For many of us 2021 has been a very challenging year. Many Americans are still waiting on their tax refunds and PUA benefits, while those in office pat themselves on the back for doing absolutely little, if anything at all. Around the end of March, I was hospitalized for a non-COVID related illness. Just as I was on the mend, the worst happened. Nanna passed away. To say we were close would be an understatement. She was my guiding light —the Martha & John to my Clark Kent; the Alfred to my Bruce; the Aunt May to my Peter Parker. While she was my grandmother, she essentially raised me and is my mother in the truest sense.
Brenda L. Whittmore (as she was known to the rest of the world) was a lifelong Nashville resident. A petite, gentle, soft-spoken Christian woman, she was kind to pretty much everyone she met. She definitely shaped me into the man I am today.
One example: when I was younger, she always saw to it that I watched Disney films and those rare tv shows and movies that depicted Blacks and our culture positively and accurately. Little wonder this led me on my path to becoming a speculative fiction author and an unapologetic Black equal rights activist.
Speaking of media influences…
While this piece may have Guiding Light in the title, it was the other CBS soap operas—namely The Young & The Restless and its spinoff The Bold & The Beautiful—that I was indoctrinated into by Nanna at an early age.
Looking back, I realize Nanna and I shared a special bond, which sadly is too rare. Nanna always saw the good in me and believed in me unconditionally. For many Black and Brown children, that’s often not the case. Many of us have to be high performing overachievers to prove ourselves worthy of being loved to the people who are supposed to uplift and protect us. The catch-22 is, when we do achieve the impossible, we’re often resented, degraded, and abused by so called kinfolk.
That was never the case with Nanna. She instilled in me the certainty that I matter, I deserve to be loved and respected. Which is why she didn’t switch up on me when I came out to her in college. She reminded me that she loved me, was proud of me, and I was who God made me to be. Whether I was attending the local trans vigils or the Black Lives Matter marches, Nanna was more than encouraging when it came to my work as an activist and working to help others. Again, sadly, in matters like these, familial support is often not the case.
Nanna was an inspiration on many fronts. Along with the late Ruby Dee, she was the basis for the character Ruby Scott in my debut YA novel, Hollowstone.
As longtime readers are aware, Nanna was featured in more than a few of my hilarious and (in)famous social media updates. As a way of celebrating the life and legacy of an incredible saint, I’m sharing a few of those stories below:
In the living room checking my emails while I overhear Nanna chatting with an aunt on the phone in her room. I hear them mention my cousin. Minutes later I hear.....
"Oh you know she is trying to kill her parents. Oh yes she was trying to buy a gun. You know she already stabbed that man."
My heart pounding, I rush into Nanna's room, trying to find out about my cousin. I glance at her, confused, survey the room, turn around, walk out and shut the door behind me without uttering a word.
Tomorrow Nanna and I will be having a long discussion about why she's no longer allowed to watch Tyler Perry's The Have and the Have Nots.
Scene: Nanna and I just watched a news segment about a local criminal who was arrested for faking a kidnapping to extort money from his grandmother.
Denny: He needs his ass kicked. Doing that to his own grandmother.
Nanna: Yeah I know it.
Denny: I knew he was white. Only white folks would pull some crap like this. First of all his name was Preston.
Nanna: Right! ROFL!!!!!
Denny: Because you know that con wouldn't work on Black folks.
Nanna: I would've told the kidnappers, I don't have the money. Do what you need to do.
Nanna: I saw you on the news this morning.
Denny: Oh yeah?
Nanna: They did a story on the Community Oversight Watch meeting you were telling me about. They showed you sitting in the audience.
Denny: The activism is all that matters to me. It's not about fame, or press, or such trivial vanities. I try not to indulge in such things because my focus should only be on...so how did I look on camera?
Nanna: You looked great.
Denny: The lighting was flattering and they got me at a good angle?
Denny: And the ensemble was on point?
Nanna: You looked fine.
Denny: What about my hair? Was it on fleek? Because HD is serious business.
Here’s to you Nanna. Rest in heaven. Love you, God bless. And here’s to all the other Nannas of the world who have been a support system and a guiding light to those who needed it. Thank you also, and God bless.