Cover image for On our way to beautiful : a family memoir
On our way to beautiful : a family memoir
Young, Yolanda, 1968-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Villard, [2002]

Physical Description:
x, 213 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F379.S4 Y68 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
F379.S4 Y68 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
F379.S4 Y68 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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In this warm and heartfelt memoir reminiscent of Having Our Say by Sarah and A. Elizabeth Delaney and All Over but the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg, Yolanda Young unfolds stories of innocence and experience, wisdom and redemption, tragedy and deliverance: the strong lessons on which her life and her faith are based. Yolanda Young grew up in the rambunctious but God-fearing town of Shreveport, Louisiana, where people prayed as hard as they gambled and loved as hard as they fought. It is a little city that wobbles between extremes, where juke joints squat next to churches, and betting slips compete with offering envelopes. The unpaved streets of Yolanda's neighborhood were lined with shotgun shacks, but lack of money didn't stop her family and community from teaching bedrock values. In stories laced with Southern humor and spiritual enlightenment, Yolanda introduces us to a host of unforgettable characters, such as her great-grandmother Big Momma, whose favorite words, "Now let's wend," signal the beginning of an adventure, and her grandmother Honey-moon, famous for bone-crushing hugs. And then there is her next-door neighbor Mrs. Leviston, who tells young Yolanda that she gave up being surprised at things for her eightieth birthday: "I figured I was getting too old to be shocked. I might give myself a heart attack." But even tales of great distress turn into an opportunity for grace: Though Yolanda sees her father shoot her mother, mother and daughter survive and grow stronger, rejoicing together. Bracing, funny, and always uplifting, On Our Way to Beautiful shows us that hope can burst forth from despair and trials can be turned into triumph.

Author Notes

Yolanda Young reaches millions of Americans every week through her nationally syndicated column, "On Our Way to Beautiful." An attorney & graduate of Georgetown University School of Law, she is also a motivational speaker & has contributed to Essence magazine. She lives in Washington, D.C.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Young recounts coming-of-age in a close, colorful, and very religious family in Shreveport, Louisiana. Her mother was shot and nearly killed by her father; her uncle was killed by his cheating wife; another uncle, already a family disgrace because of his homosexuality, was jailed for sexually abusing a child. But Young's large family triumphs over every tragedy and setback, lives in close proximity, and is fortified by three generations of unerring support and faith. The black church figures prominently in the life of this family and in the life of a young girl who struggles with self-image and possesses a probing intelligence that has her reaching beyond the thin aspirations of her friends. She faces the challenges of school desegregation, resentment of her mother's forgiveness of her negligent father, and the true meaning of faith beyond the words mouthed by young people in the church choir. This is an amusing, touching, inspiring account of a young girl's development in the bosom of a loving family. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Young, a syndicated columnist and Sunday school teacher, draws from both her professions in this collection of autobiographical vignettes about growing up in Shreveport, La., in the early 1970s. Each chapter carries a biblical epigraph, and each tale serves a moral purpose (e.g., "to get a head start in life we needed the same skills that were required to win at musical chairs intuition, flexibility, and a great deal of stamina"). But it is Young's storytelling skill, her ear for dialogue and her eye for picture that broaden her appeal. Events both momentous and small summer revival camp, wrapping the maypole, schoolyard scraps, celebrating Juneteenth and the Fourth of July, a tornado, a whipping and more are rendered vividly. She carefully remembers the people in her life, including her great-grandmother, Big Momma; Honeymoon and Pappy, her grandparents; and her mother, Momma, along with a host of uncles, aunts and neighbors. Occasionally, Young visually recalls moments of ordinary African-American life, as when she describes "the Eastern Stars wearing long white dresses with purple-and-gold, blue-and-white, burgundy-and-brown sashes draped across their chests and small thimble-shaped hats on their heads." Although abusive husbands, racial tension, a murder and even a pedophilic uncle intrude, they do not thwart the march to "beautiful." This is an uncommonly engaging book about learning to love oneself, one's family and one's world. Agent, Linda Chester & Associates. (Mar. 26) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Growing up black in Shreveport, LA. Young's column of the same name appears in Essence and 87 newspapers nationwide. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-This inspiring story of an attorney, syndicated columnist, and Sunday-school teacher is a riveting tale of one woman's secret to success. What makes this book so valuable are Young's observations about growing up in Shreveport, LA, and her religious faith. The author has a magnificent storytelling style, and throughout the book she introduces a host of memorable family members and neighbors. All of the stories offer a wealth of practical information, emotional support, and advice for teens. They capture 1970s' African-American familial life accurately-the recollections of mistakes, lessons learned, and insights gained. The author's sense of humor and down-to-earth style make this book one teens won't easily forget.-ayo dayo, Chinn Park Regional Library, Prince William, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



