The Emmy-winning Good Morning America co-anchor reflects on the experience of writing her latest text, My Story, My Song, with her mother and how, through their collaboration, they learned more about each other.
Journalist-author Robin Roberts
Tavis: Robin Roberts is, of course, co-anchor of ABC’s “Good Morning America” who last joined us on this program to talk about her book “From the Heart.” For her latest book she’s teamed up with her mother, Lucimarian Roberts, on the new text, “My Story, My Song: Mother-Daughter Reflections of Life and Faith.”
She joins us from where else, New York. Robin, good to have you back on this program.
Robin Roberts: Always good to spend some time with you, Tavis, thank you.
Tavis: First of all, my love to your mother. I hope she’s watching tonight in Mississippi. I met her, as you know, many, many years ago, and I adore your mother.
When I saw the cover of this book I realized how much you really are your mother’s daughter. The resemblance is so – it’s unavoidable.
Roberts: Bless you. You’ve paid me a lot of compliments over the years. That is the one I’m going to remember most, and I do feel like I am my mother’s child, and she often talks about you.
It was a real labor of love. We knocked heads a little bit, you know, mother-daughter, doing a project like this. But it was very important for her to tell her story, and this is her story.
Tavis: The book, of course, is told in her own words, and there are reflections by you about your mother’s journey. Let me start at an unorthodox place, perhaps, to begin a conversation by talking about the, since you made the joke about it a moment ago, talking about the tensions, the differences, the things that you and your mother don’t always see eye-to-eye about, the things that you don’t always agree on.
Obviously there’s a lot of love; we’ll get to that in just a second. But let me start with the tension and how mothers and daughters get along when they don’t see eye-to-eye on everything.
Roberts: That’s a good place to start, because I think that’s more relatable to a lot of folks.
She was somebody that growing up, very stern. Very loving, but the classic, “Why? Because I’m the mama and I said so, that’s why.” I talked about it, we talked about it in the book somewhat. We had a real knocking of heads over the years when it comes to dealing with race. My mother grew up in the Great Depression, segregation, the civil rights movement. She was there when President Obama was inaugurated, and in her mink coat. I’m like, “Mama, please, you can’t be PC in a mink coat,” and everybody had their mink coat. (Laughter) They all wore – it was cold that morning, and that was one thing.
I said, “Mama, come on.” But really, it’s really we have developed such a wonderful relationship, friendship, and in the beginning it was like mother-daughter. She didn’t want to be my friend. She has a problem sometimes when she sees younger parents today that want to be their kids’ best friend.
But we butted heads a little bit, especially growing up in the South, and she protected me and my siblings so much from race that it made us have a different view. But we really came together and I have a better understanding of where she’s coming from, and she knows where I’m coming from too.
Tavis: Tell me just a bit more about the tension there. What was the line, what was the distinction about with regard to race?
Roberts: Well, because a lot of us who are younger, and we didn’t go through the civil rights movement as much as our parents did, and sitting there and making real change, and very proud of what they did and appreciative of what they did.
We’re the beneficiaries of it, and sometimes my mother feels that wait a minute, there is still racism out there. I’m like, “Oh, Mama, not there’s not.” And I say, “Yeah, there is, but not as much as you feel.” She has been one that she doesn’t see color. She is one that even despite the challenges that she has had, that she has always made us be responsible for ourselves and not – I remember, I think I shared this with you before, I remember the first time that I thought I should be hired for a job and I wasn’t, and I said, “Oh, it’s because I’m a Black woman.”
My mom said, “Maybe you’re not good enough. Did you ever think about that?” (Laughter) So she (unintelligible) “Maybe let’s look at that first, and then maybe it’s because of your color.” So we really were able to come together, and she just helped me understand both sides of it, really.
Tavis: I was just thinking a moment ago when you were talking about your mom’s views on race and where she was raised, and of course living in Mississippi.
There’s a wonderful picture that many Americans have seen because it ran in newspapers of her having a playful moment with Haley Barbour. (Laughter) So you have this white, Republican governor of Mississippi who not a whole lot of Black folk are in love with, necessarily, but it’s a playful moment, and I’m thinking about your mother and her views of race and growing up in that state.
Here she is hanging out with the Republican governor of the state, where she, to his credit, was being honored for her wonderful work in the state.
Roberts: Yes. But let me tell you something about that picture, too. She said, “Mm-hmm, of all those people being honored, why’d they have to use my picture with Haley?” (Laughter) She likes him and all that, but she was like, “Hm.” It made “The Washington Post” and everything.
Tavis: I saw that, yeah.
Roberts: She just, “Oh.” (Laughter) But she commented on that, but that’s what – she can have differences with people, she has over the years, but she finds common ground, which has been something that she has taught me and has been very helpful for me.
Tavis: I’ve always believed and have said many times that we are who we are because somebody loved us. But it is so rare and so uncommon these days to see a person raised in a two-parent family. Things just aren’t what they used to be, and I’m not demonizing or casting aspersion who are not raised in that way.
Roberts: I know.
Tavis: But it’s rare. I was raised in a two-parent family out of Mississippi; you’re raised in a two-parent family. What did it mean for you to be not just her daughter but the daughter of Laurence as well, and seeing them in that loving relationship for what, 57 years?
