by Ida Keeling

A Review by Kay Hardin

Can’t Nothing Bring Me Down is the story of Ida Olivia Keeling’s life and times from her childhood up through 103 years old. “Miss Ida,” as she was known throughout her Bronx community, was an eighty-three pound four-foot-six-inch amazing black woman of strength, initiative, and faith.

The book describes Miss Keeling’s experiences growing up in Harlem with her immigrant parents and siblings as well as her adult life of marriage, divorce, raising four children alone, and her winning titles and metals in her old age. The book reads like a grandmother telling stories to her kids and grandkids.  Miss Ida lived to 106 which means she experienced and witnessed:

  • Segregation and the Jim Crow laws

  • the influenza epidemic killing 500,000 Americans

  • the Great Depression

  • World War II 

  • Integration laws

  • the Korean and Vietnamese wars

  • Rosa Parks’ historic bus ride where she was arrested for sitting in the “white section”

  • Six-year-old Ruby Bridges becoming the first black student to integrate an elementary school in the South while white men and women cursed and threatened her every day

  • the courage of nine students integrating Central High School amidst threatening mobs in Little Rock 

  • Martin Luther King Jr., the Civil Rights Movement, and the murder of Dr. King

  • the passing of the “Voting Rights” Act which prohibits discriminatory voting practice 

  • the passing of the “Civil Rights” Act which allowed federal prosecution of anyone who tried to prevent someone (mostly blacks in the south) from voting

  • . . . just to name a few important events.

Miss Ida wondered if she would ever see a black man in the White House as she stood in front Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while he called out “I Have A Dream” at the march on Washington D.C. Forty-five years later she watched President Barack Obama II inaugurated as the United States 44th president.

Miss Ida battled homelessness and joblessness while she raised four children as a single mother. She completed college in her forties, ran track in her sixties, and competed in track internationally in her eighties up through 103 years old.

Facing racism, sexism, poverty, abuse, and hunger, Miss Ida’s greatest trial came after the violent death of her two sons in a span of two years. She fell into an unrelenting grief and depression—not caring to eat or leave the house. She was slipping away mentally, emotionally, and physically. That’s when her daughter became very concerned and invited her mom to a 5K run event.  At 67 years old, Miss Ida ran her first of many competitions, inspiring thousands how to live life regardless of their pain, their past, or their present. 

In 2011 Miss Ida Keeling set the world record in her age group for running 60 meters at 29.86 seconds in Manhattan. She was 95 years old.  

In 2014 Miss Ida set the fastest known time by a 99-year-old woman  for the 100-meter dash at 59.80 seconds. At that time US Track & Field did not even have a category for a 100-meter dash for US women older than the 90–94 group!

The last world record Ida Keeling set was at the age of 103, in February 2018. She became the first woman over the age of 100 to take part in the women’s 60-meter dash.

Miss Ida’s life is a testament to what can be achieved despite the challenges and obstacles that come with gender, race, youth, midlife, and advanced aging. She competed in races through chronic sinusitis; arthritis in her knees, toes, and hand; and cancer. In her later years she started to lose mobility and felt like she was moving much more slowly, but it didn’t stop her. 

Miss Ida’s trainer who was her daughter, Shelly Keeling, said, “Mommy gave an opportunity to the world to see what we can do with age, if we honor the temple that God has given us, that we live in.” Every night at prayer time, Miss Ida said, “I thank him for my many blessings, for his guidance, for his protection.  And every night he tells me, ‘Miss Ida, you just keep on, because I ain’t done with you yet.’”

Can’t Nothing Bring Me Down offers time-tested truths gathered from the struggles of a life lived fully. It also opens a window for the reader to look through and see the mountains that a petite, black woman had to climb in order to have a dream.

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