In February, Hasna Muhammad, daughter of late actors, activists and beloved couple Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, released a Ruby Dee-inspired collection of greeting cards of some of her and her famous mothers words of wisdom or Crumbs, as Muhammad describes them, on love, hope and aging.
Produced by Crumb Navigation and sold for $30, the limited edition boxed set contains 16 envelopes and five cards featuring three of Dee’s Crumbs written in elegant gold lettering:
Crumb #60: You know youre getting old when ordinary things seem like miracles.
Crumb #66: Love is when you understand the logic of forgiveness.
Crumb #71: Those who know enough about the past know enough to hope.
“There are 81 in total and 14 are hers. So in this limited edition set, I am offering three of the Crumbs that she dropped. In the fall, I will release another set featuring three new Crumbs,” Muhammad tells TNJ.com in an exclusive interview.
Dee passed away in 2014, but our memories of her courageous and extraordinary work as an activist and an actor live on.
Here, we speak with Muhammad about the Ruby Dee Boxed Card Set, aging, and her family legacy.
TNJ.com: What inspired you to launch the collection of greeting cards?
Hasna Muhammad: The Crumb Navigation is a collection of sayings and greetings. I call them Say Greetings. They are notes to self about aging. Some are humorous; some are serious. All of them are about embracing life and family and accepting the process of maturing, which is a family affair: elders need reminding that folks need to be taking care of them and younger folks need to know that its time for you to take care of your elders. Ive had the blessing of watching my grandmother, mother and father as they aged. They lived long lives. My grandmother passed when she was almost 106, my dad passed when he was 87, and my mom passed at 91.
As they became elders, I began to recognize patterns in aging that I am likely to repeat. For example, my parents believed they could continue to do whatever they had always done. And they had to prove it! Quite frankly, I dont want to put my kids through that. First off, I plan to live to around 110! And I want to be the elder who knows she needs help when she does, and who will sit down when its time to sit down and wait for someone who is younger and stronger to move the couch. So I wanted to drop myself little reminders, notes to self about aging, so I could follow my way back to my senses. The Crumbs are touchtone reminders so I can remember the things that my children tell me and move forward and age gracefully in relatively good health.
TNJ.com: How long had you been planning to do this?
H.M.: It started back in 2009. The phrases were little quick quotes about what I needed to do and remember, and they grew from 1 to 81. When my mother was approaching 90, she decided to embrace her age. She was actually anywhere between 2 and 14 years older than what was reported and recorded on her birth certificate. Her birth certificate was different than her passport which was different from her drivers license in terms of age and she never wanted anyone to know about her age. But when she was on the precipice of 90, she decided to embrace it and then she started dropping these quotes. So, one day, we were in the kitchen cracking up and she said, You know youre getting old when ordinary things seem like miracles. We fell out laughing, and she would just keep coming with these tidbit remarks and we added them to Crumb Navigation.
TNJ.com: Where can people purchase the cards?
H.M.: They can go online to Crumb Navigation. com and order the boxed card set for a limited time. Once in a while, I sell them onsite in different places. For example, this past weekend, the Westchester Alliance of Black School Educators honored Mom within their Black History Month celebration, and I had the opportunity to sell some cards there as well as my sons DVD Lifes Essentials with Ruby Dee. I hope to do more events for Womens History Month, Mothers Day, etc. Im on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where I will post some upcoming events. Mugs are available, too.
TNJ.com: Do you have a favorite Crumb?
H.M.: I think that I dont. She has a series of You know youre getting old when sayings which are great. If I had to pick, I would choose #71: We who know enough about the past know enough to hope, because it was her last. She said it at the height of the recent police brutality killings. These incidents are not new. African Americans have been killed, shot at and lynched by the police for many years, but that one resonates with me because she knows that it has gotten better incrementally compared to when she was young.
TNJ.com: In just a few words, how would you describe your Mom?
H.M.: She was a very unique woman with a generous heart and a special soul and spirit walking this earth; she was before her time. She was in a very small, petite frame but she was so big inside. There was so much to her. She was passionate about people, and committed to fighting injustice and doing whatever was within her reach and realm to uplift all people. She was deeply affected by things that occurred in the world. She was rough and tough and could fight in the street, but inside she was deeply sensitive and conscious of the pain of the human condition and as well as the beauty and the promise of the human condition. She believed so much that we could do what we need to do to save the planet and to teach our children.
There were so many facets to her all packed into that little frame that was often subjected to the obstacles of being a woman and being a Black person. And she just went through them and did what she could do to break these obstacles down so that other folks could get ahead. She told us she loved us and she was a great mom. But it was always framed in a bigger picture than just her and us. It was about humanity, so everything we did from conserving energy to recycling to saving folks, figuratively and literally, that was what we needed to do. That is what she taught us.
TNJ.com: I had the opportunity to see your son’s DVD “Life’s Essentials with Ruby Dee” on television during Black History Month. What did your family think of it?
H.M.: It was a family affair. We loved the idea. One of the things our parents instilled in us was the ability to tell our own stories and take care of our own affairs. So for my son to be the person to tell that particular story brings to fruition what our parents wanted for us which was to articulate through art and tell our own stories. My son is a filmmaker, he values his legacy and he collaborated with our family on it. My sister is one of the producers; my nephew was involved with the music; my other son shot the films photography; my daughter is a caterer and catered the food and we all just supported the effort. We are so glad that he captured their life from his perspective which also captures our perspective as children along with the other 6 grandchildren. We are very proud and pleased that he was able to do that and it helps us all tell our story. The goal is to preserve the legacy and he did that.
(CLICK HERE to read my interview with Hasna’s son, Muta Ali Muhammad, who documented his grandparents’ life in the documentary “Life’s Essentials with Ruby Dee: Love, Art and Activism.” “Life’s Essentials” is available for purchase on Amazon.)