What Each of Us Can Learn From the Queen

Detroit is my undisputed home. In Detroit, we lay claim to the unique swagger that is uniquely our own, as the Motor City-home to the auto industry, the place that birthed the Motown sound, as a predominantly Black city known for our collective, revolutionary consciousness and activism. We adorn the old English ‘D’ of the Detroit tigers, and boast of the legendary reign of the Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys”, we unapologetically wield the Black fist of Joe Louis as we proclaim Black Power and we march to the beat of our own rhythmic drum, which resonates through our legendary drummers and dancers, in our daughter poet, jessica Care moore and c/o our musical sons, Big Sean and Eminem. How fortunate we are to have been blessed to exist in the same location, space and time with a long list of gifted artists, freedom fighters and great scholars who also consider Detroit their home. Alas, no one is more notable and more readily synonymous with the long list of Detroit’s royalty – than is our Queen, known worldwide as simply the Queen – Aretha Franklin.

Among the fitting tributes and well-deserved honors being heaped upon the Queen since her recent, earthly transition to the realm of the ancestors, there is also a profound void of one who was larger than life, anointed by God and who willingly shared of her gifts in her trademark effortless manner. It’s not at all surprising that the vast majority of the words of wisdom meant to comfort the family and millions of fans across the globe have made reference to the Queen’s remarkable 12-octave range and her illustrious, decades long career. Yet, I am especially struck by the meaningful lessons we are each able to glean from the extraordinary life of this Queen. Though scarcely apparent to the public eye, the Queen taught, by example, the inherent virtues of: faith, love, loyalty, the tireless pursuit of justice and the power of speaking one’s truth.

As it regards her indwelling, spiritual light and faith, the Queen ministered through her divine gift of song rather than to ever “perform” in the traditional sense of the word. While performers are often classically trained and exhaustively coached to project a pre-packaged and politically correct image; the Queen was always and forever-her authentic self. As a PK (preacher’s kid) and a self-taught and extremely talented pianist – the anointed power of the Queen’s melodic voice was acquired and most importantly, perfected in childhood. This symbolized unmitigated proof of her predestined walk of faith. In the esteemed tradition of the Black church, the Queen’s Holy Ghost, spirit filled hymns often punctuated the historic, soul stirring and rousing sermons of her father, Rev. C.L. Franklin. Thus rendering the Queen a co-creative vessel in which to minister to the people of God. The rich foundation of a strong, Black Christian faith played an indelible role in the Queen’s lifelong ability to live a life that was much unlike our own, in that though flawed by circumstances, the Queen’s life and her purpose-driven vocation was a thorough testament to God’s grace and the depths of her own faith.

The Queen’s unconditional love of family, friends and of her beloved Detroit community was readily apparent in her generous outpourings of affection for us all. From the never far away, consistent companionship of her sons, grandchildren, nieces and sisters; to the opulent, star-studded annual parties she hosted to celebrate her birthday and Christmas, with extended family and friends – there was no greater return on her unconditional love than her own regal presence and a keen ability to be so other-centered. Intimately involved in every detail of the planning of her coveted parties, benefit concerts and events, the Queen ensured that the red carpet treatment was extended to all whom she loved and she spared no expense in this process. Indeed, she loved family, friends and Detroit with a fierce passion and the beauty of her adoration for us was evident in countless gifts of the heart shared so unselfishly. Over time, we (her beloved community), had even come to routinely expect the five-star, four-course meals and prominent gospel lineup of industry greats she blessed us with, as we worshipped God as an extended family unit within Detroit’s famed New Bethel Baptist Church every year. We not only reaped the benefits of a free concert and fully catered dinner meal, but we often reveled in enjoying the Queen’s own homemade oxtail soup and in partying with her and her Hollywood star studded, featured guests, each year. Even now, as painful the void that we must now endure from the absence of our beloved Queen blessing us with her earthly presence; we are each infinitely blessed to have long been the beneficiaries of the Queen’s divine light and love for us all. As such, it is now time for Detroit to join the nation in saluting the Queen, in kind.

Alas, out of our profound sense of an unparalleled depth of love and loyalty to our larger-than-life, yet equally personal Queen, we pause to reflect and to honor you with merely a small measure of the beauty, light and love you shared so unselfishly with us. As we embark upon the appropriately lengthy, distinguished and impending four-day celebration of the remarkable life and legacy of our Queen; we mourn even as we learn from your significant life lessons. We mirror your undying love for your family by holding our own loved ones a bit closer. We model your exemplary loyalty for the people of the city of Detroit, as we travel or even relocate elsewhere and enjoy international life experiences but still regard Detroit as our home. We affirm your tireless pursuit of justice as we deliver clean water to Flint, MI, feed the poor and serve the less fortunate, out of the same obligatory duty which inspired you. We honor the people on Linwood street in Detroit, with the same level of respect and esteem that is often reserved for Grammy award winning artists, heads of state and U.S. Presidents – because we emulate your fine example. And perhaps most importantly – we collectively benefit from your fearless example of always speaking your unfiltered opinions, as we give ourselves permission to speak “truth to power” in the face of an entire world of pretenders. We remind those with whom we conduct business and whom we honor with our presence, to pay us via cash advance as a non-negotiable sign of respect. And we do our level best to adopt your signature Aries-inspired, straight no-chaser honesty when faced with probing questions about our personal lives by refusing to play nice and resist revealing our innermost, personal narratives. Instead, with your songs as the soundtrack to our lives and Detroit as a defining attribute of your character, we glean from your exemplary life experiences, forevermore. We stand a bit taller, sing your soul stirring praise songs from someplace deep within, we dance like no one is watching and we pledge to live our lives a bit more fearlessly and purposefully, because we have been blessed to walk and live among your royal highness, Ms. Aretha Franklin.

All hail the Queen. Asé.

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Published by Nefertari Nkenge

Nefertari Nkenge, Ed.D. is a well respected transformative leader in pedagogy. The unique combination of over two decades of classroom instruction, curriculum/professional development innovation, urban school administrative leadership and a lifelong commitment to grassroots activism and social justice - informs the empowering Educate to Liberate model.

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