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Sharing their stories: Honoring Black women during Women’s History Month

todayMarch 6, 2023 1

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Dominique Samari

“What’s beyond the tagline of Black Girl Magic. What’s driving it? What are the stories?”

These are some of the questions Dominique Samari asked herself while embarking on this project for Women’s History Month. She’s honoring impactful Black women – some within her network and others she would be meeting for the first time.

“I think that we are now in a time where Black women, at least at some level, are being celebrated and recognized. But, the depth of our stories is not being told in a way that’s been resonate with me.”

Over the last few years, Samari has profiled dozens of women, from various backgrounds, for Women’s History Month. This year, she decided to focus only on Black women. And overall, her decision took her from a public endeavor to a journey that became more personal.

“God made me to be introspective and reflective. And so, I spend a lot of time journaling and thinking,” Samari said. “I feel I am more intentional about the time and space that I give now as I get older. I think with each step, with each layer pulled back, with each little spec of curiosity that I turn inward. It just continues to ground me more and more in myself.” 

Samari is currently partner at P3 Development Group and founder of KIN Universe, a tool that facilitates meaningful discussions between people. She is also a former attorney.

She says this project allows her to process pieces of her life and her own Black womanhood. It also allows her to listen to and share what Black womanhood means to the women on this year’s list.

Self-discovery is a never ending process, and Samari discussed this with HYFIN’s Kim Shine. Their conversation continues below, along with each woman featured in Samari’s project.

The following written pieces & pictures were provided by Samari. This page will be updated throughout March to reflect the women honored.

Dasha Kelly Hamilton, Credit: Bae Hart

No one told Dasha Kelly Hamilton she should like basketball instead of volleyball or gospel choir instead of the choral ensemble. “I grew up moving around a ton as a military kid. It wasn’t until we moved off base and into an all-Black neighborhood and school that I “learned” everything that was wrong about me, about my Blackness.”

Dasha had always been the new kid who dressed a little differently and talked a little differently and was interested in space travel. Then she got bussed to an all-white school and was “wrong” all over again.

In the midst of being ribbed and questioned, plus the stress of preadolescence, Dasha explains how she was really just trying to figure out how to be and behave.

And like many of us quirky kids do, Dasha tried on many different personalities and affectations over the years but “none of those things fit me, none of them felt natural … and they definitely were not convincing.”

“So fast forward to being a grown woman and now there is a certain way I am supposed to show up in a friendship and a certain way I am supposed to snap out on my partner and a certain way I am supposed to aesthetically appear in a room. And I could do those things, but they didn’t feel natural to me, and they were not intrinsically interesting to me. “

“So, whether it was the right jelly shoes in 8th grade or the Gucci purse as an adult, it was all determining whether or not I was in the right club and so as I got older it just made me more observant and aware of all the ways we are programmed to drive each other into these tiny boxes.”

“I am really clear that there isn’t just one way to do Black womanhood. I am a Black woman so however I choose to do it is Black womanhood. I’ve learned that what I enjoy most about being an adult, being a woman, being a Black woman, is being able to make an adventure out of challenging all the rules about how you are supposed to be. Part of being an actualized adult is defining success on your own terms.”

Element Everest-Blanks

“I have always been what people call Blackity, Black, Black” starts Element Everest-Blanks. “But I remember a point in my life and career when people were encouraging me to taper my Blackness, to pull it back. They told me I wouldn’t be able to get opportunities and that it would limit my growth if I was ‘too black.’”

“My family was extremely supportive and always encouraged me to be who I am. So it was painful to leave the comfort of my family and go into a community that was supposed to love and nurture me, but instead told me to tamp myself down. I could see that guidance was being shared in love, as a form of protection, but it was so disheartening to hear from my own people. To be told that if I wanted to reach the highest level of my career and be pushed to the forefront, that I needed to play this game that was rooted in whiteness and that did not include us at all was devastating.”