On Our Way to Beautiful When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful . . . then the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for he also is flesh . -Genesis 6:1-3 Once a year I make the drive back to my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. My journey begins as the sun rises over our nation's capital. Before long I'm moving through smaller cities that claim tobacco and the Confederate flag as symbols of pride, wondering how long it will be before the smell of factory smoke is replaced by the fertile aroma of livestock and chicken flocks. Then the narrow roads begin to unwind--hugged on either side by pastures, cows, horses, and shacks--and so too does my mind. As I ramble down bumpy paths, I stumble over the memory of a day spent fishing in a nearby bayou with my uncles, and the familiar smells of rank armpits and beer overwhelm my senses. Later, I see shiny pumps and a black veil waiting on top of an aging quilt and hear children running in bare feet. A tin of peanut brittle spotted at the counter of a country gas station lands my mind on my great-grandmother because that was her favorite candy. Big Momma was part of a chorus of tabernacle women who mothered me. She always said Shreveport was known as the city of churches because they sprout up on corners like strawberries in July. Word has it that there are more churches in my hometown than in any other city in the country. Hymns flow from their doors on Sunday mornings, while during the week the smiling church ladies greet you with words of encouragement as they skirt around the vestibule like bees on a honeycomb. "Baaaby, that was a fine prayer you did Sunday," Mrs. Davis would say as I walked by. "Whose girl is dat with you? Bring her next Sunday." But as is the case with all of Louisiana, our little city wob- bles between extremes. Our local dishes of gumbo, catfish, and dirty rice must be spicy hot. Juke joints squat next to churches, and betting slips compete with offering envelopes. Fire-and-brimstone ministers point out that we drink and gamble too much. That is, until one in their congregation "hits." Then it's time to bring a tithe of the winnings to the altar. All of this is summed up neatly by the two billboards I notice as I cross the Texas Street Bridge into my city's fold. One beckons you toward the horseshoe casino straight ahead. Opposite, another shouts, wanna win the jackpot? come to jesus. There is always the question of which road to take. To enter Shreveport's downtown, travelers must cross our beloved Red River, which curls like a large garden snake around the city. The river is yet another contradiction. It does not remotely resemble the liquid silver color of the Mississippi. Instead, it pours out a murky clay red and flows as thick as soft mud across Louisiana. The only time it sparkles is at night, when the casino riverboats' carnival lights illuminate the city. Following the curve of the river, crouched along the road leaving downtown, rests a neighborhood of little shacks that belie a city of over a quarter million. We call the houses shotgun because a bullet fired through the front entrance will pass through every room in the house before exiting the back door. It is a place where the children play dodgeball in the street but know to watch their manners, and every woman worth her salt can make a meal out of meat drippings, flour, eggs, and rice. The unpaved streets are filled with stray dogs, and after a rain the air smells like wet earth. On warm mornings, plump older women wearing blinding white maid uniforms congregate on corners and talk while awaiting the arrival of little blue buses that will take them to the homes where they work. "Child, Pastor Green liked to got the church on fire Sunday, didn't he?" "Yeah, girl, and did you hear Mrs. Rogers shouting in the back? You know that boy of hers keeps her on her knees. He ain't got good sense." "Folks say what they want about her whiskey habit. That woman will give you the shirt off her back. That's how I know she close to God." That neighborhood was called Stoner Hill. I grew up listening to the women there. Everyone in that phalanx had a family church, and most believed in God and agreed that it was through Jesus Christ that we all gained salvation. Growing up, I don't recall ever meeting someone who didn't have a faith--at least no one who would admit such a thing out loud. It was a place where all doctrine was respected; even door-knocking Jehovah's Witnesses were given the opportunity to speak their piece. Yes, Shreveport was the kind of city where everyone had a church, temple, or chapel they considered theirs, even if they'd only seen it from the inside a dozen times. A child from Stoner Hill seldom made it out of puberty without a distant cousin or a neighbor dragging the youngster off to recite New Testament Scripture in the Easter pageant or sing carols in the Christmas program, blessing the child with at least a C.M.E. membership: attendance at Christmas, Mother's Day, and Easter. I've