, I was given that crunchy, salty, coveted reward. I munch contentedly as I watched the gears turn in his head, forming another question.
“Now…who was the first Black woman ever to be President of the United States?” he raises his eyebrow mischievously.
“Daddy, that’s a trick question. No Black woman has ever been President of the United States. It’s a fact.”
(I was a serious child—a very bossy, know-it-all, matter-of-fact little girl. Imagine Angelica, of Rugrats fame, with afro puffs.)
“Ah, not yet!” he shakes his finger at me. “It could very well be you, Sydney Magruder!” he bellows in his full, rich baritone. I laugh at him, and reach for another french fry. He reaches for one too, pretending to fence with his. I best him, splitting his fry pitifully in half with my own. I chew triumphantly.
“Ready to go?” he indicates the door with his eyes.
“Mom’s gonna make me go straight to bed when we get home,” I gripe. “I’m not sleepy yet!”
I always begged to stay longer whenever we went out. Bedtime was the ultimate hindrance to our intellectual adventures.
Sydney and her dad (right)
“Even geniuses have to sleep, baby” he retorts rationally.
In the car, the raindrops race each other across the window. I follow them with my index finger as the Washington, D.C. skyline hung in the distance. Daddy sings along to Crosby, Stills & Nash. Out of nowhere, he turns down his favorite track. As “Southern Cross” plays faintly in the background, he turns to me.
“Y’know, I think you’d make a great president one day,” he beams. I smile at him, believing his every word.
And just like that, Daddy put roots in my heart. Roots that would one day grow into feminism.
As a child, Dad constantly reminded me that I was not limited by my gender, or by my Blackness. He celebrated them to no end, constantly praising my intellect, my wit, and my good judgment. He made perfectly clear to me the plight of women and of people of color in this country, and stressed the importance of knowing our history — my history.
The trivia games we played at restaurants when I was a child have reinvented themselves into an expected text message from him to me every April 4th and November 22nd, asking me which two famous men died that day. (Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy, respectively. Nailed it.) He still promises me french fries for correct answers. While my mom demonstrated the strength, poise, grace and tenacity of women of color in her everyday actions, Daddy proclaimed them in his words.