Element discovered that the guidance she was being provided caused her to distrust others and doubt herself. “I ended up not knowing what was acceptable to say. I held back in meetings and other conversations. I did not know who I could trust.”

It was not until Element had her daughter Karma that she fully committed to leaning into her full unapologetic self. “Karma opened up a space in my heart that allowed me to walk into the most genuine version of myself. She allowed me to be honest about how I feel and become more grounded. I knew I had to be better because I had to leave the world a better place for her. I want her to be equipped with the confidence she needs for everything she has to do in this world.”

Fighting to return home to her own authenticity is in Element’s DNA. “I recently had my African Ancestry done and I am descended from the Mende tribe of Sierra Leone. This is the tribe from the Amistad that led a revolt that killed a number of slave traders and eventually won their freedom to return to Sierra Leone. I am carrying the lineage of people who fought to return home. This is what I want my daughter to see in me. This is what I want to make sure is passed on to her.”

Dianne Williams

“When I was young I did not know anyone who traveled and played golf once they retired. Black people didn’t do that when I was young. They moved back to Mississippi and spent the rest of their days fishing. Now, young women have models for whatever they want their life to look like after work.”

“I spent so much of my life providing for and taking care of my family. When I retired it was hard because I was not sure where my value would be. So much of my identity was in being a mom. I had to really figure out what I was going to do with my days. It is especially hard for Black women of my generation who have been catering to their husbands and children for our entire lives. We were not taught to prioritize ourselves so once we get to this stage of our lives it can be a little unsettling. Black women, at least the ones I know, are just not great at resting and pausing.”

“If I had to give guidance to women who have not yet reached retirement age, it would be to prioritize their physical and mental health from an early age. These bodies and minds will wear out if you do not keep them up and the last thing you want is to get to the phase of your life when you finally stop working and you can’t do the things you really want to do. The other thing is to get curious about what you really enjoy doing outside of work and taking care of your family. It is never too late. I didn’t discover my love for golf until I was in my fifties and I didn’t discover my love for Mahjong until I was in my sixties.”

“And one more thing. Start your retirement savings as early as possible. For me and so many women I know, we prioritized taking care of our families over setting aside money for retirement. But at some point, you have to focus on yourself and put aside enough money so you can do what you want to do.”

“We are always underestimated as Black women so it just thrills me when someone expects me to stumble and fall and I fly. Like recently, I hit a hole-in-one down in Florida and you should have seen all of their faces. This is what living my best life looks like!”

Stephanie Wilson

When Stephanie Wilson’s mother passed, she took on much of her mother’s role and responsibility for her family.

“My mother was my best friend and my model for womanhood, says Stephanie who was 32 when she lost her mom. She was a very young mother, a very hard worker and focused on building a better life for our family. She instilled in me the importance of legacy and taking care of family and community.”

“It immediately became really important to fill that role in the lives of my nieces,” says Stephanie. ” wanted to make sure they had a woman in their lives who was not their mom but who they knew would have their backs. I wanted to be the woman who was always encouraging them and expecting them to be their best while at the same time accepting them for exactly who they were.The cool older auntie who they could tell all their secrets to and who would help them out in a crunch.”

Stephanie reflects on what it has meant to play this role in the lives of her nieces and for other family members as well: “It is amazing to watch a girl child grow into a young lady and know that, at least, in some small part, you had some influence. My niece just found out she was pregnant and I was the first person she called and that felt really good. It felt amazing.”

Stephanie continues: “Now I have a new set of much younger nieces and I can already see our influence on them. And I also see how my older nieces are now passing along our ways to their children. My niece is such a great mom and in so many ways reminds me of my own mom. It just makes my heart happy to see those unspoken connections through the generations of the women in our family.”

For Stephanie, this goes beyond those unspoken connections: “Black women have always been the glue for our families and it is more important now than ever before. I want to make sure we are focused on creating generational wealth. I want the future of my family to be better because I was intentional about making it better. My mom provided us with a very strong foundation and I feel obligated to continue to build on the foundation and provide her offspring with the tools and support to continue our family legacy.”

