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Articles and Interviews

Sherry D. Henderson

By Josh Troy - Clarksdale Advocate

HENDERSON REFLECTS ON GROWING UP IN CLARKSDALE

IN NEW BOOK

BLACK MAGNOLIA: AN UNEQUIVOCAL SOUTHERN BELLE

Clarksdale native Sherry D. Henderson has been living in Denver since 1984, but she never forgot her roots. Henderson, a retired nurse practitioner from the Veterans Administration, is the first-time author of the book Black Magnolia: An Unequivocal Southern Belle, published in February.

“The title of the book was born from my vision of myself as one of the black blooms on the magnolia tree that surrounded the landowner’s beautiful home,” she said. “I have always been in love with magnolia trees ever since I first laid eyes on my first bloom.”  Henderson said the book is the “wisdom-rich story of an African American woman raised in the unsophisticated backwoods of Mississippi. I tell the story of my life through the beautiful Mississippi flowers that surrounded me from home to home. Just as all the flowers came together to create a bouquet of symbolic relationship, each chapter of my story blends with the next to reveal the blossoming tapestry of my life.”

Henderson said Black Magnolia: An Unequivocal Southern Belle is grounded in the wisdom of life-changing seeds her great grandmother planted into her psyche at a very early age. “I learned the value of being true to myself and seeing myself as equal to others,” she said. “Although a woman of few words, my great-grandmother watered and nurtured those seeds that produced ‘me’ an amazing adult.” Henderson talks about the challenges of growing up poor in the rural south. “I am confident that the world will enjoy my riveting and inspiring story as I welcome everyone into the intimate, adventurous, and eyes-wide-open spaces of my life,” she said.

Henderson said the theme of championing equality runs deep in the book and she wants people to understand a child can have a vision that can last a lifetime. She talks about her connection to Clarksdale. This not only speaks from my connection to Clarksdale, but the South as a whole,” she said. “Life was hard, but my great-grandmother was a master at dealing with hard times as she made something out of nothing on a daily basis.”

Henderson was born and raised on the land of Mr. James Humble, Route 1 Box 204. She attended Sherard Elementary School until age 11 and then moved to Clarksdale. She attended Myrtle Hall Elementary, Riverton Immediate and Clarksdale Junior High. She graduated from Clarksdale High School as an honor student in 1976 and then-Coahoma Junior College as Salutatorian in 1978. She attended Howard University and took physics courses in the summer of 1978. Henderson graduated from the Ole Miss School of Nursing in 1981, earned her master’s degree with a healthcare management major and personnel management minor from Webster University in 1988 and a master of science degree in nursing from the University of Colorado in 1998. She earned her adult nurse practitioner certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center in 1998.

Three years after Henderson graduated from Nursing school, she decided she wanted a career in nursing management and administration. Her mission was to be a chief nurse in the Veterans Administration somewhere. “I started this pursuit as a shift charge nurse,” she said. “In this role, I managed a nursing unit for eight to twelve-hours periods of time. Then I moved to the next level as a nurse manager. My responsibilities increased by leaps and bounds. I managed a staff of 30 to 35 employees and 30 patients 24/7. This positioned me pretty much on a straight-line trajectory of accomplishing my ultimate goal.”

When Henderson’s great-grandmother who raised her passed away in 1970, she was given an opportunity to visit her aunt in Denver, Colo. She visited every summer until starting college. Henderson said she moved to Denver in July 1984 where she worked for the Veterans Administration. The move came after working two years as a RN at the Mississippi Baptist Medical Center in Jackson. She added she moved “as a free spirit and risk-taker.”

 

“I decided to pack my clothes in a tiny U-Haul on the top of my car and drove to Denver,” she said. “The move was prompted by circumstances that resulted from limited job opportunities on my job. Even at an early age, I was looking for a career instead of just a job.”

During Henderson’s time working for the Veterans Administration in Denver, she was a staff charge nurse, nurse manager, nursing supervisor and an independent practice adult nurse practitioner with an ANCC certification. Henderson still visits Mississippi once or twice a year to visit her brother in Southaven and stepfather in Clarksdale. She also visits for family reunions. She has seen growth in Clarksdale since her childhood.

“In some ways, it has changed for the positive,” she said. “For example, race relationships have inched in a positive direction. I see so many exciting events that are happening that are keeping Clarksdale on the map. The successful sports teams are killing it. Clarksdale’s reputation of being the birthplace of the blues continues booming to higher and higher levels. This keeps boosting much well received tourism. I frequently remind people that Clarkdale as The Place of the Blues is on one of the murals at the Denver International Airport. I do think that the highway bypasses negatively impacted the economics. Still waiting for an integrated school reunion.” Some of Henderson’s fond memories growing up in Clarksdale include walking to school with friends every day, crossing over the bridges each day as her boyfriends carried her books, forming good race relationships in high school as watched the integrated tennis teams and debate clubs, having some of the best teachers to shape her life and playing sports with her brothers in the backyard, especially basketball and football.

“I was the quarterback for tag football when the boys were short one player,” Henderson said. “I could throw a mean pass.” Henderson said she understood that she had a profound opinion about equality at a very young age. “When Clarksdale Junior High integrated, I was conscious of trying to protect the two Caucasian students who were fortunately to be the first to attend Clarksdale Junior High,” she said. Henderson also recalled going to the New Roxy theater on holidays and “feeling like a free spirit as I was roaming the wide-open country plains.”

Now that Henderson has written about her connections with Clarksdale in Black Magnolia: An Unequivocal Southern Belle, her readers appreciate her thoughts and experiences.    Her book has received the maximum 5 out of 5 rating on Amazon. Readers have described the book as an “intriguing and insightful read,” “inspiring,” an “amazing story,” “ must read,” and “very well written, a wonderful personal memoir.” One reader wrote, “I cried and laughed!” Henderson expects to showcase her book for book clubs in Clarksdale when she returns to Clarksdale in September. She is also pursuing a book signing at Coahoma Community College.

Henderson is also promoting her book through displays at multiple educational venues-Graduations, TED talks, showcases/book signing in Southern Mississippi, book signings at local churches, her former place of employment the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Canteen Service newsletters, Facebook and Instagram. “I am currently being interviewed by David Tan-editorial staff of CanvasRebel in Colorado Springs, Colo.,” she said. “I was chosen because he was working on interviews with inspiring entrepreneurs and creatives.”

Black Magnolia: An Unequivocal Southern Belle is being sold on Amazon.com. It can be found by searching the book title or books by “Sherry D. Henderson.” Anyone who wants an autographed copy, they can pay via a money app, send Henderson an address and she will autograph the book and mail it to the person.

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