”How simple a thing it seems to me that to know ourselves as we are, we must know our mothers’ names.”
Whenever people ask me why I want to be a writer, I always begin at my mother, who is a writer. I would feel sometimes as though I was about to be overwhelmed by thoughts and feelings, and my mother would tell me to write it down. She would say to me that once I could write about something and read it back to myself, that it would be the moment I had begun to truly face what it was that I was talking about. Over two decades into my life later, and I am still a woman who sometimes feels engulfed by my emotions, and I still go back to the lessons of writing for self-care and writing for power that my mother instilled in me.
I don’t just think that I would not be who I am today without my mother–I know it to be true. The best parts of me are because she has never given up on me. When I have dreamed within a box, she has shown me how to break open the box and become something which society may not always be ready to recognize, but was always within me to be. I often write about the spaces my mother created that shielded me from the negative bombardments of the world–not in a way that made me think they did not exist, but in a way that allowed me to break through binaries and believe that if I could hold on to the most genuine parts of me that laid beyond such boxed in narratives, that I could forge for myself a life I could be proud to live. She was my first line of defense from Confederate flags to tearful stories of other’s racism and discrimination. I remember the times she would go to my school to advocate for my education, the times she never let me settle for what she knew was half of what I was capable of giving, and I remember the September morning I awoke to a Harvard application on my desk that my mother had laid there–all the confidence in the world that I would be accepted.
I believe that one of the most beautiful lessons black women learn from their mothers is how to continue living even in the midst of pain. When I watched Beyonce’s “Lemonade” the song that took root the strongest was “Forward.” The images of black mothers holding pictures of the sons they had lost to violent systems is one that haunts me. I am not a mother yet, but it reminds me of all the times my mother has told me how she feels the pain that we do as if it were happening to her. To come into motherhood as a black woman is to face the hypocrisy of reproductive rights in this country head on. It is to know that you must birth a child into a world where they do not have the full rights to peacefully pursue the lives they want to live–that at any moment it can be taken by someone in State sanctioned positions who believe them to be a threat. I know my mother fears this, as all black mothers must. That the love and the spaces she has given us and created for us may one day be no match for someone who wishes to end our lives. My mother frequently calls to tell me that she is praying for my safety, how she worries about me as I travel and live so far away.
Despite this fear, my mother is a proud black woman, and has brought her daughters up to be the same. I am capable of seeing the world for that which it is, and yet, with any hate that might be driven my way, I meet it with the love and grace that I have inherited. I may rage at inequality and feel bitter about the apathy around me, but I have never lost my hope and my ability to find others who wish to build community with me. When President Obama told a room filled with majority black graduates of Howard today that they should feel proud of their heritage and blackness, I smiled as I thought that as I watched my mother growing up I learned that some of my hardest moments would come from being black, but my greatest triumphs would come from the wealth of strength gained from that heritage as well. There is so much more that my mother would have done with her life had she been in an environment to do so. My sister and I are finishing the story which she began to tell.
I want my mother to know that I live a life true to the values I hold dearest because she taught me how to do so. I want her to know that her daughter is humbled and proud to be an extension of her life. That if ever someone says to me “you remind me of someone”, I hope, in the depths of my heart, that they mean you.