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Condoleeza Rice and Me

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

It’s interesting that Condoleeza Rice’s memoir,  Extraordinary, Ordinary People, precedes Something To Prove, my own new memoir, by just a couple months (Something To Prove will be out at the end of December). Aside from the color of our skin, I wouldn’t have known that Dr. Rice and I share so much in common. But now that I’ve watched interviews with her and read articles about Extraordinary, Ordinary People, I see that she and I both owe our achievements in large part to parents who, although held back from realizing their own full potential by the racial attitudes of the day, had big dreams for their daughters:

Despite being raised in a city resistant to quality education for blacks, Rice’s parents used their meager resources to provide their only child with piano lessons at 3.

Change a couple of details (I studied a different instrument – the saxophone – and began at age 5), the above could describe my own childhood; multiplied by five daughters and five different instruments.

Condoleeza Rice’s parents had impossible dreams for their daughter of high political office. My parents had impossible dreams for me of becoming a doctor; again multiplied by five daughters .

Rice’s parents told that the way to success required her to be “twice as good” as whites. My parents so often spoke almost the identical words, that I can hear their voices as I write this.

In an interview with NPR, where she was asked about her life’s journey, Rice said this:

“I always say, you had to know John and Angelena Rice …So, this is really their story, and my life wrapped in their story.”

I’ve said very much the same about Donald and Itasker Thornton, my own amazing parents.

One gift that my parents gave me that Dr. Rice did not get from her otherwise remarkable parents is the belief that a woman’s achievement need not come at the sacrifice of marriage and family. I have two wonderful, grown children who are following in their own parents’ footsteps and a husband who I adore today as I did 36 years ago, when we first said “I do.”

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH