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 26 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! 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 journey to heal from the scars of foster care.
At age 29, she 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.
At age eleven Imani is placed in a group home because her mother commits suicide and her father's wife refuses
to let her live in their home. On the same night, Imani's grandmother, Nana Zola Jewel dies. The next day, Christmas
day, Imani tries to celebrate her 12th birthday, but the hurt she feels keeps her from any joy for that day or many holidays
I was taken at
the age of eight out of my mother's house to a group home, by my father (I loved him dearly. He also saved my life.)
It was a week before school began, and my father told me he was taking me shopping. I was happy about that.
But we never ended up at a store--we ended up at a building in New York City's Bowery neighborhood--an orphanage, which today
would be called a group home--named St. Barnabas.
No one ever explained why I had to be placed there. I cried myself to
sleep that night because as I child I couldn't understand why my own father would take me to a place like that and leave me
without saying a word. Later I learned he tried to save me from death.
It wasn't until
years later when I was an adult that I understood the kind of poverty I was living in with my mother. She was blind
and diabetic and couldn't nurture me properly. It broke her heart to give me up to the State, and she would rather
have seen me dead with her, than alive in foster care.
My father was married, yet separated from his wife, but he always let me know that
I was his number one, little girl--Daddy's girl! He had another family. I was devastated when I was
placed in foster care, where I remained until I was emancipated at age 21. Two years later, my mother died. My
father had passed on when I was 15.
So, I had to really grow up fast, and this experience shaped the way I viewed
the world. But 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, Toni Morrison, Piri Thomas, Rosa Guy, Louise Meriwether, James
Baldwin--these authors, through their books, showed me another world--thank God for Oprah!!! Her shows saved
my butt when I entered the work world. Also, 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. Today, Maxwell is still my favorite artist.
character, Imani, in the novel, I used education to better my life. I graduated from high school, and went on to college
to earn a Bachelor of Arts in liberal arts and science, and a Master of Arts in creative writing.
Like the character, Imani, in the novel, the scars of foster care are still there, but I've had many extraordinary
opportunities. I've worked as a child advocate for former president Jimmy Carter. 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 throughout Africa, and I've had great fun in a few U.S cities, especially Maui--my
favorite! I have
had the opportunity to VOTE for America's first African American president, something my biological parents never lived to
I had great social workers and great 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!"
I am working on completing my second novel
about a love affair in which a newly married couple's lives are turned upside down after finding themselves caught in the
middle of a genocide in a small African town on their two week honeymoon right before the summer of 2016. They return
to America and find police brutality and violence during a tumultous presidential campaign.