Roberts: Oh, yeah, 57 years. I look up and I say, every time I go in the studio, “Good Morning America,” I go, “Good morning, Daddy.” He left us in 2004, right before Hurricane Katrina, and they were married 57 years. They met at Howard University.
It means everything, Tavis, and to see the wonderful relationship that they had and how they equally raised us, and my father being a Tuskegee Airman, being a full colonel in the Air Force, a lot of people knew about my father’s story and were very aware. He was very much at the forefront.
That’s why it’s been so wonderful to see my mother, who has a whole list of firsts that she has accomplished in her life, but to see them together raising their children, I’m the youngest of four, and my mother does talk about that and how important that is, and how we have to not just in our community but in all communities come back to that.
That is the foundation that is laid when you have both a positive male and female role model there in the home for you.
Tavis: I have other friends like you whose parents have been together for many, many years and many of them are still living, thankfully, and still together. Since we’re talking about your relationship with your mother, has it put – my word, not yours – any pressure on you or your siblings with regard to your own relationships when you have your parents as the penultimate example of being with one person for almost 60 years. What kind of pressure does that put on you, relationship-wise?
Roberts: Oh, you don’t want to go down that road, Tavis Smiley. (Laughter)
Tavis: I think we already are. I think we already are.
Roberts: I know we are. (Laughter) Oh, because my mom is old school and proud of it, and when we would bring somebody home, they were in one room and we were in the other room. No, if we were sleeping overnight or anything like that.
She is just very strong in her convictions and makes no apologies for it, and that’s what I respect so much about my mother. That doesn’t judge those people that are in our lives, she doesn’t feel like no one is good enough for their daughter or their son – I have two sisters and a brother.
But yes, it does make you really realize that they had something special, and it’s something that you want to experience as well. How’d I do? Did I answer that okay? Was that pretty good?
Tavis: Pretty good, pretty good, pretty good.
Roberts: That’s all right? Oh, whew.
Tavis: Pretty good. Judges? Judges? Okay, okay, you did good, you did good.
Roberts: Ooh, breathe, breathe.
Tavis: Your mother, not unlike my mother, out of Mississippi, is a very spiritual person. How does your mother’s deep and abiding faith impact you, the daughter?
Roberts: One of the greatest things – my mother gets great joy when she hears someone say, “Hey, I saw your daughter in church today. I saw your son in church today.” That means everything to my mother.
We went to church on Sundays. That was a given. You couldn’t (coughs) all of a sudden come down sick and say – no, it was Sunday. The Roberts, we sat in the same pew, and you didn’t even realize at the time, and I’m so grateful now, because I’ve had my own challenges, health challenges and other challenges, and it is the love of God, he sustains me.
It’s the relationship. I’m so grateful and blessed that my mother introduced me to the Lord. She talked about how most people talk about the three Rs, reading, writing, arithmetic? Uh-uh. It was the three Ds, determination, drive, and “da lord”. That was the driving force in our family.
I’m so appreciative. I have seen, Tavis, through watching my mother, how it has gotten through – she’s 88 years old. She’s had health concerns; she has seen her husband of 57 years leave her, almost losing her home in Katrina. So many setbacks, but through it all she has looked to God and has also taught her children to do the same thing. My mother is proud to say and often says that she is a child of God.
Tavis: Speaking of your health challenge right quick, how did it deepen your relationship with your mother when you were going through the health challenge that you were so courageous to talk about and to showcase every day on “Good Morning America” so the whole world, the whole country got a chance to join you in that battle, in that struggle thankfully that you won, and I along with millions of other Americans are delighted that you’re still here; principally, your mama, I know.
Roberts: Thank you.
Tavis: But what did it do for your relationship when you were going through that? Because no matter how old you get, you’re still her baby, and somebody had to look after you. So how’s your mama deal with that?
Roberts: You know what? I felt like the baby in the family all over again and it was a wonderful feeling, because I’m very blessed with the work that I do to be able to do some things for my family, and I love that. In some ways I feel older than I am with them.
But I was the baby again, and my mother came to New York and she nursed me, and she was in the kitchen. When I was losing my hair to chemotherapy and she was stirring her famous collard greens and keeping me at bay because she didn’t want my hair falling in, but she was still hugging me as she was stirring the collard greens, “Oh, baby, it’s going to be okay, it’s going to be okay.”
But she also told me about going public, to be of service, and that is something that she writes in her book and that’s what she is so important to our family, is to be of service, to find the message in everything that you’re going through. Make your mess your message.
My mother really showed me that through her love, and she loved me through cancer and taught me that God was there too. That there’s a reason and purpose for everything, and to find that meaning and to find the lesson and to share that lesson.
Tavis: I can’t do justice to this book in the time that I’ve had tonight with Robin Roberts, but it’s a wonderful read, and thankfully just in time for Mother’s Day. It’s called “My Story, My Song: Mother-Daughter Reflections of Life and Faith,” Robin writing this with her mother, Ms. Roberts, down in Mississippi.
I hope she’s watching tonight, but in the event she misses this, tell your mama I love her and there ain’t nothing she can do about it.
Roberts: (Laughs) Oh, she’s watching, Tavis. She’s watching and loving every second of it, and loves you.
Tavis: Love you too.
Roberts: Thank you.
Tavis: Good to have you on.
Roberts: Anytime. Thank you.
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