The recent episode of NBC’s This Is Us titled “Our Little Girl” written by Eboni Freeman focused on the backstory of Randall Pearson’s (Sterling K. Brown) wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson).
This article contains spoilers so if you haven’t seen the episode “Our Little Island Girl,” please don’t continue reading.
In the episode we learned that young Bethany Clark had talent and a big dream to become a world famous ballerina. We met her parents Abe and Carol Clark, (played by Carl Lumby and The Cosby Show‘s Phylicia Rashad) a hard working American African couple determined to give their children the best lives possible. Abe and Carol wanted to help their daughter achieve her dancing dream (Abe was even willing to work extra hours at his job in order to pay for the high cost of the dance classes). And Carol candidly asked dance teacher Vincent (played by Timeless actor Goran Visnjic) the odds of Bethany making a living as a ballerina. The answer was not good as only a small number had professional success as a dancer.
Bethany’s mom was the epitome of the strong black mother. She was tough and not afraid to speak her mind. Or honestly tell her daughter the truth. Although Bethany had the talent to be a great dancer and is good, she was not the best. And instead of patting her on the head and saying “You can do anything you set your mind to,” Carol reinforced the idea of working hard to achieve. This is something black families can relate to. My late mother was born in 1924 and like Beth’s mom was a proud woman who sacrificed to give her children a better life. She encouraged hard work and education. Carol Clark told her daughter she couldn’t settle for just being a good dancer, she had to be the best. This may sound overbearing and pushy but anything worth having comes with struggle and endurance. Being handed things in life teaches the mentality of expectation not gratitude and appreciation for a job well done.
Unfortunately, the Clarks hit a tragic bump in the road of life when Abe was diagnosed with lung cancer. Despite this, he continued to support his daughter’s dream. He recalled a story when young Bethany was 18 months old and the family took a trip to Jamaica. The toddler wasn’t even walking yet but somehow was able to stand up and dance. So, dancing was something “their little island girl” was born to do. Heeding her father’s words, Bethany auditioned for a solo in the school’s production of Swan Lake. Sadly, she didn’t get it. Due to her father’s illness and her mother’s opinion that Bethany would not reach her dancing goal, Carol decided the Clark family would no longer pay for lessons. Carol felt Bethany should now focus on a more realistic dream like going to college.
In the present, we saw Zoe, Beth and Carol having dinner. Due to an injury to Carol’s hip, Beth was trying to get her mother to retire from her job as a high school principal. Zoe thought Beth was not being forceful enough when she made the suggestion, so she told her Aunt Carol to just quit her job. Mrs. Clark viewed her niece as a quitter and compared her to the college educated Beth who held a Master’s Degree and had a great career. This was when Beth blurted out about her lay off. Later, Zoe and Beth talked about growing up in the Clark home with a force to be reckoned with like Carol. Zoe was grateful having lived with Beth and her family as it was a perfect household from the abusive one Zoe left.
Beth’s parents helped shape the woman she turned out to be. Although Carol seemed to be unrelenting in wanting perfection in her daughter while Abe was more laid back with the “follow your dream” attitude, this counterbalance worked. And their strength also helped Zoe from becoming lost after her own horrible childhood experience. The Clarks (Carol in particular) made Beth (and by extension Zoe) the strong woman she is today.
Faith. Struggles. Disappointment. Discrimination. Practicality. Endurance. These are words that form the foundation of the black family. Strength isn’t something we hope to have; it is something we need to have in order to survive and succeed in life. We have to learn how to get up when life knocks us down and how to choose another life path when our dreams become unattainable. We don’t give up on them, we just put them on a shelf in the back of our mind where we store our other heart’s desires with the hope of dusting them off and pursuing them again when the time is right.
This Is Us “Our Little Girl” was a powerfully written episode. It was not only a showcase for Beth’s story and gifted actress Susan Kelechi Watson, it was the perfect episode to air during Black History Month where African Americans are honored for their contributions and achievements.
Bravo This Is Us. The script, casting and performances in “Our Little Girl” showed why This Is Us is must see television and stirs deep emotions in all who watch.
Photos Courtesy of NBC
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