Joanne Sabir

For Joanne Sabir, the true gift of Black womanhood is the gift of sisterfriends. “There is nothing in the world better than the love and support of the sisterfriends I’ve had in my life over the years,” she says, of the beauty she finds in her relationships with other Black women. “It is just so comforting. There is a shared understanding between us. We can be together and it can be hours full of belly laughs or tears or even silence. It is whatever we need, and I do not get the same type of feeling outside of the Black women in my life.”

Joanne continues: “I have women in my life that have known me since childhood and new women that have just come into my life and bring exactly the love and energy I need for this phase and vice versa. There is no doubt that God has had a hand in the relationships in my life.”

Black women have a secret verbal and non-verbal language that allows us to communicate effectively across geographies and generations. Even though we are all different and our journeys have been different, there is so much shared experience. We don’t have to explain much to know what the other is trying to say.

“I can say ‘chile’ ten different ways and depending on the tone of my voice, the tilt of my head and the look on my face, another Black woman knows exactly what that ‘chile’ means,” Joanne says. “There are so many unspoken ways that we are in relationship and communication with each other that are like that.”

Joanne and I both laugh as we agree that there is absolutely no way we could teach these things to someone else. This is the secret language we learned through observing our mothers, aunties, cousins and friends as young girls. It is the secret language of Black women. And as our friend, @jerehaco says in her post, “if you know, you know.”

Joanne says: “It is just one of the many things that make our sisterhood so special. We really do have something special in each other. It is a gift. We are all a gift to each other.”

Lotoyus Bly

“There is a softness in me but it is hard to get to,” says Lotoyus Bly.“The exterior is definitely hard, and I think it is that way for many Black women because of all we’ve been through.”

“I am really independent minded and strong. I was raised by a single mother and, though my extended family was present, I think I took away from my childhood a spirit of self-sufficiency. I wanted to create a life that did not involve struggle, and I was pretty sure I would have to do that on my own, though I was always open to doing it in partnership.”

Lotoyus went on to describe how, despite her well-laid plans for the birth of her son, she delivered without any pain medication. “It was the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced.” And then she told me about the proudest moment of her life, when she finished the Chicago Marathon less than a year after the birth of her son. “It was grueling but I finished and after that I knew I could do anything.”

It became clear during our conversation that Lotoyus was experienced at doing hard things.

“But what I am not so great at is showing emotional vulnerability,” continued Lotoyus. “It is hard for me to be vulnerable because I carry so much, and there are many things inside of me that have not been resolved. It has made me rigid. It has hardened me and, at this point, it is difficult for me to soften though I really want to. I think it is that way for a lot of Black women. We should be soft but life has made us hard. I learned it from my mother and grandmother. I always thought of my grandmother as mean and stern, but I learned a family secret recently that shed some light on how she came to be that way.”

As Lotoyus shared, I reflected on other women in my life trying to reclaim their softness in a world that has hardened them, in a world that seems to think that Black girl + softness don’t mix.

“The question I have been asking myself lately is, ‘Am I willing to do the hard work required to soften?’ I know I can get back to softness but I have to forgive. I have to let a lot go. I don’t want my daughter to pick up these coping skills. I want her to be emotionally vulnerable. I want her to hold on to her softness.”

Kim Shine

Kim Shine’s father taught her how to show up in the world.

“He made sure I knew the importance of being educated and knowledgeable,” Kim says. “He would always tell me that it doesn’t matter who you are at home, if you want to elevate out in the world, you need to know how to move in different spaces.”

As a journalist, Kim has had to call on her father’s guidance to navigate a wide variety of spaces and places. The guidance has provided her with the ability to pay close attention to people and the contexts in which they exist.

“I try to understand where people are coming from before I pass judgment on them. It has also made me more focused and intent on speaking my truth and telling other people’s truths.”

As a Black woman, who is also a journalist, Kim is committed to telling Black stories with care and in a way that honors the complexity of the Black experience.