been reciting Bible verses since I was old enough to say, "Jesus wept." My great-grandmother, Big Momma, used to say about the Bible, "Baby, you can find a word to carry you through anythang." Still, my very religious family managed to pick and choose which Scriptures to live by. The men would pray up a miracle in the deacons' corner and then enjoy a strong glass or two of Jack Daniel's after church. The women sang in the choir but cursed like sailors when their team fumbled on Monday Night Football. "I could pull up my skirt and beat that sorry-ass receiver to the ball," Big Momma would shout from the kitchen while stacking freshly washed dishes in cabinets. I spent most of my childhood summers down the road from home at Big Momma's house. We began each day with the morning ritual she referred to as her labor of love--combing my hair. I would sit on the porch floor with my feet swinging over its edge while my head bobbed back and forth between Big Momma's legs as she tugged, parted, and braided my long, thick, nappy hair. Big Momma always sat perfectly upright, sucking in her breath with each drag of the comb, then releasing the air from her hollow Cherokee cheeks, never once bending her back. After she finished the job, she'd pat me on my head and say, "Now you beautiful." I'd rush to the bathroom, stand on the toilet seat, and peer over the sink into the mirror, eager to view this new and beautiful me. Of course, she never materialized. All I ever saw was my chubby face with a crown of lopsided plaits and a mouth full of what my momma teasingly called "beaver teeth" because they looked large enough to saw wood. Besides our grooming, Big Momma and her band of swearing sopranos made sure their offspring got a proper Christian upbringing. Every Sunday there was morning church school and Baptist Training Union. And for one week every August the young ones were herded to Grambling, Louisiana, a small college town, for a gigantic statewide revival called Youth-En-Camp. Although the drive took only a few hours, it had the feel of a great adventure. This was due in part to the parcel of sheets, dresses, and fried chicken that always accompanied me but also because the decreased supervision allowed me to experience free will. It was during one of these revivals that I became hopeful that I would one day look into the mirror and see beauty in myself. I was thirteen at the time--too old to be in one of the crayon classrooms but still too awkward to be cool. Before that summer I'd never thought that I could be beautiful--perhaps cute, on a good day, but never glamorous, radiant, or enchanting. Of course, up to that point, the only form of beauty I knew to desire was physical splendor, in which category I was sorely lacking. I was the tallest girl in my eighth-grade class, and when I tried to walk in dress shoes, my heels would slide out, causing me to trip over myself. Naturally, my only concern was ridding myself of awkwardness. Beauty was something I saw only in others. A woman's even-colored skin and bright white teeth made her beautiful, never the inner peace that sparkled in her eyes. I greatly admired the little girl's sunny Easter dress, adorned with white bows and ribbons, but gave no thought to the mother--needle in one hand, iron in the other, creating this lovely vision. And Big Momma's front lawn with its velvet violets, deep purple grape suckers, and yellow sunflowers floating in the air like balloons was beautiful, but never once did I consider the care they were given even as the flowers' first petals danced indiscriminately in the sunlight. I had always focused on my plainness, and it was this sorry image of myself that I took with me to Youth-En-Camp that summer. Only later would I understand that real beauty emanates from the heart. At camp that summer, our daily activities started with 5 a.m. prayer and devotion, during which I often volunteered to pray out loud so that everyone could hear my conversation with God. Somewhere along the way I got the notion that you were the biggest coward and hypocrite if you didn't want to pray out loud. That to me suggested you were ashamed of the Lord, and even with all my insecurities and teenage angst, I wanted to be bigger than that. After breakfast, there was Bible-study class, lunch, and midday worship. There teenagers would offer testimonials, and thanks to those I referred to as our "holy staples" (they seemed as necessary to our religious experience as the flour and canned goods that lined the shelves of our neighborhood general store)--the girl who'd been suffering from multiple sclerosis who was walking for the first time in five years and the boys who overnight had been called to preach--the standard for godliness was set high. Following dinner and church service came the dating game, which commenced on a dusty bridge that stretched a half mile long and linked Grambling to the town of Ruston. As a symbolic gesture, the bridge was closed while the campers lined up at its foot, over a thousand of us girls on the right while the boys, far fewer in number, stood on the left. Once we were all settled down, the boys would cross the street and become like ants sifting through a mound of brown sugar, seeking the perfect young lady to escort to the other side of the bridge for evening service at Rocky Valley Baptist Church. I was always with the leftover girls, and we would trail behind the couples, walking with our heads down, kicking at stones in the street. Excerpted from On Our Way to Beautiful: A Family Memoir by Yolanda Young All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.