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The Faces of '96

Tale of Racism Has Happy Ending

December 27, 1996|MERI NANA-AMA DANQUAH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

An inmate author does his best to save children from a life of crime.

An actress struggles to regain her life and livelihood after losing both legs in a crash.

The wife of a socially prominent attorney leaves her husband and children to marry a convicted murderer.

A wife-attorney defends her White House advisor-husband after he is photographed in the arms of another woman.

You met these remarkable people on the pages of Life & Style in 1996. Our writers and photographers took you into their worlds for a moment, to ponder their dilemmas and learn about what makes them tick.

And then, because the news is the news, they vanished from our view.

But their stories did not end once you had read about them. Here, we catch up with several of 1996's most memorable people.

*

As I typed out the last few paragraphs of my first person essay, "A World of Hurt Even a Mother Can't Soothe," my 5-year-old daughter, Korama, came and stood behind me.

"That's my name," she said, pointing her little finger at the computer screen. "Are you writing me a letter?"

"No," I explained. "But it's a story about you."

I nervously read her the article, which related a racist "joke" a neighbor had told her some months back: that white babies who go to heaven are transformed into angels while black babies turn into bats. This hellish characterization of blackness stayed with Korama and, to my frustration, was affirmed by her discovery that devil's-food cake is black while angel food cake is white.

All the pain of the incident returned to her eyes as she listened to what I had written. I could see that reading it to her had been a mistake and worried that having it published might prove to be one as well.

Fortunately, that was not the case. After the article ran Nov. 6, Korama and I received huge amounts of mail--week after week, nearly 100 pieces in all. I brought it all home, and we sat side by side on the living room floor as if it were Christmas morning and opened each envelope.

There were packages containing carvings, drawings and other representations of black angels; letters from people sharing similar experiences, offering comfort and encouragement.

Best of all, Korama received a letter from Janell Cannon, the author of "Stellaluna," a book about a baby fruit bat. It had once been Korama's favorite story, but after the "joke," she didn't want to hear it anymore. In addition, the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, which represents Cannon, sent us a "Stellaluna" CD, which Korama immediately asked me to play. The story has since reclaimed its title as her "most bestest."

It was hard for Korama to believe that complete strangers could care so much.

"How do you feel about that?" I asked her.

"Good," she replied. "It makes me feel like people I don't know already love me. And that's good, isn't it, Mommy?"

"Yes," I agreed, "that's a real good thing."

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