“Our stories do not get told as often, thoroughly or clearly as they should,” she says, adding that her job is not to tell people what is right or wrong. “My job is to tell a balanced story. And if the goal is a balanced story, diversity in perspective is important. In the newsroom I make sure I am pitching stories that reflect the diversity in our city. Not only the diversity of people but the diversity of their experiences. We can’t just tell the bad stories. We have to tell our good stories too. And even when we tell the stories of violence and tragedy, we have to humanize the people involved.”

We both agree that the continuous telling of stories of violence in Black and brown communities dehumanize and traumatize us. These one-sided stories fail to recognize the humanity of the individuals involved, do not speak to the larger underlying systemic issues of which violence is just a result and are part of the day-to-day indignities that chip away at the well-being of Black people and our communities.

“It is important to humanize people, especially Black people,” Kim says. “I want to make sure people feel the emotion of the story. I have to get these stories right. I feel like it is my duty, my obligation as a Black woman.”

Brandie Meister

Brandie Meister is a healer but before she could support others in their healing journeys, she had to heal herself.

“There was a time in my life where I let people cross boundaries, I stayed in situations too long and I numbed out and disassociated instead of dealing with my pain,” Brandie says. “I had to forgive myself, forgive others and offer myself love and compassion in order to start to heal.”

Brandie shares that for so long she did not feel deserving of feeling whole and healed.

“I felt like I was supposed to be strong and resilient,” she says. “I felt like I was supposed to be able to carry the weight and so I allowed all of these things to keep happening because I was telling myself, ‘I am a strong Black woman and that is what we do. We bear it all for everybody else.’”

Brandie went on to explain how, especially in professional settings, she readily wore the label of “aggressive” as an armor. “If I was seen as a threat at least I could use that as a way to navigate those spaces,” she says. “It was a way for me to maneuver even though I knew that was not who I was.”

The truth is that at her core Brandie is compassionate and kind and that while wearing the armor of aggression served her in some ways it was steadily chipping away at her spirit.

“It just felt like I was stuck and in pain,” she says. “It was painful to pretend to be someone I was not and more painful to allow everybody else to keep putting me in that box. My higher self was trying to tell me that I was not a warrior. My spirit was trying to tell me that I was a healer.

“My healing journey began when I started to forgive myself and gave myself permission to be whoever I wanted to be,” she says. “I started to heal when I realized that I was the main character in my story. Too often Black women let the world dictate who we should be. When we sacrifice who we really are for who the world tells us to be, we sacrifice our joy and peace – and sanity.

“For so long I did not enjoy life,” she says. “I was not at peace, and that was the price I paid for living inauthentically.”

Vanessa Shorte

“When I was very young, I grew up in the inner city of Milwaukee with my white mother who was always very clear that I was her Black child, ” starts Vanessa Shorte. “But in my neighborhood, I did not feel as though I was different, I felt as though my mom was the different one.”

It was not until Vanessa was bussed from the inner city to the suburbs under the 220 program that she experienced what it meant to be different.

“The white kids would call me Aunt Jemima and all sorts of other derogatory names and on the flip side, the Black kids would tell me my hair was different and my skin was too light and I talked funny,” she says. “I got it from both sides.”

Vanessa describes those experiences as isolating and very lonely.

“I was not accepted by anyone and then add to that the socio-economic differences between us,” Vanessa says. “I was visibly different and did not have things other kids had and, at home, my mom did the best she could but sometimes she could not relate to my experience.”

“Over time my tribe became the Black girls in my school and neighborhood who accepted me,” Vanessa continues. “I became part of their families and that is where I had my first real experiences with Black women and Black womanhood. As I got older, I was only around Black women. It was this community that accepted me, so that is where and how I established my identity.”

“I remember my mother dropping me off early so I could get my hair done because she did not know how to do my hair and the Black moms making sure I looked presentable for school,” she says.

