Susan D. Peters and I go way back. We share Old School Chicago and the years as teens when we rocked our way through social clubs, Ivy League clothing, and boys who could dance. It was not until Facebook that Susan and I reconnected as adults, and I discovered that she was a published author and that she had a global perspective. Her soul’s recipe invited her to be a core Contributor with Garden Spices, and in this issue, Blossom discovers what feeds her spirit. We see you, Susan Peters. – Victorine
Susan Peters is a “Southside girl,” who lived on 46th and Woodlawn in Chicago in the 50’s. “I grew up with my step dad, a postal worker, and my mom who was a hairdresser.” Peters lived only briefly during her childhood with her younger brother Godfrey and when her mother and biological father divorced, she and her brother lived apart. He was adopted by an “aunt” who moved with her husband to California and later became a professional musician. The siblings communicated only via late night phone calls. Her younger sister Yvonne was born to the union of her mother and her stepdad, John Anderson, who died when she was in her twenties.
“After high school I was clerking at the Blackstone Library, and while reading Jet magazine an article featured a man killed on his wedding day. That is how I discovered that I had Iost my brother. It was tragic… Godfrey and I had always hoped to be reunited.”
The Southside of Chicago always harbored predominantly African Americans, many whom were a part of the Great Migration. However, the Kenwood community included an unusual camp of residents. “From a historical perspective, although our community was predominantly black, we had Japanese Americans that were probably from the Internment Camps. My friend, Roy, was Japanese and the other Patty, was white. As children we didn’t really acknowledge race.
“Patty, the red-haired white girl would call out to me, and my mom would walk me over to play with her.” Peters recalls. “She lived in a big mansion and had a butler. We would play with her dolls and her toys. I guess her family was liberal. I wish I could remember more of that time.” Peters revealed a bit of her upbringing, as she told this story:
The last time I went over there. My mom was asleep, and I snuck over there, when I heard Mom calling me and ran out of Patty’s house without saying anything. I bolted across the street Mom was standing on the porch as the driver screeched to a halt inches from me…I got a good spanking that day.
Peters attended Lewis Wirth elementary school and envisioned attending Hyde Park High School but was zoned out of the school district. She was disappointed when most of her friends attended Hyde Park, while she enrolled at the Du Sable district.
Although Peters eventually worked at the Blackstone Public Library, her love for reading and writing started long before then. Susan was “always an avid reader. “I used to read encyclopedias,” Peters indicates, “When my mom and dad divorced, he moved to California, and he would write these long letters that would come in Manilla envelopes…this is how we communicated. He bought me my first set of the works of Lebanese poet Kahil Gibran.” Peters also had teachers that focused on “making our people better for the next generation.”
Mrs. Evelyn Keyes was one of the teachers that influenced Peters. “She went above and beyond to make sure her students were well educated. I have vivid memories of her showing us pictures of Kwame Nkrumah, the Prime Minister of Ghana after the end of British colonialism,” Peter reflects. “That sparked my interest in going to Africa. I can pinpoint this as clearly today as yesterday.” Peters watched Tarzan movies and “rooted for the natives…I wanted to see black men in ceremonial robes and leading.” Peters wanted to see black men in roles other than those she witnessed in her current environment. She longed to go to Africa, and indeed, Peters and her husband became Hebrew Israelites, accepted Hebrew names (her’s was Ahnydah, which means I know God) and traveled Liberia, to join the community of Hebrew Israelites living in West Africa in 1979.
Peters wrote Sweet Liberia: Lessons from the Coal pot as a memoir of her journey in Africa. She gives accounts of the many trials and lessons she learned from her life in Liberia. “I really learned to interact with and understand people who were different from me…honoring traditions,” recounted Peters. “I became successful once I learned to approach people from a position of trying to learn from them, rather than to impose what I thought needed to happen. I treasure these lessons to this day.” Peters lived for many years communally with the Hebrew Israelites and “developed a real kinship of collective work and responsibility.” She participated with midwives in deliveries. The women in the Hebrew community sometimes nursed one another’s babies and cared for the those “seriously ill.” Sharing everything was challenging and rewarding for a girl born to a nuclear family.
Peters began volunteering with the Liberian National Red Cross Society and was given the opportunity to become the director of a child care center. She found this an opportunity to educate indigenous women, who were not seen as people equipped to teach children in a child care environment. “Like here, people felt (the women) needed some special training,” Peters indicated. “I would engage them in hands-on simple training to teach them how to teach children in the daycare, which would hopefully carry over into their own households and community.” Peters also established a daycare for the market women, “which had been unheard of at that point.” Until then, only “civilized children” went to daycare. The market women’s children went in the market with their mothers.
Along with her many accomplishments in the child care service, Peters is proud to have served on the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (IAC). Initially, this work focused on genital mutilation, early age marriage and harmful nutrition practices such as withholding withheld dairy from pregnant women, which was “counterintuitive.” The committee identified food substitutes that were high in protein that could be given within the taboos.
