She’s gone. She left sometime after my mother’s death and my youngest child’s entry into college. I downsized my home, got a room mate for the first time in life, spent more time in my studio, and decided to start figuring out this thing called life. I also wondered how it all related to my identity as a social work practitioner. In the midst of all this transition and change the Strong Black Woman who resided in my mind and body…left. I know not where she went, but I am glad she is gone. Much research has been garnered about the Strong Black Woman whose roots lie in survival during oppression and occupation in the lives of Black people as a result of the holocaust of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. She’s lived through the periods of slavery, Jim Crow apartheid, and the present New Jim Crow era where of mass incarceration pierces the peace of so many families. It’s never been natural to act as both mother and father, to perform with precision when healing from or reacting to trauma, to have to seek refuge in an alternate reality which denigrates one’s own. Yet, we have survived and thrived to a degree in the midst of the impossible.The Strong Black Woman still lives in the lives of many.She can’t make mistakes, makes miracles out of impossible situations; she’s the bedrock of the family, the salt of the earth, the capable community advocate and erstwhile church fixture. She gets things done, at all costs because she’s all in.
On February 1, 2012, my mother passed away. She was the strongest, most beautiful, gentle and magical woman I have ever known. As a young, Black female mental health practitioner at the Menninger Foundation during my childhood, racist and sexist policies were the norm, not the exception. She was not allowed to obtain a clinical specialist’s license but she did become a licensed technician.in mental health. She was also an artist: a ceramicist, china painter, upholsterer; beer and wine maker and baker of exquisite culinary delights. She could race a car and cry her way out of a ticket. Sometimes she worked to the point of exhaustion, and she must have worked a lot through the grief of miscarriages, a challenging marriage, and the death of a newborn. As the years progressed she began to travel and think less of what others thought, including her own husband. She was a brave soul; a courageous and beautiful woman. She had all the answers, even when she didn’t- because she had to.
I no longer have the answers.
I no longer have the answers, nor do I have to have them. I’m curious and anxious and a little off-kilter, but I am not surprised about the current state of political affairs. This has been our reality for as long as I can remember. I’m refashioning myself, refining my artistic voice, resuming dance class, and finding it easier to speak my mind. I cry in front of people I work with, accept gifts from them, and give gifts in return. I gently support my daughters, but I don’t take on responsibilities that are no longer mine (Their failures to plan are not my emergencies.) Mostly, the best gifts I give my grandchildren is my time. I travel, spend time alone, and with friends. I think a lot, and laugh out loud. I enjoy dressing up, going out on occasion, and being catered to. I love to read. I weave, dye and paint patterned textiles. These activities give me the strength and energy to do the work of addressing the issues of financial capability, and justice- based food access, all of which directly affects the safety, security, mental health and well being of women, girls and families. The Strong Black woman is gone, but in her place, I have found a mindful space, and a slower pace to accomplish this important work. The work will not happen in a day, perhaps not even in this generation, but eventually, it will get done. The wonderful thing, is I don’t have to do it all.
Photo of my mother’s china painting amid my textile work and other treasures