“They really took care of me and made sure I was good. And, of course, this led to me keeping my hair laid and slayed for a while, but, more than that, it planted in me this seed that you take care of your community and your people. And that is something that has definitely shaped me.”

Vanessa is very clear that her journey is her own. “It just really all depends on who and how and where people poured into you. I do not have a sense of how other bi-racial people have been shaped, but my life experiences made me not only racially, but also culturally, a Black woman and that shows up in every aspect of my life.”

Angie Jones

Angie Jones believes there are so many amazing things about Black women but their ability to make pure magic out of thin air is the big “wow” for her. “Black women can take nothing and make it something,” she says.

“I remember my mother creating beautiful things out of nothing,” she recounts. “My mom was a really amazing cook. She made everything from scratch. One day I was in the kitchen helping her make my favorite rolls. We were out of cinnamon and, of course, I panicked. My mom replaced the cinnamon with jelly and those were the best rolls I ever had in my life. From then on, I asked her to only make rolls with jelly.”

If her mom was the queen of making something out of nothing, her sister was the princess, Angie says. She recalls a time when her sister turned a few dollars and knack for sewing into a beautifully decorated Christmas brunch.

“They both taught me how to do what they did and they didn’t just tell me, they walked me through the steps,” Angie says. “They let me come in and made me part of the process.”

What Angie realized as she got older is that her mother and sister made her into a natural problem solver. “Many Black women are natural problem solvers, because we have to be. No one is out here solving our problems for us.”

“I feel like through the years I have become well seasoned by my struggles, by my challenges, by the fact that my challenges did not overcome me. I’ve relied on all my skills, but especially my skills as a problem-solver to make it through.”

“I was able to take every piece of struggle, every little scrap of nothing and turn it into something. I was able to walk through each season of my life and make more magic than I ever could have imagined.”

Hermoine Bell-Henderson

Until very recently, Hermoine Bell-Henderson was one of less than ten Black librarians at the Milwaukee Public Library. As a young person, she did not see any librarians that looked like her and it was not until a Black branch manager suggested she think about a career in library sciences that she started to seriously consider the opportunity.

“I love learning and I chose this career path because I really wanted to make a difference,” she says. “The library is the front door to a neighborhood, to a city and I want to make sure Black women are represented in this space.”

As a librarian with the Milwaukee Public Library for 23 years, Hermoine says she brings her “whole unapologetically Black” self to the work and builds community inside and outside of the library walls.

“It is how I show up every day,” she says. “It is how I dress, how I wear my hair and my willingness to share my experiences as a Black woman with others.”

Hermoine is always ready to recruit and mentor young Black people about librarianship, and, once young people start down that path, she makes sure to stay in touch, check in and ensure they know she’s always available to help.

“That is what stands out to me in my role as a Black woman, who also happens to be a librarian, is that we hold up the world and our cities and our organizations in so many invisible ways,” she says. “Whether it is me checking on people when they are stressed or on the verge of quitting or making sure people have the organizational resources they need to do their jobs better. Or, Stacy Abrams and others working tirelessly to save the state of Georgia. Or, the ladies from the movie Hidden Figures and their invaluable contributions to NASA that we are just recently learning about. The list goes on and on. We do so much behind the curtain work to make sure things do not crumble.”

“It is exhausting but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Danielle Bly

For most of her career, Danielle Bly has been the only Black woman in the room. At times, that has felt like a weight for her but she has been able to bear that weight because she knows she comes from a long line of strong and resilient women.

“I am a Black woman in every space that I am in but I’m often in spaces where I’m the only one or maybe one of two, or one of a few,” she says.

Being the ‘only’ started very early for Danielle.

“I remember being the only–or maybe one of two–when I was in my high school AP class,” Danielle recalls. “I remember a white girl in my class asking me if my bones were white like hers and if I bled the same color. This is in high school! I remember not knowing what to do because there was no one who looked like me in the classroom. There was no one else who was having this same experience that I could talk to about it. Even now, I wish I would have responded differently. It makes me sad to think about it because I think there are white women and girls who are still asking Black girls and women these same questions.”

