Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Whitney In Me

Whitney Houston (August 9, 1963-February 11, 2012)

Last night, I was at a dinner for one of the student organizations I advise.  The cultural club dinners always include a performance with acting and dancing, and sometimes singing.  Watching my students perform always makes me feel so proud, and after the show I hugged them and told them what a great job they did.  In the midst of celebrating the accomplishments of the organization and the students involved in the performance, I was given the news.  Whitney Houston had died.

I felt my heart drop.  After I heard the news, there were still students to congratulate and I still tried to keep a smile on my face, but inside I was feeling shaken.  I never knew Whitney Houston, but she had such an impact on me as I was growing up.  When I heard she died, I immediately went back to the age of thirteen when I heard "Saving All My Love for You", and all of the feelings that came along with that song.

When I was a child, my first dream job was to be an artist.  I lived out those fantasies at school, drawing my little heart out in the first grade.  It was a drawing of my best friend and me that confirmed my creative talent.  The drawing was chosen to be displayed at A & S (Abraham & Strauss), a department store along the lines of Macy's, in downtown Brooklyn.  My mom and sister went to see the drawing on display.  I didn't get to see it myself, but I knew it was kind of a big deal because my mom and sister actually got on a bus to go see it.  I continued to draw both at school and at home, drawing whatever my little mind conjured up, and finally creating my own fashions as a teenager in several notebooks.

In addition to drawing, I loved to sing.  The first song I remember singing was "Emotions" by the Bee-Gees ("It's just emotions taking me over, caught up in sorrow, lost in my soul").  I didn't know the words, but I remember how my heart felt when I sang it.  I was probably about four or five.  Any time I was able to participate in talent shows at school, I did.  I joined the chorus both in junior high and high school, as well as the church choir.  Singing became my way of releasing what was in my heart; especially what I had no words to express.

When I was thirteen, Whitney Houston came into my life.  I had a boyfriend, and we were in love.  I didn't get the meaning of all of the words in "Saving All My Love for You", but I sure felt like I was saving all my love for my little boyfriend at the time.  A few months later, I broke up with him.  Being in two different high schools put a strain on our relationship.  He would pick me up after school sometimes, which was so nice until it began to feel constraining. I was developing new friendships and it felt weird to try to bring him into that circle.  So we broke up.  Whitney was there with "All At Once".  "All at once...I finally took a moment, and I'm realizing're not coming back...and it finally hit me all at once."  I was young, but I had developed feelings for this person, and even though I broke up with him, the feelings didn't automatically disappear.  Whitney helped me understand and gave words to what was happening in my heart.

Whitney also gave me hope.  With "The Greatest Love of All", Whitney was the first person to teach me about self-love.  I didn't understand it when she first sang, "I decided long ago/never to walk in anyone's shadow/if I fail, if I succeed/at least I live as I believe/no matter what they take from me/they can't take away my dignity...The greatest love of all/is happening to me/I found the greatest love of all inside of me."  However, as I grew older, life taught me that I had to walk my own path and love myself regardless of whether I failed or succeeded, that I had to love myself enough not to beat myself up.  Whitney taught me that, and continues to teach me that. 

Whitney taught me about honoring the gifts God gave me.  Singing was very important to me, but I was afraid to do it.  My stage fright began in the fourth grade when I auditioned for the lead role in Annie and didn't get it.  My classmates had to vote between my best friend and me, and only one person voted for me. I found out later that they planned it that way (kids really can be cruel), because I was class vice president and a cheerleader, had already been class president and was the smartest student in the class, so they wanted to give someone else another chance.  From then on, as much as I loved singing, my solo voice was only heard at home until I was an adult and encouraged by a former member of the band Chic.  She and her husband taught me some things about singing, and I finally felt like I could sing.  I went on to sing in my church choir, singing a few solos, but more importantly I realized that this was a gift God gave me and that I should honor Him by using it.  Watching Whitney Houston in "The Preacher's Wife" solidified my realization.  At that time, we knew she had been struggling with drugs and alcohol and that her relationship with Bobby Brown was harmful and violent.  But when she sang songs like "I Love the Lord" and "Who Would Imagine a King", her God-given talent shone through as if angels were singing.  She showed me that I didn't have to be perfect to honor God.  

And now, though I'm not quite the artist or singer that I may have hoped to be as a child, I try to honor the creativity within me by writing.  My life experiences and my love of telling stories have combined to give birth to the desire to write.  I have loved writing since I was a child as well, and remember writing stories and poems and loving those particular assignments at school more than anything.  Now, I write here and there, but I have recently made a commitment to write daily, even if it's in my journal or a simple sentence that speaks what's in my heart.  If I don't write, my soul will die.

Whitney has left us, and I'm sad.  Many of us are sad.  But what I cannot do - what I promise to Whitney, who gave me beautiful and emotional memories and inspired me - is allow the creativity in me to die. Thank you, Whitney Houston, for reminding me to live my dreams and never to walk in anyone's shadow.

Rest In Peace, Whitney Houston.  


  1. Whitney has had an impact on people's lives because she never tried to hide her talents and the amazingness of her spirit. A lot of people say she sold out when left "black" music but I think she grew up and owned her voice. She pushed herself and her talents to new heights and succeeded. She taught me to not let myself be dfined by the cultural or value tags that were attached to me by others. I define myself as undefinable because like Whitney, I am full of talents wrapped up in too many possibilities to be called anything but limitless.

  2. Thank you for sharing how Whitney impacted you. Limitless! I love it!