She discovered that so many of the “barriers” for women in the Liberian community were similar to ones she experienced as a Hebrew Israelite; that the “civilized” world was quite similar in relation to restrictive norms for women. “This (awareness) helped me to bridge what could be seen as the divide between me and indigenous women,” indicates Peters. “There really was little difference.” We both worked from sun up till sun down and had to take care of a household too. Peters had 5 children, and always proclaimed after each of her pregnancies, that she would fulfill her own needs.
She would eventually leave the Hebrew commune, but not before she began to grow and sell bean sprouts, “something familiar to her family.” Ultimately, the sprouts became an outlet for the passion she had towards “self-fulfillment.” She found that her sprouts were innovative in the community and she began to sell them. “I took them to the Abijoudi Lebanese grocery store and started there with Mr. Wadiyah who became her good friend,” recounts Peters. “In a couple of days, they had sold out! I had to bring more.” It was a business Peters had most of the time she was in Liberia. Lessons from the Coal Pot details the harrowing experiences of Peters and her time spent in Liberia and became one of her 4 books published.
Peters wrote her first novel Broken Dolls. After the book was edited, Peters she wasn’t satisfied with the book’s direction and rewrote it to shift the focus to the female detective, Joi Sommers. Joi and her partner will have recurring roles in the Joi Sommers Mysteries. her latest book is Iron Collar, the second Joi Sommers mystery. While Peters is published in several anthologies, the future holds an LBGTQ story for young adults which may be published under a pseudonym. Susan is excited to see how it develops.
Throughout her career and life, as mother, business woman, and author, health has been at the core of her existence. When Peters first arrived in Liberia, she wondered how she could work out, as she had done in the States. “The Lawd said…you gon get out here and walk your miles to the roads for exercise,” laughs Peters. “I had been vegetarian since my 20’s and always health conscious.” Peters exercises and eats as best she can. “I prayed to let me live with vitality to raise my 5 children.”
Upon returning from Liberia, Peters was despondent. She had planned to live and work permanently in Liberia but was forced to flee with her children during the early months of the Liberian civil war. She reconciled her spirit through Revered Johnnie Coleman’s teachings at Christ Universal Temple. They became her “anchor.” She understood that her mind and what was within it would determine her outcome, and she leaned upon this principle. She meditates, sleeps to spiritual recordings, and journals to relieve her of her “baggage.” Peters also shares health information with the community, in her position as Executive Producer of the Community Health Focus Hour, sponsored by UChicago Medicine, which provides health programming aimed at the community on WVON1690AM radio.
Peters communicates with her 5 children through texting, and one night they ventured into a discussion on spirituality. Her eldest son told a story about how Jehovah Witness’ Watchtower has saved his life. They lived in gang territory, and he would whip out the newsletter and they would leave him alone. While raised with the teachings of Johnnie Coleman, her adult children have the freedom to choose their own faith tradition. One of her daughters is actually a Witness and had not heard the story told by her son.
Peters subscribes to Lessons in Truth practices and understands that “God only lets you know the journey your life can handle.” Little did she know that after what she had been through in Liberia and raising her children as a single parent, that her next assignment would be as a caregiver for her mother, diagnosed with dementia, and her stepdad. “This part of my life was totally unexpected.” Her sister visits monthly and provides a pair of fresh eyes and help as they manage their folks’ desire to remain together and in their own home. Her 5 children, 16 grandchildren, and one great grandchild remain her blessings, and she is aware of her ever unfolding “manna.”
– Susan D. Peters
Susan D. Peters, aka, Ahnydah (ah-NIE-dah) Rahm, brings a wealth of experience gained as an expatriate living in West Africa. Her memoir Sweet Liberia, Lessons from the Coal Pot, received the Black Excellence Award for Non-Fiction from the African American Alliance of Chicago and the Mate E. Palmer award for Non-Fiction from the Illinois Press Women’s Association. Broken Dolls, Susan’s second book, represents her foray into the mystery market and is the first of a series featuring Detective Joi Sommers as its heroine. Her most recent publication is Stolen Rainbow, a short story focused on the post combat recovery of a beautiful marine captain after a devastating combat injury. Her work is featured in three anthologies, Baring It All, the Ins and Outs of Publishing, Signed, Sealed, Delivered … I’m Yours, a contemporary romance anthology, and The Anthology of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association. Buy her books online and at www.SusanDPeters.com.
Originally from Chicago, Vicki Goldston, (Victorine), now calls Florence, AL, the Shoals area, home. She has three children, (including a son-in-love), and 3 grand children, all who add texture to the fabric of her life.
Teaching Conscious Living through God Within You, Vicki is the Pastor Emeritus of Living Spirit Church, an Independent, New Thought ministry, in Florence, AL. Minister Vicki is an Inspirational Speaker; a Contributing Author of a Chicken Soup book, The Miracle of Tithing, by Mark Victor Hansen; and the author of her own book, Be S.A.F.E. (Still, Aware, Faithful, and Excellent). She is the president of Camp Goldston Publishing, LLC. and the founder of Garden Spices Magazine. She facilitates her workshop, Abundance Therapy, and is the Founder/Facilitator of Revelations: A Ministry. She is also a member of the African Dance Troupe, POZA and The C.O.R.E. Drummers.
Her slogan is: “It’s all good/God” and Minister Vicki believes “love” has the final word.