“It also makes me angry because in a way we have made strides, but in so many ways we have not,” Danielle continues. “Folks talk a good game but there is not enough action behind the talk.”

If actions met words around DEI efforts, there would not still be rooms–and whole organizations–with just one Black person at the table, Danielle and I agree.

As Danielle has grown in her leadership and advanced in her career, she has also grown more confident in who she is as a woman and as a Black woman but it has been a journey.

Early in her career, Danielle discovered, during a workplace training seminar, that her childhood experiences with white people had created in her a sense of being intimidated by white men. “I was shocked but that awareness helped me shift how I show up in mostly white spaces — especially around white men.”

“At this point in my career, I feel confident in my ability to read a room and show up in exactly the manner that supports me in getting done what I need to do,” she says. “If I am the only one, I have to represent. I have to show up for all of us.”

Milika Miller

Black women carry a unique, dual burden, says Milika Miller. 

“Everybody wants to be us but nobody really wants to be us,” she says, “because to be us means that you carry all of the burdens society places on womanhood and all of the burdens society places on individuals of African descent.  Black women are the only ones that carry that dual burden.”

“You want me to be expressive, but not too loud. You want me to show up in the world as myself, but not too colorful, not too disagreeable. You want me to be submissive, but I also need to be able to hold together families and communities, excel at a high-paying job –  and all at the same time.”
For her, the concept of freedom for a Black woman can be complex: “I am always asking, is this about the upliftment of all Black people or is it about the upliftment of Black people against the patriarchy? For me, when freedom finally comes, my freedom looks different than a white woman’s freedom and is closer to a Black man’s freedom. I didn’t get the right to vote with white women, I got the right to vote with Black men.” 

Even the idea of the patriarchy becomes complex when one considers the intersection of race. “There has been some meddling. Would Black men also be contributors to the patriarchy if the racist systems that shaped them did not exist?”

“At the end of the day, white women are still willing to give up many things in hopes that they might get this perfect life if they keep riding with white men,” Milika says, “if they just stay in the car and don’t say too much. Whereas Black women, because of our unique history and position in society, we know our men are oppressed, and we know the impact of that oppression, so we cannot just ride along in the car. It has to be a partnership and we have a lot of questions: Where are we going? Did you get gas? What is in the trunk? And — if it looks like we are headed in the wrong direction we do not have any issue telling you to pull the car over so we can get out.”

Jessica Currie

Jessica Currie grew up in Sacramento, California, and was one of very few Black kids in her neighborhood and school.

“I was a happy kid but in a lot of my circles I was the only Black kid and I was the tallest,” she tells me. “I stuck out like a sore thumb, and all I wanted to do was to fit in. I found myself making myself smaller. I dimmed my light in order to make sure I belonged.”

“I remember feeling like I had to be so calculated around my white friends. There was a huge chunk of my life that I didn’t bring into those relationships because I knew they just would not get it. When I was around my Black friends, both new and old, there was just an immediate connection. It was just understanding with no explanation. It was so nice.”

As an adult, social media has been helpful in connecting her to a whole new world of Black women.

“I have so many friends I have met through the internet. If I see another Black girl and I like what she is about, I will go online and shoot her a friend request. These are women I admire who are doing amazing things. I follow them, they follow back. We like each other’s stories and pictures. It really is a way of saying ‘I see you and I support you.’ We uplift one another, and it is magic. Next thing you know, we are sending voice notes and meeting for coffee when we are in each other’s cities. These relationships have been so open and so vulnerable and I am so grateful for them.”

Jessica continues as she reflects on a relationship that has been particularly meaningful.

“I met my very good friend @Darian on Instagram. She has a movement called @Studio.Symone. She is a wonderful writer and speaker. She’s iconic. We cultivated a connection with each other and between others in our circles. It is all pretty amazing.”

