I recently attended the home-going service for Dr. Phyllis Harrison-Ross, a longtime friend of the Amsterdam News and a brilliant and groundbreaking psychiatrist. Her more than five decades of professional accolades could fill this entire newspaper. During the memorial service, I noticed I was one of the youngest in attendance. As dignitaries spoke about her life’s work, her compassion, dedication and her leadership, I looked around the room and wondered what story of triumph and success did each person in attendance possess. All too often, we only find out the amazing contributions of individuals once they have passed on. I began to think of how much more my life would be enriched if I began to really ask my elders about themselves and their life stories.

As I listened to Mayor Dinkins contextualize the accomplishments of his dear friend, Dr. Harrison-Ross, I thought of all that our 106th mayor has seen and done. So much of his career is often summarized in the four years in which he was mayor of our fair city. However, Dinkins had several lives before becoming the first Black mayor of New York City, and he has accomplished so much since leaving office more than 20 years ago. His political life is pretty well documented, but I am so sure there is so much more we could ask. Which lets me know that we could and should ask questions to all of our elders while we have them with us.

My father, Theodore Greer, was born in Miami, Fla.—before the Cuban revolution. He integrated his Miami Central High School and has so many heart breaking and heart warming stories of growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. Similarly, my mother, Gloria Greer, grew up in what is considered the “deep south” in northern Florida. Her segregated high school would receive books from the white high school once they were “done with them.” These are just two minor examples of conversations I have had with my parents about their upbringings and they were born in the late 1940s. Imagine if we all collected stories from friends and relatives about their various trials and triumphs in this country and abroad spanning various decades. So many older African-Americans have never been asked about their experiences. Many don’t think they have a story to tell. Many do not see their daily lives as small compositions of national success and racial progress. By asking questions and collecting their stories, we have a better and more nuanced understanding of who we are, how we fit and in which direction we should head.

So, as I sat and listened to numerous individuals speak about the life of Dr. Harrison-Ross as a life lived well and a life lived doing good, I couldn’t help but have the desire to know more—more about her life, the lives of the speakers, those in attendance and people in my own inner circles. So the next time you are with an elder, take the time to ask a question (or several); what we find may help us better understand ourselves and the road on which we currently find ourselves.

Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the host of “The Aftermath” on Ozy.com. You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.