Dear Cheryl Wills:
Hi! I just finished reading your book “Die Free” and I felt compelled to write to you. Do not ask me “why” but here I am writing to you. (smile) OH MY GOD!!! I could not stop crying reading about all that has happened to your family. The worst was towards the end of the book, the way you wished your “DADDY” was still alive to ask for your forgiveness for everything he made you go through.
I had to keep putting the book down to go wash my face, because I couldn’t continue to read with tears rolling down my eyes! My face is red and puffy as I am putting these words on this paper. I am feeling a sense of empowerment that I never felt from reading your book.
It is as if your father has a source from beyond to make me feel like anything is possible. It is hard to explain some great strong force was transmitted through your writing this book. I felt strong feelings – a power while reading. It was extraordinary from within my soul.
I believe because of reading this book, I will do something much better than I am doing right now. Thank you so very much for writing this unique book. By writing this book, you have touched something deep in my heart. Thanks-a-million!
Marilyn Morales aka Lyn
New York City
February 11, 2011
I just wanted to say congratulations on your book!
Your poignant prose is delightfully reminiscent of a bygone era when writers engaged readers not only with the details of the story; but with the beauty of the language itself. That is an art form not found too often anymore — especially in non-fiction.
Like all of us scattered throughout the African Diaspora, there is a perpetual longing in my heart to piece together, the pieces of my own ancestral tapestry. That is why I celebrate with you, the fact that you have found another piece of yours.
When I think of your great, great, great grandfather, Sandy, I not only see a handsome man from two centuries ago; I also see an irony that he would undoubtedly celebrate: that a man who was denied the right to learn to read and write, now has a descendant who not only knows how to read and write, but who knows how to write; and has used that gift honed by the higher education she was also free to pursue, to tell his story so movingly. Like Jesus did for Lazarus literally, you’ve resurrected Sandy figuratively and shared him with us.
Thank you and congratulations!
-Marcia Moxam Comrie
March 14, 2011
PS, I think your dad was also an amazing man (I have an amazing respect for firefighters, but espeically for black firefighters because it is so much harder for them to get in and stay in). And your mother is also a [s]hero of impressive proportions.
My name is Matt. I am Brenda’s son which makes me W.D.’s grandson. I wanted to contact you to let you know that I just finished your book Die Free and I loved it! I thought you told the story of our ancestors so well that at some points it seemed as though you were there in Haywood County, TN with Sandy and Emma. (I actually try to visit Brownsville, TN once a year, both my father’s family and mother’s family are from there) I was talking to my mom earlier and I was asking her if she remembered years ago when I use to get on ancestry.com to do random searches on our family history, she said yes, but I reminded her I never prevailed because it cost so much money for me (a 12 year old) at the time to even get past the first webpage. Now almost 10 years later, it was wonderful to get a history lesson about the Wills Family from your book! I have to tell you my absolute favorite part was about Emma’s fight to get Sandy’s Civil War benefits after he died. As you said in the book, it was hard to imagine how an illiterate woman had to fight the government so hard because of a spelling error. This really struck a chord in me. As a person in our family with the last name Wills, I have had to tell teachers, professors, and even friends how to spell my last name correctly. Sometimes I would let it pass and allow people to call me Matt Willis, but reading about Emma in the book and what she had to do over 100 years ago made me realize that it is important to spell my last name correctly! She fought for years because some man put an (extra I) in her husband last name, and if it was important to her, it should be important to me. Thank you again for writing the book, it was an excellent read. The pictures throughout the book were also amazing! It was shocking to see the resemblance between my grandfather and your dad! I hope to meet you someday and look forward to getting you to autograph my book!
P.S. Both my cousin Michelle (Annette’s daughter) and I are both college juniors studying some form of journalism. She wants to do Broadcast Journalism (like you) and I am studying journalism with an emphasis in Integrated Marketing Communications, we have traveled a couple of places together and we hope to make our next stop in NYC! I hope then we can meet up for lunch!
Thanks again for the book
Matt Wills ( your THIRD cousin, I believe) ☺
I just finished your book and enjoyed every page. The passion, fire and love that is expressed throughout the book is amazing. I want to thank you for sharing your legacy with the world and I will be sending it to some friends I know in Kentucky and Tennessee. I will be promoting your book to everyone I know.
P.S. I personally think every Pentecostal church member needs to read your book.
Be blessed my Sista!
Professor Haroon Kharem
May 8, 2011
I woke up this morning with one goal – to finish DIE FREE! I had been thrown off track by so many things over the past couple of weeks, it took me longer than normal. But you know what, I finished it at the right moment. I was on page 125 when I started reading today. Some things tried to distract me, but I was like NOPE. Not today, I’m going to absorb this. It is wonderful Cheryl. Beautifully written. I’m a lover of words, like you, and I was drawn to the book’s lexicon. The stories of Sandy Wills, Clarence, Fred, Ruth, Opal, Van, Cheryl, Big Boy, Cleavon, Cyrstal (I know I’m forgetting a sibling), but so good. So very dynamic. Your dad & granddad, such enigmas which are often found in our communities. Isn’t that something? Isn’t that something how things are passed along to us, and if we’re not careful, how they may destroy us. Yet if we are resilient how they may ultimately save us? Great great great! Thanks for sharing such intimate details of your family’s life. That took lots of courage. I have yet to find the courage to publicly share all of the private details of my family’s history, but one day perhaps.
“I guess we weren’t meant to have nothin…” broke my heart. Gurl I cried during the last half of the final chapter. It reminded me of so many things. My own granddad and great grands all of whom I was fortunate to know. Reminded me of my Grandmother; we are very tight. And just the heartbreak of mothers and fathers and our people. Our histories are rich in joy and a lot of pain. Ok, I’m done or the tears will flow once again. And I just washed and moisturized my face. lol!
Outstanding work. Congratulations to you.
June 14, 2011
I must honestly say that I LOVED reading your book. It was inspiring, uplifting and sometimes emotionally challenging to read. The way that you seamlessly transitioned from one era/person to another was truly amazing. I am certain that your ancestors, Sandy, Emma, Fred, Clarence, Van, Opal, Ruth are all EXTREMELY proud of you. You are truly a treasure for the world especially for members of the African-American community. My comments concerning your book have been echoed by Elder Gabrielle Baker who you met the same night I met you and who also has read your book.
I believe that your father is beaming to his friends in the heavenly realm and calling out to you to “Jump again”. As Dr. King stated, “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step”. I look forward to supporting your future efforts and I pray that we can stay in touch.
Elder Cliff Simmons
Executive Director, Co-Founder
July 24, 2011
I finished your book last night. Let me tell you…that story was phenomenal! It was very empowering and moving. I enjoyed the post Civil War/Reconstruction history and how it related to your family. I also enjoyed learning about the culture of your grandfather’s church and the musical culture of the southern Black church. I commend you for being so real (for lack of a better word). My mother wants to read it next.
Howard University ’13