The color of one’s skin tone should not take away from their academic achievements, but what happens when it does? For over 53 years, Dr. Cathy Griffin Famble lived with the reality that her skin tone and mattered more than the injustice done to a child.
Dr. Famble came from humble beginnings, growing up in an orphanage until she was 4 years old. She was later adopted by a family of modest means in North Carolina. It was there that she learned complexion trumped most things. Young Cathy was always smart and excited about learning. At the time she grew up, however, segregation was still afoot and she had to learn how to navigate her own community with its own “Color Codes.” In 1954, Blues singer Big Bill Broonzy penned a song, ” Black, Brown and White Blues…” If you is white, you’s alright,if you’s brown, stick around, but if you’s black, hmm, hmm, brother, get back, get back, get back. Cathy grew up singing a song whose lyrics would challenge all that she held dear.
As a high school senior and already president of the National Spanish Honors Society, Cathy looked forward to being inducted into the National Honor Society. Her grades merited her a nomination and as the days waned on before induction, she would soon learn her fate. Two days before the induction, Cathy was told that two girls planned to launch a sneak attack on her in the gym. She was prepared with the knowledge so that when the girls finally did appear to attack her, she was ready. She defended herself valiantly and warded off her attackers. Instead of being understood for her self-defense and advocacy, she was denied entrance into society. The girls, along with the school administration, took away her public acknowledgment of her accolades.
She went on to earn an undergraduate degree from Bennett College, a master’s degree from UNC-Chapel Hill, and a Ph.D. from the Ohio State University. She is a published author and former chair of the School of Education at Winston Salem State University.
Dr. Famble’s tenacity and resolve inspired and motivated me to always strive to be my best academically and to be socially conscious. As a darker complexioned young Black woman, I identified with how she was treated less than by people who were supposed to protect her. Because of her struggle, I dedicated myself to excellence in the classroom while speaking out against racial injustice. When I was inducted into the National Honor Society, she was the first to congratulate me. I owe my national pin to Dr. Famble, my grandmother.
I hope to be half the woman and scholar Dr. Famble has been. I contacted the chapter at her high school alma mater and asked them to retroactively induct her. Dr. King said, ‘ the time is ALWAYS right to do what is right.” She taught me the value of believing in myself and pursuing every goal. Her time for justice is NOW!