By Josh Troy
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 relationships, 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 that 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 the age of 11 and then moved to Clarksdale. She attended Myrtle Hall Elementary, Riverton Intermediate, and Clarksdale Junior High. She graduated from Clarksdale High School as an honor student in 1976 and then attended Coahoma Junior College as Salutatorian in 1978. She also 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 graduating from nursing school, Henderson 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-hour 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 an RN at the Mississippi Baptist Medical Center in Jackson. She added that 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 held various positions such as staff charge nurse, nurse manager, nursing supervisor, and independent practice adult nurse practitioner with an ANCC certification.
Henderson still visits Mississippi once or twice a year to see her brother in Southaven and her stepfather in Clarksdale. She also visits for family reunions. Henderson has witnessed growth in Clarksdale since her childhood.
“In some ways, it has changed for the positive,” she said. “For example, race relationships have improved. I see so many exciting events that are happening, keeping Clarksdale on the map. The successful sports teams are thriving, and Clarksdale’s reputation as the birthplace of the blues continues to flourish. This boosts tourism and is well received. I frequently remind people that Clarkdale as The Place of the Blues is depicted on one of the murals at the Denver International Airport. However, I believe that the highway bypasses have negatively impacted the local economy. I’m still waiting for an integrated school reunion.”
Some of Henderson’s fond memories of growing up in Clarksdale include walking to school with friends every day, crossing bridges as her boyfriends carried her books, forming good race relationships in high school while observing integrated tennis teams and debate clubs, having exceptional teachers who shaped 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 the importance of equality at a very young age.
“When Clarksdale Junior High integrated, I was conscious of trying to protect the two Caucasian students who were fortunate 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 she roamed 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.
Henderson’s 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, a 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 in September. She is also pursuing a book signing at Coahoma Community College.
Henderson is promoting her book through displays at multiple educational venues such as graduations, TED talks, showcases/book signings in Southern Mississippi, book signings at local churches, the Department of Veterans Affairs (her former place of employment), 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 is working on interviews with inspiring entrepreneurs and creatives.”
Black Magnolia: An Unequivocal Southern Belle is available for purchase on Amazon.com. It can be found by searching the book title or books by “Sherry D. Henderson.” Anyone who wants an autographed copy can pay via a money app, provide Henderson with their address, and she will autograph the book and mail it to them.