Not all Heritage is about ethnicity- or where your family is actually from. For Danielle Howard, heritage is the love and values her grandparents gave her – a life-long strength to defy every label.
“I learned of my heritage through my grandparents, and it simply is love and kindness. They didn’t so much teach me this but embodied it with their presence instead.
I would never hear my grandparents put labels on themselves or anyone else, about race or anything. So growing up, I saw that people had different skin tones, but to me we were all one of the same. My grandmother, whom my family and I called ‘Honey,’ would say that ‘What matters is what’s inside, not on the outside.’ Meaning, that the soul within this physical body is what is important, not the physical and what is visible to others. I’m not sure if we called her Honey because of her sweet soul, and her golden hair with golden skin tone, or if that’s just a name that we called her. But what she said was always very important to me, and letting me know that what’s on the inside is not only important, but it is also what I am. Growing up until this present day, this has made me look past every skin tone and to know that human beings are far beyond any race or color.
I do not identify with anything and I do not always say this to people. I say that I am American when people ask, because I was born in America, but I do not completely put this label on myself either. I say that I am American with a beautiful weightlessness, because I am thankful to be born in America. Sometimes when people ask what I am I want to say that I am universal, but I don’t. I usually just keep it to myself, except for now. What my grandparent’s have also passed down to me is to embrace diversity, and that we ourselves are diverse.
I called my grandfather ‘Papa’. Honey and Papa always had maps and globes in their house. We listened to all different kinds of music. They made different kinds of foods and recipes from different parts of the world….”
“I was raised in a Catholic family, and one thing that is very important is prayer. My grandparents turned religion and tradition into their own also, letting their hearts be the guide to creating or changing the way things were done or taught. At a very young age, Honey introduced me to praying. This was a very special and profound time. At first she told me specific Catholic prayers to say, and then when I got older she told me to turn them into my own and to say what I want when praying. The Catholic religion and prayers served as a basis to guide me, but to also understand that not everything in the religion has to be what I should believe. The main times were to pray before meals and before bed, but it could also be done throughout the day or whenever you wanted. There were no strict rules that my grandparents lived by and Honey’s approach to prayer was to always speak from your heart. She taught me that looking within your own heart is more important than things you hear in the world, which may not necessarily be true.
Unfortunately, with my heritage of love and kindness, not everyone may look pass my brown skin as I do. People are always labeling, mislabeling, assuming, and projecting. There are many issues in the present world with race and people of color. I think that a lot of times people say they want to be equal, yet the world is constantly dividing and categorizing. Something as simple as a change in skin color has caused violence, anger, and division in this world. Instead of people seeing past this, I see stereotypes and labels are used all the time. Everyone is always getting into debates about the issues of the world, and for me, this is where prayer comes in. No matter how bad something may seem, prayer is used.
My grandparents are whom I spent most time with when I was younger and when my family was closer together. My grandparents have been living examples of our heritage. There are not many specific things that they followed, and love surpassed anything that they did. For myself, if I were to get married or have kids, whether I decided to raise them Catholic or not, or whatever I decide to do, it would be okay. Because the freedom to do what you feel in your heart is the basis of our heritage….”