Daughters of the Dream – or – What I Did on my Summer Sabbatical

By Tamara Lucas Copeland
President, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

In February 2012, I started writing a manuscript intended to capture my lifelong friendship with seven women. Most of us started Albert V. Norrell Elementary School in Richmond, VA, together. We evolved into a group in junior high, stayed together through high school, and then drifted apart in college and afterward as we finished our education and started careers and families. Once we reached our forties, we came back together and have remained close ever since. Now, we get together three or four times a year; sometimes for a weekend, other times just for lunch.

One day it occurred to me that race and the civil rights movement have been the background theme (sights and sounds) of our lives. Whenever we get together, we celebrate a black milestone like MLK Day, visit a black-themed exhibit, see a movie related to black culture, or simply discuss a challenge facing the black community. It was then that I started to think that this manuscript wasn’t simply about our friendship. It was, and is, about being a silent, but pivotal part of the civil rights movement.

We were too young to march, but our parents put us in the movement in a different way. First, they instilled in us the importance of education. College was a given for us, and we were encouraged to pursue advanced degrees. We also had to act, talk and dress a certain way to be prepared to walk through the doors that were about to open for our race. And we did. We were ready when opportunities finally emerged and “Jobs, Colored” was no longer a part of the employment section of the newspapers.

As I started to write, the name that emerged for my manuscript was Daughters of the Dream. We are the offspring, not only of our parents but of Dr. King’s dream. Of the eight, six of us have advanced degrees, certainly a much higher percentage than the national average. All have been successful in our career choices. We believe that, in large measure, we have been judged by the content of our character, not by the color of our skin.

For several years, the manuscript just sat. I knew it needed work, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I thought I wasn’t working on it, but I was. New ideas and new revelations were being shaped in my thinking. This summer, during my sabbatical, I had the luxury of concentrated time to renew my work on my manuscript. And, of course, the challenges of this summer, particularly Charlottesville continue to reveal that the battle for civil rights, for racial justice, remains. The dream, in many ways, is still just that. My commitment to finishing this project grows stronger every day.

Next year, Daughters of the Dream will be complete. In the meantime, if you want to get a glimpse into the experience of growing up in segregated Richmond, Virginia, follow my just-started, monthly blog at www.daughtersofthedream.org.