ROCKINGHAM — Tina V. Bryson — author and inspirational speaker and a 1987 graduate of Richmond Senior High School — will return to her home church, Philadelphia United Methodist, on Sunday to give a presentation in observance of Black History Month.
Raised in the Philadelphia community north of Rockingham, Bryson went on earn her bachelors degree in journalism from Howard University. She later earned her masters degree in speech communication and rhetoric, and is now the manager of public relations for the Christian Appalachian Project.
“Part of my goal is to talk about and try to encourage the young people at the service,” Bryson said. “It doesn’t matter your background or where you came from — you can achieve anything you put your mind to. It doesn’t matter if you are from a small town. You can go out and see the world.”
Bryson admits to being a history buff, but said what we learn from books should be augmented with personal experience.
“I’m also a family enthusiast,” she explained. “I can see the cemetery from the church windows where my family are buried. So while celebrating Black History Month, we’ll talk about our personal histories, as well as who we are as African-Americans and how God has equipped us to make life better for our community and those around us.”
An author of three books, Bryson credited her teacher in Richmond County Schools’ Academically Gifted program for making her write a journal entry each day.
“I did not like that at the time,” she admitted. “I remember, I would wait until Friday and just make stuff up for the journal entries. But I’m glad now that I had that experience. I keep a blog, to keep people engaged.”
Bryson said she feels fortunate to have had black and white teachers who pointed out African-Americans and their contributions throughout U.S. history — but it wasn’t until Howard that she began to learn global black history.
“We get a lot of traditional African-American history in school, but at Howard, they really broadened that,” she explained. “We talked about African kingdoms predating the African-American history depicted as starting in the United States with slavery. At Howard, we learned about African history, about black people all over the world. And there were people there who were actually from Africa, from the Caribbean.”
Attending an historically black college, she said, changed her perception of being in high-level classes and the accompanying awareness of being different from the majority of classmates.
“Howard and HBCs enable you to be in a place where you don’t have to think about ‘I’m the only black student in this class,’” she said. “You’re just a student in a class. That kind of environment lets you just be there, and not be defined by race.”
During Black History Month — and at all times in between — Bryson said she now has a greater appreciation for the people who fought during the Civil Rights Era for the basic freedoms and rights all people of color enjoy in the present.
“I think there is a pressure, not in a negative sense, to honor those who came before you who allowed you equal access at the table,” she said. “I did not have to deal with any of that growing up. I lived in Rockingham. I went to Richmond Senior High School. I didn’t have to think about whether I could ride the bus, or if I’d have to sit at the back. I got on the bus and sat with my friends, and I think a lot of the people who grew up when I did maybe take that for granted.”
Bryson said the new generation has more in common with those who marched for civil rights than her generation.
“I think the political conditions now are a facet of this,” she said. “To see activism, and we didn’t grow up with that. I have a son who is a junior who is talking about protesting. My father-in-law from Georgia was active in civil rights things. For my kids to now sort of get to live that same kind of history of activism — that’s an interesting part of who we are.”
She said that honoring those who emerged from harder times is important.
“My mom talks about that, having a colored section at the movie theater,” Bryson said. “I never had that, and my kids don’t — but people in our family did. As a parent with my own children, I developed an interest in my family’s history, and a need to pass that down to them. Especially in Rockingham and the Philadelphia community.”
Some of the things she has learned about her family, she explained, originated with simple curiosity.
“My grandma used to tell me this story about my grandfather having had a car,” Bryson recalled. “So it made me wonder: what kind of job would a black man have had to have to have a car — in Richmond County — in the 1920s?”
The elders of families, she said, are valuable resources for passing down oral history to younger generations.
“Find out your own history, and do that while your elders are still living,” she advised. “If you lose your oral history, you have no place to even begin. Ask your mother, your grandparents your aunts and your uncles. I’m speaking in the context of black history, but this applies to everyone. It’s important. You find you have connections to other people. Like, I discovered we have some Native American roots in our history, from Rochester, New York, with the Iroquois.”
Those gems of family history, Bryson said, should be remembered and handed down.
“It helps you paint a greater picture of who you are,” she continued. “And you’re missing a piece of yourself if you don’t know.”
On Friday, Bryson will board her plane for the journey home where she’ll spend the weekend catching up with old friends and visiting her mother.
“I am really excited to be coming,” she said. “Church was such a big part of growing up. Plays and singing, anything and everything that was going on at the church, we were in it. It was there that I had my very first opportunities to speak in front of people. The opportunity to come back to my church family and speak, and reinforce those connections, I’m really looking forward to it.”
To learn more about Bryson’s Christian-themed books, her life and her work, visit www.tinavbryson.com.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673.