There are two things I vividly remember doing to my mother when I was a little girl: riding her crossed leg as though it were a horseee & picking the dead skin off the heels of her feet. I attended to (maybe was even fixated on) Mommy’s long legs & size 10 feet as though I had an inherited comprehension—albeit superficial understanding—of stature. Mommy was tall, & her hairless legs were shiny—so much so, I wanted to shave my own & hoped I’d grow as tall as she.
As a little person, a tall Black woman demanded my attention—tall like Maya Angelou reciting “On the Pulse of Morning” at Bill Clinton’s Presidential Inauguration. I was in 7th grade, did not understand any of Angelou’s poem (except her last line, “Good morning”), & did not know she was 6 feet tall. However, I felt her towering presence over the podium—her stature reaching across the U.S. Capitol. & at that moment, I was infatuated w/Angelou—a daughter riding on her genius & sitting at her feet. Angelou became my superstar-shero, beloved somebody, & everyone knew it, including my mother, who bought me Angelou’s books & took me to see her lecture. Maya Angelou was speaking at a library dedication, & Mommy made sure my middle school self was there in Pompano Beach to witness it—to share space w/a celebrated woman I claimed I wanted to be like.
Mothers are generous, ain’t they? They’re forgiving, too. Mothers will move mountains—even if they are the mountain—to ensure their children’s joy, to make room for their children to grow into whomever they will be—even if they are deliberately trying to be unlike their mothers.
As young people, rarely do we mention our birth parents as those we admire or in whom we find our s/heroes. Often, it’s after extended time looking & being outside the familial circle & finding in celebrated others unrealized semblances of our kinfolks that we may find gratitude in the umbilical cord that, although severed, always serves as a conduit threading us back home. My mother is 75 years old today, & her towering presence over me—her stature that reaches into my person—has been the ride of my life; & at 43-years-old, I thank spirit for picking me to be at her heels, to be her daughter.
Now, to be clear: I consciously knew my mother as All long before now; as a matter of fact, I had my great awakening, if you will, around my 20s, when I discovered my friends’ parents had not paid their way through their college experiences like mine had. One of my friends had to leave home when he was 18; another regularly gave his mother money toward household bills, & too many others did not have access to the privileged places & spaces I was able to occupy because my parents gave them to me. I did not know how present my folks were—how sacrificial & long suffering they were—so I could know free-spiritedness long before societal ills disrupted my utopian existence. In other words, my friendships w/peers whose childhood experiences hardly reflected mine invited me to see me, to see my parents, to see my friends. Conflicting happenings sharpen our vision if we are brave enuf to enter difference. “When day comes we step out of the shade, / aflame and unafraid / The new dawn blooms as we free it / For there is always light, / if only we’re brave enough to see it / If only we’re brave enough to be it,” right?
Of course, middle-class luxuries don’t make one parent more s/heroic or emblematic than another; however, that peek into class difference invited me to look more critically at myself—to engage in a self-reflection that revealed my mother—her whole person—to me. & it was then, as a 20-something-year-old, that I realized Mommy as the woman I wanted to be like; she became my superstar-shero, beloved somebody. Real-life: the aha moment felt like what I imagine one should feel when s/he accepts Jesus as their Lord & Savior.
I was in middle school when I first witnessed Mommy’s Jesus moves—though at the time, I didn’t know them as such. Mommy picked up my twin sister & me from school one afternoon, & before heading home, she stopped by JC Penny’s. Mommy was a teacher at—well, she actually was part of the Black cohort of teachers who helped to integrate—the all-white elementary school where she taught third grade, & one year, in the early 90s, an apparently poor Black girl was a student in her class; most likely she was bussed there—as were many Black children, forced out of their safe neighborhood spaces to make integration happen. Anyway, this little Black girl often came to school dirty, dressed in disheveled clothes, & since her Black skin automatically outcasted her, Mommy went to Penny’s to buy this student a sweater—a white sweater & a few blouses. According to Mommy, she would not stand to have this child picked on by privileged white elementary school students; this child would not be a Black stain in her predominantly white classroom—a learning space Mommy ensured was inclusively ordered so every child would feel s/he belonged.
Mommy’s classroom mirrored our household, & their machinations revealed themselves in Mommy’s relationships w/her siblings, her friends, & her local communities. I have known no greater love than the love I witness my mother give me & other sentient beings. & there’s faith in that knowing, for my mother began her 35-year teaching career in the early 70s—at the edge of the civil rights movement, two years after Martin Luther King’s assassination. Thus, if those 1,000+ students Mommy taught allowed themselves to be touched by her humane spirit, then surely the divine is moving through them & theirs, & more folks are on the right side of justice than not.
Undoubtedly, I am my mother’s daughter, & I am walking in her footsteps as a teacher, too. I have not birthed any children, but I give birth to many Black children as I teach my students like Mommy taught me. I carry her w/me—a wisdom spanning over 75 years—into my classrooms & office spaces, into difficult meetings & unbridled student-teacher relationships. I carry her w/me in my household & my day-to-day, & I hear her repeat that old civil rights mantra: “Keep your eyes on the prize, Kendra,” which I know is not a monetary reach but is a heart-felt feeling. “The white fathers told us: I think, therefore, I am,” writes Audre Lorde, but “[t]he Black mother . . . whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free.”
Mommy is my strong tower—my Jesus piece & first teacher; through her, I have known and, therefore, learned love, generosity, & compassion. She is the first book I’ve read—a sacred text I carry w/me & share through my own lived compositions. & I thank God Mommy is still here, 75 years later, keeping me in touch w/morning pulses.
Wow Kendra that’s awesome!!
I love it! I was one of those students in her 3rd grade class, and she is everything that you stated. ❤️❤️❤️
Amazingness Doc! Thank you for sharing. I too have gleaned wisdom and lifelong lessons from your Mom and my sister!