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The Black Card: Big Mama Was Right, a Bought Lesson is Better Than a Told One

By Terry Allen

“A bought lesson is better than a told one,” is a statement that my Big Mama uttered a lot during my childhood. I never understood until much later in life. It was also a lesson that didn’t resonate with any of Big Mama’s kids until we grew older. Now during the racial and COVID-19 pandemics, Big Mama-ism is back front and center in my mind. The original statement is: “A bought lesson is better than a taught lesson.” For the record, the textbook definition is “You will learn more as you experience it, more than anything anyone teaches you.” Big Mama told me when I moved to NYC to stay alert and use my “first mind.” I did not listen. My first “bought” lesson came when I moved to New York City and fell in love with the taxi system.

I lived in Westchester and I would stop and take the A-train in Manhattan. Mostly, I rode all over NYC taking Manhattan by storm by taxi-riding. I rode North and South as well as the East and West. I hit Harlem and Midtown on a Sunday, Greenwich Village and Upper East Side on Tuesday and then finally on Saturdays, it was Tribeca, SoHo, and East Village. I applauded the drivers’ friendly personalities! They asked me how long I was here? How did I like New York? They were very nice! I bragged to my native New York family about the amazing low cost vs. me driving my car. As I began to boast about the routes, then suddenly my New York family began to laugh at me, not with me. It turns out that every taxi driver overcharged me on purpose because I didn’t understand the geography and they took longer routes. The friendly questions were to assess my level of knowledge, and I discovered I spent more on taxis than I should have! I had to pivot and dial back my ego for this lesson.

So the advice of Big Mama was right. She would say, “keep your first mind.” So here we are in the second surge of COVID-19 infections making Texas a hot spot again. This time, the infected includes those between 18 and 39 years old. We have had our 15th day of record hospitalizations and deaths. Despite expert medical advice, our leadership was among the first to lift restrictions and open up. We created a perfect storm. Now here leadership is dialing back and restricting interaction. This is a classic case of a bought lesson. Big Mama was right. In closing, this takes me to my endgame question: What lessons and words might your Big Mama say right now? Email me with your answer at and you will get a Texas Metro News gift from me.


Terry Allen is a multimedia journalist and board member of the National Association of Black Journalists.

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