The Importance of Family. Part I of III – Spotlight: Lia Nelson-James and the Culture That Brings People Together

Lia Nelson-James as a teen. Photo courtesy of: Lia Nelson-James.

Every person in the world has a unique story. These can come from different families, ethnicities, cultures, experiences, and traditions. In the first part of this three-part series, Lia Nelson-James’ life is going to be under the spotlight. She is an African-American woman and Denver native with an intriguing story.


She was born in Colorado, but moved to Tennessee for a couple years as a young girl. She was only five-years-old when she was living in Tennessee and was first exposed to terrible racism. Nelson-James and her sister were the only two black people on a school bus full of white people, where they were picked on and spit on every day. She also played basketball. Her teammates would not ride with her and her mother in the car after they won the championship, solely because of their skin color. Her dad also put a swimming pool in their backyard, and when they invited friends over to swim their responses were, “we only want to play with you because you have a pool.” While these encounters are still painful for Nelson-James to this day, she said, “I learned so much more about true compassion, empathy, caring about people, and what love meant. If you love somebody you are not going to treat them like that.”

After enduring that life in Tennessee, she moved back to Colorado. Her outlook on life was completely changed in terms of how she looked at her friends when she was in school, and who she

Lia Nelson-James as a teen. Photo courtesy of: Lia Nelson-James

chose who to spend her time with. She said, “People need to understand we have different practices and different skin colors. We are all human and if we don’t treat each other as valuable, we are not only missing out but also giving up on others in the process.” This realization is really where her life took a turn for the best. She lived with a Japanese family for two years, where she was able to practice and learn about their culture. She also traveled to London on a whim to explore, escape, and meet new people. She said that she would not have traveled to London or lived with this family if it weren’t for her growth from the experiences she faced in Tennessee.
When I asked Nelson-James about what has gotten her to where she is in life today I got a moving response – family. Living with the Japanese family, she found that she was a lot less afraid to try new things, which is what sparked her interest in her trip to London. Though, she has found the importance of family and the favorite thing about her culture because of her immediate family. When I asked her about her favorite part of her culture she said, “To be honest with you, I didn’t really find anything favorite or amazing to start telling people until I got older. We as African-Americans embrace people and help them in their transitions of life.” She became extremely close with her father and grandmother as her grandmother was passing. She obeyed all her grandmothers’ orders and stayed by her side until she passed on. She believes in the connectivity of family, and the commitment you make to them in their times of need. She holds on to the culture by valuing all stages of life and sharing them with the new generations. She believes that people are put in a place they are supposed to be to learn all the lessons they are supposed to learn. She lives her life by looking at things brightly and positively. Thanks to her family, she has gained the strength to be who she is today, while continuing to grow.

Lia Nelson-James’ mother, Charleszine Nelson. Standing by her daughter’s artwork. Photo courtesy of: Lia Nelson-James.

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