Jessica and I laugh about how she simply did not have access to this many Black women in Sacramento. “It is the power of the internet,” she says. “Now, I am connected to these women who are so inspiring and who have this energy. I just love that about us. When we get together, we amplify. It’s all so supportive. It is all so respectful. It is all so beautiful.”

Cecelia Gore

“Being a Black woman gives me a great sense of joy and pride,” Cecelia starts. “When I see us achieving amazing things and doing really well it really gives me a sense of pride but I also recognize that there are a lot of challenges and hard work that go along with being a Black woman – challenges that are unique to us.”

Cecelia reflects on one of her favorite musicians, Frankie Beverly and Maze, and describes the experience of holding both the joy and pain of being a Black woman simultaneously. “It is complicated in many ways and on several levels. There are many bright lights and, for some, there is opportunity, but for many others life is a real struggle and it is just because they were born Black and a woman.”

“To change this, those who have access, have to offer access to others. We can connect people in a way that helps move them forward. There are so many opportunities for us to help each other and we get so much energy from each other.” says Cecelia.

Cecelia goes on to describe the importance of staying connected to and supporting one another. “I think about all the situations where I’ve seen other people promoted or given opportunities over Black women” Celcelia continues, “we still stand and advance even though there is this lens that others use to view us that tries to make us believe that we are not who we know ourselves to be.”

“I often say, I might not be that thing today, but I could have been if you had seen me, if you had developed me, if you had viewed me as capable and given me the opportunity. If someone had said, ‘you belong on another leadership track’ or if my grade school teacher had pushed me toward Algebra instead of Home Economics. Maybe my situation would have been different.”

“I have seen decades of talent that has gone un-seen, un-managed and undeveloped – and I really believe it is because people could not imagine or did not believe they should be in those positions. ”

“We have to pull our own up. We can always see the talent and gifts in another Black woman and it is up to us to support one another.”

Genyne Edwards

Genyne Edwards attended a program with the @bucks the day she and I talked for this project. One of the players, @bportistime, talked about how he wouldn’t be where he is without his mom. That, in turn, made Genyne recall when she became part of that sacred group: Black mothers. She remembers distinctly taking on the identity and the expectation of sacrifice.

“Even though I did not give birth, I remember when I became a bonus mom…and there was this silent expectation that I was supposed to do anything for this child,” she says. “There were a lot of times where I questioned – and still question – did I do the right thing? Did I handle that situation correctly? How could I have been a better mother to this child?”

She remembers watching her mom and aunts and it seemed like the most important thing was a sense of self-sacrifice, Genyne says. The biggest sacrifice for her own mom, Genyne continued, was that she didn’t always seem to be able to live out loud.

“It seemed as if she lived her life tamped down,” Genyne says, “It actually makes me sad to think about it. It is like she had to dwarf herself in ways, dwarf some of her personal expression. That was her sacrifice for motherhood.

“Even as a child, I remember being bummed out by that. I remember thinking, ‘Why do my mom and my aunts have to sacrifice so much?’”

At some point, Genyne decided that she would take from those examples the things that served her and leave the rest behind.

“I have been pretty intentional about living my life out loud,” she says, adding that this does not diminish the “gift of responsibility of family” in any way. “I really believe in family first and know it is important to make sure you are bridging and linking your people. I think that has always been a Black woman’s role and it is one in which I find a lot of purpose and joy.”

Emille Grant

I have known Mrs. Emille Grant since I was a child at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. As a child, and still today, she represents to me everything that is kind, gentle and patient in humans.

She was born in 1946 in the south and grew up in the segregated city of Inkster, Michigan. “I felt very comfortable in anyone’s home on my street, whether they were home or not. It was a different time. We took care of each other. We did not have many material things but I was surrounded by adults who gave a lot of themselves to me. Anybody could spank us or feed us. Anybody could love us. Teachers cared for us, understood us and loved us dearly and that changed the way we were educated.”

Emille continues: “We had true kinship. I just know that if I had grown up in an integrated neighborhood none of this would have been possible. I feel blessed to have had the upbringing I had.”

