Tekla A. Syers is an African-American woman, grandmother, sister, and friend. A lifelong learner, Syers includes writing, cooking, and handcrafts in her list of pursuits. She’s known for taking her pursuits very seriously, and I can tell you she’s certainly taken piecrust to the next level. Her apple pie is extraordinary, and I hear her blueberry and cherry pies may be the stuff of legend too.
Syers is a Chicagoan. She was raised on the city’s south side as a member of a close-knit extended family. Even when she made her home in Urbana and Champaign, Illinois, or Cheboygan and Saginaw, Michigan, she frequently returned to Chicago for the fun, food, and predictability family provided. She wanted her son to enjoy the broad base of support, values, and love of extended family too. She found many role models among family members. She learned that even the most annoying individuals might provide a safe harbor in life storms, render creative inspiration, or snatch you from the brink of disaster. After nine years away, she returned to Chicago and resides there now. Syers says Chicago’s cultural attractions and diversity of people and experiences were always magnets drawing her back as well.
In addition to family, as a child, Syers enjoyed solid relationships with friends in the neighborhood. She enjoyed the value of loyalty and the comfort of a safe environment with a tight crew of friends. Syers maintains close ties with friends from what she calls “the little days “ and other friends she’s gathered along life‘s path. She remarked that others might find their friendships lacking because she has or has had all of the best folks as friends.
Syers began to express her feelings through writing and art while in elementary school. She says there was something expectant and compelling about a clean sheet of paper, a blank canvas, a lump of clay, or a piece of fabric. They wanted to be more. The margins of her schoolwork were filled with sketches and doodling. She often poured her stream of consciousness onto a page on her way to classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology from seventh grade through high school graduation. Surprisingly, Syers said learning how to write term papers in elementary and high school became the foundation for tackling projects at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana campus and all along her career path.
Syers credits Girl Scouting with transforming her thinking from job to career. Over her 20 year career in Girl Scouting, Syers honed leadership, management, and adult development skills. She began in Urbana, Illinois, recruiting and supporting local Girl Scout adult management units. In Michigan, she directed educational services, and at the end of her Girl Scout career, she was directing communications and development operations in the northern and western suburbs of Chicago. Following a stint as director of development for another youth-serving agency and as the Institute of Food Technologist Foundation Vice President, Syers and a couple of friends started their own consulting firm. For 11 years, their firm supported nonprofit organizations, primarily those serving communities of color, in the greater Chicagoland area.
Writing term papers may give Syers’s writing structure, but it’s probably her spiritual practice that gives it heart. Syers was baptized as an infant in the African American Episcopal church. She was active in the church through high school graduation. However, literal interpretations of Biblical scripture didn’t answer her questions or satisfy her spiritual curiosity. Her introduction to Christ Universal Temple in 1984 changed that. The teachings expanded her concept of God, the world, herself, and her place in the world.
At first, she says the personal accountability for one’s circumstances was overwhelming. But she came to see that this accountability gives each of us power over outcomes in our lives… If we will exercise it. A class in prayer introduced her to meditation, and she discovered meditation was the essential activity of spiritual practice. Syers says meditation gives us access to the power and wisdom within us that can see around corners, reveal solutions, attract fruitful ideas, relieve stress, revitalize us, and overcome what we call insurmountable. She says energy is influenced by thought, and as a field of energy within a limitless field of energy, each of us is only limited by our imagination.
That’s the kind of thinking that gives rise to a poem like “Vitality “ and her many other works. If you haven’t read her works, I invite you to enjoy “Vitality “ in this issue… With a piece of pie.
— Tekla A. Syers resides in Chicago as a student and teacher of metaphysics; smitten grandmother; dabbler in culinary arts; semi-retired fund development and nonprofit management consultant; and a craftswoman. She enjoys music and art in myriad forms and makes time to observe and reflect on why folks and things are as they are.