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Just a few of my favorite books...

Books Saved My Life!
 Judy C. Andrews
     I've always been inspired by my teachers to dream big!  I always dreamed I'd be a writer, from the time my eighth grade English teacher, Mrs. Abate, returned my first short story to me.  She said it was "Excellent.
          Hearing someone use that word and my name in the same sentence exhilarated me because I had never thought that anything I had ever done in life up until that time, had been excellent.  So I was thrilled, and I decided that day that I would dream big, although, I didn't even know what that meant, and be a writer. 
          In high school and college I wrote every chance I got, even for free.  If you really love what you do, you don't care that much about the money.  Everybody wants to get paid, but what's the point if you don't love the work you do.
    As a former teacher for twenty-six years and a published writer, I believe I have had the best of both worlds, with much more to come from God!  Education saved my life, so did prayer, Jesus Christ, and God!   I originally wanted my novel to be about the foster care system through a child's eyes, but as I continued writing, I found myself with a more personal story. 
     The novel, An Ocean of Jewels has a few scenes that are similar to my life, although this book is a work of fiction.  In the novel, the major character, Imani Jewel Henderson, finds herself on a journe to heal from the scars of foster care.
       At age twenty-nine, Imani realizes that her childhood was filled with many family secrets as well as tragedy.  Her biological parents were never nurturing; they were distant and too engrossed in their own pain to tend to Imani's heartaches.  For example, in one scene, Imani must attend her father's funeral and wear a "fabulously fake" smile to let others believe that she and her father had a beautiful friendship. 
     Unlike Imani, though, I loved my father, and I knew that he loved me!  At the age of seven, my father told me we were going school-shopping on a warm, September morning.  We ended up at a group home in New York's Bowery neighborhood, on Mulberry Street, named St. Barnabas. 
    My father left me there to save my life!  But I didn't know that then.  I cried myself to sleep for at least a week.  As an adult, I learned my mother wanted to leave this world and take me with her.  I recall her standing on a well-known avenue in Brooklyn in the middle of the street as traffic zoomed past us when I was seven.  Terrified onlookers urged me to let go of my mother's hand and run across the street.  I did.
    I ran into a pizza shop into the arms of the owner, a horrified woman who had watched the entire scene.  I remember being led into a police car with my mother, and being driven home by policemen, with my mother. 
    At age nine and a half, I was placed into my first of seven foster homes.  In that first home, I remember being beaten with an ironing cord for wanting a piece of gum from that foster mother's purse.  I took the gum without asking for permission.  I was eleven.
    I remember being punched in the face and a back-handed slap so hard by the foster parent's husband that I slid from the aparment's living room all the way into the kitchen for telling the foster mother that the foster father had let his five-year-old granddaughter drink some of his beer. I was thirteen.
   Those are just a few of the memories I recall.  Up until the age of twenty-two, when my biological mother passed away, I had blocked a lot of these memories from my mind.  After my mother's death, the memories returned and I found myself crying a lot.  I eventually asked for my records from St. Barnabas and learned much more about myself, which triggered many more emotions and memories.
    At age eight, I remember playing Run, Catch, and Kiss with my friends on a warm Sunday morning.  We ran into a church while service was still going on!  Communion was being served, and we (about five or six of us children) ended up on line.
    We had no idea what was going on (As an adult, I learned my biological family was raised Catholic, although, while in foster care, I grew up in mostly Baptist and non-denominational churches).  When the priest got to me (an African American man), he blessed me by anointing me with oil.  He prayed over me.   
    That blessing has carried me to the amazing life I have today.  I always say, "There but for the grace of God, go I," because I could have ended up another statistic. 
     I never ended up on drugs, pregnant, or in an abusive relationship. God blessed my life and angels watched over me, guided me, and kept me from danger.  Learning how to pray and call on the Lord saved my life  My soul knows this.  And I thank Jesus Christ and God every day.



Artwork in the Pestana Tropico Hotel, in the town of Praia, on Cape Verde's Santiago Island, 2014

    Thank God for books.  They ultimately saved my life and my future: Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Dr. Josef Ben Jochannon, Dr. Maya Angelou, Grace F. Edwards, Zora Neale Hurston, J. California Cooper, Toni Morrison, Piri Thomas, Rosa Guy, Louise Meriwether,  James Baldwin, President Barack Obama, and most recently, First Lady, Michelle Obama! 
Today, a world of opportunities for authors of color has expanded beyond the grueling wait for an agent.  Social media rules!  So do self-publishing venues and social media platforms.  


    These authors, through their books, showed me another world--thank God for the Oprah Book Club, too!!!  Her shows also saved my butt when I entered the work world.  I had no idea that I would ever meet any of these people! 


     I did meet some of them over the years as an adult!  I went to Africa with Dr. Ben and a tour group; met Dr. Clarke at a party celebrating him at his home in Harlem, and I met Rosa Guy and Louise Meriwether at celebrations given by the legendary Harlem Writers Guild, which I am now a happy member! 



     A whole lot of praying and music--Maxwell is my favorite musician--also saved my life as I got older.



    Like the character, Imani, in the novel, the scars of foster care are still there, but I've had many extraordinary opportunities.  A thrilling one was to be part of former U.S. president Jimmy Carter's National Commission onThe International Year of the Child where I served as a children's advocate representing New York state teenagers. 

    I've worked as an executive secretary, an intern at a television station, a freelance writer, and as an editor for romance magazines. 
    I've done some travelling to Africa, and I've had great fun in a few U.S cities, especially Maui--my favorite!  
    The opportunity to VOTE for America's first African American president was a blessing that, unfortunately, my biological parents never lived to see!
   I had loving mentors in my life, as well as angels helping me along the way on my journey.  I am so grateful to God for just being alive, and I continue to dream big!"