Emillle says she learned from her mother, teachers and all the women in her neighborhood, how to be compassionate and pour into young people.

When Emille attended college, it was a culture shock. “I had never been around that many white people and most of them had not been around any of us. One of them asked if they could see my tail because that is what they had grown up learning about Black people. Like when I was young, it was the older Black women students who helped me navigate challenges those first years.”

After college, Emille became a teacher. “Early on I taught at a school that was experiencing ‘white flight’ and I remember the white teachers painting such a dismal picture of how the school was changing. But I had grown up around these kinds of kids and I knew they had a lot to give – and I knew how to pour into our kids. It matters what kind of expectations you have for kids. I knew that from my own childhood.”

And for Emillle, that is the greatest gift of being a Black woman. “We get to raise and help Black children. We get to help them navigate all of the things they have to navigate. We can share our experience so they can walk more confidently in their own lives. We can see the gifts in our children and we can pray for them.”

Shane Woods

Shane Woods is done being a superwoman.

As a young person, Shane, as the oldest of three girls, took it upon herself to be a role model, to navigate the world in a way that provided an example for her younger siblings. As part of that role, she began adopting the notion that many Black women come to embrace – that her success would require her to be the best of the best. It was the familiar identity: the Black superwoman.

As she became older and wiser, Shane realized that Black super woman and other identities she had adopted were just that, identities – ultimately unsustainable.

“I finally started rejecting the superwoman identity, the savior mentality, that I think a lot of black women hold onto,” she says. “The example that always comes to mind is Stacey Abrams and Georgia. Why do we have to be the ones showing up for everyone all the time?”

Today, Shane is teaching her daughter that she does not need to be a superwoman. She is teaching her that she gets to define herself for herself.

Shane, whose Bible-belt upbringing also taught her that marriage and children would lead to happiness, is also encouraging her daughter to seek a career path rather than a husband.

“I want her to know that partnership is the model, not finding a man to complete you,” Shane says. “I don’t want her to feel like she has to fit some mold. Or, that she can’t use her voice to say when something is wrong. I came up at a time when children were seen and not heard. I am not passing any of that along to her.

“This is different from what I was taught,” she says, “because it’s a different America. It’s a different world.”

Morgan Phelps

The Disney and rom-com movies that Morgan Phelps watched growing up shaped her idea of romantic love and partnership.

“I watched all of those movies and they were all lies, lies, lies,” laughs Morgan.

“Of course for every woman it is an unrealistic portrayal of what relationships are meant to be but for Black women it is doubly so,” says Morgan. “Those movies don’t speak to the unrealistic anti-Black beauty standards nor the complicated expectations Black women face in partnership, like how men want Black women to be big mama, the sexy wife and the loving caretaker. They want us to be a boss girl but in a way that still lets them feel safe and in charge. There are so many contradictory expectations and it leaves us feeling exhausted and unappreciated.”

Add to the pressures that Morgan mentions the reality that our dating pool is not the same as it is for white or other women. There are real issues facing our men that limit the dating pool for those intent on having a Black partner. There is also real trauma our men are dealing with, which makes navigating communication and conflict inside of a relationship difficult. And so many of us never had good examples of partnership so we are flying blind even if we have good intentions. Add all of that up, and it’s no Disney movie out here.

“The Disney movies focus on ‘finding him’ and none of them talk about the reality of being in a relationship,” Morgan adds. “The real life examples I had for partnership from my childhood were from my grandparents. My grandfather assured me as a young girl that a charming prince would show up to protect and save me.”

While Morgan adopted ideas about partnership from all these sources in her youth, she eventually came to a place where she defined partnership for herself.

“I think as Black women we learn to put others first but I think it’s so important to love ourselves first and to focus on taking care of ourselves,” Morgan says. “I cannot give to him if my cup is not full. I think these false narratives have caused a lot of Black women to settle for less than they deserve. We have to get to a point where we don’t settle. The alternative is just way too stressful.”

Written by: HYFIN

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