Berneitha was “a beautiful black girl.” That’s what her aunt always told her. But Berneitha was not really beautiful physically, and she knew it. And she was no longer a “girl.” Berneitha’s aunt loved Berneitha and saw in Berneitha a beauty that Berneitha could not see.

(“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” “Beauty is as beauty does.”)

One Sunday afternoon, another African American church joined Berneitha and her aunt’s church for a special program. Berneitha sang a solo, her extraordinary voice making those in attendance clap their hands and shout, “Yes, yes, yes! Sing the song!”

When the program was over, church members and guests went to the lower level for refreshments and fellowship. A young man from the visiting church came over to Berneitha and asked if he could sit next to her.

At first, shy Berneitha looked around as though he spoke to someone else. He asked her again. Berneitha nodded yes.

The man, whose name was Myron, sat down and introduced himself. He told Berneitha that she had one of the most beautiful voices he had ever heard. Berneitha blushed, and even though she did not turn red, Myron saw that he had made her uncomfortable.

He apologized. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you, but it’s true.”

Berneitha thanked him and relaxed a bit. Between awkward silences they talked about church, the news, weather, the economy and finally themselves.

When the repast was over and Myron had to leave, he said, “I’d like to talk with you again, Berneitha. May I have your phone number?”

Berneitha blushed again. This time Myron did not apologize. He took out his phone. With a soft, nervous voice, Berneitha gave him her number. “I’ll call you soon, Berneitha,” Myron said as he got up, “I hope you’ll remember me.”

Berneitha mustered up enough courage to say, “I look forward to hearing from you, Myron. Goodbye.”

Berneitha couldn’t wait to tell her aunt about Myron. Her aunt touched Berneitha’s cheek and said, “I been telling you you’re beautiful! “

It’s Black History Month and the day before St. Valentine’s Day. Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), an African American poet and author, wrote several poems about love. Below are excerpts from a few of his love poems, written in conventional English and dialect.

Song

My heart to thy heart, My hand to thine;

My lip to thy lips, Kisses are wine

Brewed for the lover in sunshine and shade,

Let me drink deep, then, my African maid …

Two Songs

… Bird of my lady’s bower,

Sing her a song;

Tell her that every hour,

All the day long,

Thought of her come to me,

Filling my brain

With the warm ecstasy

Of love’s refrain …

A Love Letter

Oh, I des received a letter f’om de sweetest little gal; Oh, my; oh, my.

She’s my lovely little sweetheart an’ her name is Sal: Oh, my; oh, my.

She writes me dat she loves me an’

she loves me true,

She wonders ef I’ll tell huh

dat I loves huh, too;

An’ my heaht’s so full o’ music dat I

do’ know what to do; Oh, my; oh, my…

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!