126 • pearls around the neck
“If Allah kept this baby alive, it’s because Allah, praise his name, has a mission for him!” said Viola in
her strong and compelling voice. She looked at me, smiling and evaluating the effects her words had
produced on me.
My baby boy was sleeping in his hand woven basket in the cool shadow of a baobab tree. He was six
weeks old. At birth, his immature lungs had not unfolded. He had been forced into a coma, an oxygen
mask strapped on his face and every vital organ substituted by a machine. It had been four weeks now…
But here he was, healthy, handsome and ready to embrace life.
Viola’s statement was neither a prediction nor a promise of faith: it was an affirmation.
Viola Vaughn had moved with her family from Michigan, in the USA to reside in Dakar, Senegal. Had
it something to do with her calling? Did it mean returning to her African roots? Viola and her husband
Sam Sanders, a legendary Saxophonist on the Detroit Jazz scene, were African Americans. It was so long
We met in 1991 at the Tamango, a famous Jazz club in Dakar where Tracy Chapman and Bobby Mc Ferry
had once performed. Sam and his band became the regular entertainers and we all truly enjoyed listening
Viola was not a “stay home mom”. Rapidly, she became involved with several young women’s
educational, health and nutritional programs. I remember her telling me how she was gathering statistics
on these subjects. It was fascinating and contagious to listen to her.
Soon our family left Senegal for another destination, yet another continent. Six months after our
departure, I had a breakdown… Probably the “baby blues” after the birth of my third child! Did Viola
call me? Did I dial her number in Dakar? Yes! There I was sobbing on the phone, confiding in her.
Viola listened and then she pronounced the sentence I would NEVER forget. A phrase that became my
slogan… an axiom for the years to come: “Where are your books?”
Indeed, where were my books?
I live with Viola’s postulate, my daily basic premise… and surround myself with books.
It’s Thanksgiving night, 2010 and we are all sitting in our living room in Winston Salem, North Carolina.
The TV is tuned to CNN. Who is on screen? Viola Vaughn! What? I am flabbergasted… actually I am
not. Viola belongs on TV, in the press, on the radio and in the media. But what is the show all about and
what is Viola doing there, talking to a crowd of distinguished people?
Viola was nominated as one of the ten CNN Heroes of the year 2008. She founded and is the Executive
Director of 10,000 Girls, an organization doing exceptional work in Senegal. Anderson Cooper was
hosting the event. The show was grand: Illustrious guests and imposing speakers. Viola was superb and
Viola and her family had moved for the third time to Kaolak in Senegal, in 2000. Two tragedies had
affected her life.
Her twenty-six year old daughter had died leaving five young children behind, and Viola’s husband and
companion of twenty years, had passed away, succumbing to black lung disease. Viola searched for peace
and found comfort in homeschooling her grandchildren aged four to twelve.