The theme of “The Promised Land” runs throughout African-American history and culture. Enslaved people who accepted Christianity had faith that they, like the “Children of Israel,” would be liberated from bondage and live in the Promised Land. Searching for freedom and increased opportunities to carve out their own “American Dreams,” black migrants from the South fled their homeland for the industrial North during the Great Migration of the 20th century. In addition, on April 3, 1968, the night before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. invoked the Promised Land three times in his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. King implied that he, like the prophet Moses, “may not get there with you,” but “we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”
In her book, Tools to Cultivate the Promised Land: Working Wisdom from My Grandparents’ Garden, Deborah L. Parker uses these biblical, historical and metaphorical references to discuss the contemporary search for the Promised Land. For African-Americans, the phrase has historically referred to “freedom” or a land of freedom, but Parker suggests no set definition, indicating varied and contested meanings. It can be a physical destination to which one escapes, but it can also be a mental and spiritual space. In fact, each person must mark his or her own “sacred space.”
Once that sacred space is claimed, it must be nurtured. Parker imparts the wisdom of the elders–lessons she learned growing up in a multi-generational family–to instruct readers on cultivating their Promised Land. Her narrative weaves in the practical advice of her maternal grandparents, Joseph Everett and Pearl Cargill Parker, and illustrates the usefulness of words and actions.
Tools to Cultivate the Promised Land is a motivational book interspersed with inspirational stories and family history. Parker is a great storyteller, and the the book is most compelling when she incorporates her own narrative into the discussion. For example, I found her chapter on racism (Weed-Whackers for Racism and Other Growth Stoppers) particularly interesting. She compares racism to weeds in a garden, which can prevent you from achieving your purpose, if you allow it. Although racism has reared its ugly head in her life, she found ways to overcome the obstacles placed in her path. She succeeded in spite of racism because she had the right “tools.”
Parker cherishes the memories of her grandparents and the lessons to be learned from both family and collective history. This book should cause readers to think about applying the lessons they’ve learned from their grandparents as well.