The University Record, March 13, 2000

Personal anecdotes deliver message

By Theresa Maddix

Success in life ‘is not about what I’ve got, it’s about what I gave,’ author and talk show host Bertice Berry told her audience at the annual Women of Color Task Force Career Conference. Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services
“I started laughing when I started teaching,” Bertice Berry said March 3, “I laughed again when I got custody of my sister’s three children.”

Berry, the keynote speaker for the 18th annual Women of Color Task Force (WCTF) career conference, kept the packed audience at Rackham Auditorium in stitches throughout her talk. Her personal anecdotes brought forth her experience as an author, a stand-up comedian and host of “USA Live,” an interactive talk show on the USA Network. Berry received her Ph.D. in sociology from Kent State University in 1988.

What came through most vividly in her talk was her love for friends and family. Berry grew up poor as the sixth of seven children, the first in the family to go to college—“not the first one that deserved to go.” Berry lives with her mother and three children in Dallas, Texas.

Recently, her mother was in the kitchen singing to Berry’s children and making them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Afterwards, an upset Berry asked her mother why she didn’t sing and make sandwiches for her when she was younger. In response, Berry said, her mother turned to her with the knife still in her hand, saying “It’s a lot easier to sing and make sandwiches when you have bread to make them on.”

Berry feels that her mother (in her 80s) has not lived a long life for personal gain. Instead, she said, “God let her live so that I could see her doing well.”

“We have to learn to love and strive for love because we haven’t got time for anything else,” Berry told the audience.

She also offered career advice, continuously emphasizing—“You are either in purpose or out of purpose. When we walk in purpose, all kinds of good things happen.” She told audience members to get to work an hour early if they can, to lay out the day before it begins.

Friendship was emphasized and re-emphasized. “When I see you, my sister, I can see myself. I know who I am and I know I can love you fiercely.”

Success in life, Berry said “is not about what I’ve got, it’s about what I gave.”

Berry spoke about people today living out “the unfilled longings of the ancestors. So many things are passed down,” she said, “and we don’t even know. We need to celebrate our survival.”

She also talked about the concept of “holdover memory,” asking the audience members if they ever had the experience of worrying when they were having a really good time and things were going exceptionally well, that something bad was about to happen. She called this a holdover memory from the time of slavery, when slaves would be punished if they appeared to be having too good a time.

In the case of this kind of memory and other bad memories, “You have to let it go and live your life,” Berry said.

Berry was introduced by Elizabeth Allen, associate professor of nursing, who during the question-and-answer period following the talk asked for advice on writing. “The trouble of writing,” Berry responded, “is not writing itself, it’s sitting down to write.” Yet, she insisted it was necessary, “You will be haunted until you do.”

Berry is the author of Redemption Song: A Novel, Sckraight from the Ghetto: You Know You’re Ghetto If . . ., and I’m on My Way but Your Foot Is on My Head: A Black Woman’s Story of Getting over Life’s Hurdles.