On the Front Porch: R-E-S-P-E-C-T, What Does That Word Mean to Me?

I, too, like many of you, am very familiar with the term RESPECT. the gospel-tinged, guttural bellows of the late, great Aretha Franklin.  Most of us also know how to spell the word as well due to our ability to engage in melodic memorization.  After all, that’s how we learned the alphabet.  The Queen of Soul’s lyrical ability was so remarkable that she brought attention to a word whose very utterance I took a step back and asked myself, “Do you REALLY know what the term ‘respect’ means?”  Surprisingly, I found myself shaking my head from side to side as the word “No” escaped my lips.  Don’t misunderstand me.  I’ve always known what “Respect” meant in THEORY. I thought it to be a word that was earned, expected and demanded. It is an action that I regularly sought to practice.  Despite these things, I realized that I have never officially taken the time to find out what it really means.  So just like I do when pondering other life , I decided to GOOGLE IT.  Here’s what I found from my handy online dictionaries.

Respect towards someone or something considered essential or held in high esteem or regard; it conveys a sense of admiration for excellent or valuable qualities, and it is also the process of honoring someone by exhibiting care, concern, or consideration for their needs or feelings. Derived from Miriam Webster Dictionary and Cambridge Dictionary

Reading the “respect” struck a chord in me.  I realized I had never fully understood its meaning, despite my attempts to embody it.   I concept of exhibiting care, concern, and consideration in honor of someone you respect.

The “care” concept is one that I learned from my great maternal gr Grand, a woman I’ve written about in numerous columns.  I unpack that notion further in my newly released book, Leading from the Heart.  Here’s an excerpt:

Our arrival to Great Grand’s white, wooden abode was almost theatrical. I sprang from the back seat and watched as Daddy unpacked our Chrysler, its lopsided headlights stared dimly ahead like the eyeballs of someone who’d had one too many drinks.  I immediately ran toward Great Grand’s house, my gym-shoe clad feet sank deep into the rich soil that led to the wide front porch that surrounded the house.  I sprinted past my mother, who’d been a few feet ahead of me, as my ears rang from faint drumbeats left behind by slave ancestors whose anguished whispers told stories of love and .

It was though Great Grand instinctively sensed my insecurities as she rose up in her chair ahin a five-mile radius.

“Y’all see how beautiful this child is?

“Look at those big pretty eyes.  Watch out now, you gonna break some hearts, someday!” Great Grand exclaimed as she sat up in her rocking chair, it’s wooden base swayed vigorously, as if in agreement with her.

 “We’re all so proud of you, baby.   You’re going to be a great woman SOMEDAY.   Bless Your Heart.”  I gleefully bit into a slice of watermelon and allowed its sweet juices to tickle my tongue. I felt happy.  Great Grand’s words were transformative. 

Great Grand passed away in 1987, the same year that Aretha Franklin became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Great Grand had a simple homegoing, much like the woman herself.  It was a stark contrast to the funeral held for the Queen of Soul.  The latter was sent home in a gold-hued coffin, a “chariot of gold” while wearing red stilettos.  The only thing gold at Great Grand’s funeral was the crooked wig splattered on the minister’s wife’s head and the only thing red was the Kool-aid we drank as we stood in her kitchen.

As we swapped stories and sorrow, I noticed a common theme.  Great Grand was a woman who had commanded, and when necessary, DEMANDED respect.  Aretha may have taught me to spell it, but I now realize that Great Grand taught me how to turn it into a rallying cry.  R-E-S-P-E-C-T, I’ve found out what it means to me. May both Queens rest in peace.

Shanita Baraka Akintonde
Shanita Baraka Akintonde

Shanita Baraka Akintonde is a wife, mother, author, professor, professional speaker, podcaster, consultant, columnist and community leader, who is propelled by love. Her new book, The Heart of a Leader, will be released in September 2018. Reach out to her today for book details or to find out how she can be hired to inspire. Email: sakintonde@colum.edu. Follow her on Twitter @SHAKINTONDE and connect with her on Linked in: http://www.linkedin.com/in/shanitaakintonde/.


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