HE GREW up in Brooklyn, but comedian Chris Rock’s family is from the Georgetown, S.C., area. And the unquestioned matriarch of his family, raising ten children, was and is his mother Rose Rock.
Indeed, Rose Rock is an important figure in her own right. Her passion for education led her to write Mama Rock’s Rules: Ten Lessons for Raising a Houseful of Successful Children, an engaging read in which, among other things, she shows where her famous son got his sense of humor from.
Rose Rock appears Saturday in a combined event honoring both the Black Heritage Festival and the Savannah Book Festival. She spoke to us last week from her South Carolina home.
Tell us what Rose Rock is all about and why you’re coming to Savannah.
Rose Rock: First of all, I’m a mother. That’s my proudest thing. I’m a consummate mother. I’m an educator, an author, a child advocate and a public speaker. I’ve just taken on an initiative in South Carolina to combat dropouts. We started to do Georgetown, Horry and Williamsburg counties, and I’ll be starting Feb. 4 with that. It has become a statewide thing, and hopefully I’ll take it nationwide.
Working in the schools is all well and good, but how do we influence what goes on in the home?
Rose Rock: The key thing is the home. I grew up in a time where parents were not educated, yet they could educate ten children. A mother could have a third-grade education, yet she could have ten children and see that they all got a college education.
We’re dealing from a different standpoint where education is not a key factor. And that’s where parents have gotten so lax and so complacent. We don’t place the proper value on parenting or on education.
I know your son makes a lot of money through TV appearances, but I have to say that television is largely to blame.
Rose Rock: I so agree with that. Morgan Freeman said — and I thought he was so profound — that TV was the beginning of the end for the libraries and for children having that reverence for reading. In my day, I could go to a library and I could travel all over the world in a book. Now we have children in 12th grade reading on a 5th grade level.
Television has its place, but it also has a switch that turns it off! As parents we have to decide in our home what can be watched and when, and stop using it as a babysitter. It really became a tool for getting children out of our way, and that is not what it was meant to do.
What can people expect to hear from you at your appearance here?
Rose Rock: I’m really speaking from my book, that’s what they wanted. I usually look at my audience, and sometimes there’s a bigger message than the book. So it really depends on the audience.
Right now with the new election and the new initiative to see people as people, my thing really is that the children are our children, and we need to get back to the village. We need to stop complaining so much about the children if we’re not teaching them, especially from a black perspective.
You have to understand your history in order to have pride in yourself. And we have a nation of young black children who didn’t go through the civil rights movement. There’s no respect or awe for the fact that they can go places the way my generation couldn’t.
We were shaped because we knew education was the key for us. We were shaped because we knew we had to come at everything from a bigger perspective. We were taught that we had to be better than the best just to get in the game.
Now children aren’t taught that. Not taught that they come from greatness, not taught that they’re responsible for so much good in this country. Black history is like 28 days a year, and it should be taught in the homes and in our churches and in our community every day.
That said, do you find it ironic that the first African-American president is not descended from slaves, nor does he have a significant civil rights background?
Rose Rock: I really find it ironic. I don’t know if anyone else has felt that the way I did. Not that I diminish anything about him, he’s a wonderful person.
The great thing about Obama is he’s going to let these black kids know it’s OK to be a little nerdy. It’s OK to dress well. It’s OK to speak well. You don’t have to use Ebonics to be black. But wouldn’t it have been great if he had come from that background?
Is it like icing on the cake that Obama’s election is not only significant for black people, but for the entire world?
Rose Rock: It puts this country in a different light. I travel a lot, and people always ask me, “You’re treated so badly in America, why do you stay?”
I don’t even know how I feel. I tried to explain that to Chris. For my children, they see it one way. For me because I’ve gone in the back doors, I’ve gone in stores and been told I couldn’t try on clothes, I know what it’s like. They haven’t had that.
So for me the election was one thing. For my parents, who were direct descendants of slaves, they would have had a whole different take on it. It’s something indescribable. Maybe in 20 years when I’m alive I can describe it.
Even after all the hype, I still don’t think people have fully digested the significance of his election.
Rose Rock: Even with everything happening, we were in suspended animation. It wasn’t until he put his hand on that Bible that I just burst into tears.
The stain of slavery on our country is horrible and cannot be erased overnight. But in a way doesn’t Obama’s election ultimately validate our country’s entire system and framework?
Rose Rock: What could validate us more? You know what I see it as? Everybody has to dig that little white man that they blame for everything out of the closet and put him in the trash where he belongs. They’ve got to do it.
We’re all walking a little lighter, our heads are a little higher. The one thing I never allowed in my house is the word “Can’t.” That was a four-letter word for us. I never allowed that word in my house. And now we have to really teach our kids never to use it.
Look at what has happened. How in the world can you say what you can’t do? cs
Rose Rock @ Savannah Book Festival
When: Saturday, Feb. 7, 11 a.m.
Where: Telfair Academy Sculpture Gallery