Mothering Ourselves: mama’s supporting one another

Founder/Executive Director wrote an article for Women’s Media Center linked and re-posted below:

Mother’s Day is coming up, and oftentimes for Black folks it means families celebrate their mothers as superwoman. Mothers who do it all, for everybody, without any help. Cue Tupac’s “Dear Mama.” 

I understand why we, as a Black community, uplift Black mothers and matriarchs. It is a means of resistance to dominant culture critique and degradation. For too long, mainstream messaging about Black matriarchs — from the 1965 Moynihan Report blaming poverty on single Black mothers to the “welfare queen” that Ronald Reagan was so fond of evoking — has been shrouded in consistent degradation and victim-blaming of Black mothers. So yes, Black mothers deserve to be celebrated and elevated. However, while I honor and celebrate mothers for all their beautiful nurturing and labor, we must not get caught up in the idea that mothers should do it all and alone. After all, even a superhero needs a squad. Rather than putting mothers on a pedestal to be all things — house manager, chef in the kitchen, conflict mediator for sibling rivalries, nurse for boo-boos — it’s time to acknowledge that Black mothers are drowning, and the life raft they really need is a community.

Community has always been a protective factor for Black folks here in the U.S. since our arrival on cargo ships. One such community is the Gullah/Geechee community of the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina. It was here that Africans from various countries linked with indigenous folks to create a unique language, tradition, and culture known as Gullah/Geechee. While some Gullah/Geechee people escaped from enslavement to create community, others settled there once they were emancipated. Because of its insular geographic location, being surrounded by marshland, the Gullah/Geechee people have been able to maintain their African culture, tradition, language, and foods.

I had the unique privilege of visiting Gullah/Geechee land last month to attend Black Love Convergence, the brainchild of my sibling Eb Brown and co-hosted by a beautiful team of Black brilliance, an annual event that highlights the power of Black Love across friendships, families, partnerships, communities, social justice movements, parenting, and caregiving relationships as alternatives to capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy. The power of being surrounded by Black community, on sacred land, reverberated through my soul — I could feel my ancestors in the soil, I could hear their voices whisper in the wind, and I blended my tears with theirs in marshland waters. I found home — being in community with Black folks is a homecoming. 

During the convergence, I was blessed to co-facilitate Courageous Caregiving for Black Liberation in partnership with Dani McClain, author of We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood. In an intimate space of Black mamas, we shared stories of how we are unapologetically and unabashedly raising and nurturing Black children in a world that does not always want them to thrive. When asked, “What sustains your mothering? What do you need or what do you have?” each and every mama named “community” in some shape or form. For example, Lex Draper, who raises her daughter in Detroit, refused to wear the title of single mom; instead she said, “I’m not a single mom, I’m a community mom,” after sharing a story of how her community brought her daughters Christmas gifts when she didn’t have the resources to provide them herself. For Lex, the significance was less around the material gifts, but more about the communal spirit. Another mom shared a strategy to intentionally enroll her children in schools with her friends’ children so that not only do they as mamas have community for things like help with school pickups, the children also have community with one another. While it was beautiful to hear the stories of sisterhood and support, not all mamas have community, and many seek for small moments of refuge for self-care (e.g., while their children are taking reallylong baths).

Black mamas at the Black Love Convergence at the Penn Center on Gullah/Geechee land.

Black mamas at the Black Love Convergence at the Penn Center on Gullah/Geechee land. Courtesy of Trina Green Brown

However, mamas shouldn’t be doing it alone. Black mamas are making a call for community parenting, and it’s reverberating back to me like an echo chamber. I recently interviewed Mia Birdsong, co-founder of Family Story, for Parenting for Liberation’s podcast, which is a space for Black parents to share stories of how they raise and nurture Black children in a world that does not always want them to thrive. In the interview, Mia reminded me that the idea that mothers are supposed to do this alone doesn’t make sense. Instead, she shared how Black folks have historically held an expansive definition of family. She told me: “For us, we’ve never raised our children by ourselves. We have both biological and chosen family who are a significant part of the picture for us, who are taking our kids on outings or picking them up from school or watching them so we can do work or go on dates. It’s important for us to have that so that we have more time to take care of ourselves, but it’s also important for our kids to have a whole range of adults in their lives who care for them, who show them different ways of being, who introduce them to different things.”

I founded Parenting for Liberation in 2016 to create the same type of community for Black parents. Parenting for Liberation’s mission is to cultivate resilient and joyful Black families that are doing the healing work to interrupt historical traumas and violence, dismantle harmful narratives about the Black family, and create community that amplifies Black girl magic and Black boy joy.

When we hosted our inaugural Self-Care Sunday event — a retreat space for Black parents to connect with one another while sharing candid stories and experiences and engaging while partaking in self-care and healing practices — the attendees provided feedback that “self-care” is at times an isolating experience. What Black parents really need is community. As a result, Parenting for Liberation plans to shift to hosting “community care convenings” to test how centering a Black community care approach to parenting Black children can interrupt the effects of Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome, a set of conditions identified by Dr. Joy DeGruy wherein “African Americans adapted their behavior over centuries in order to survive the stifling effects of chattel slavery, effects which are evident today … in large part related to trans-generational adaptations associated with the past traumas of slavery and on-going oppression.” By intentionally shifting to collective parenting, returning to our ancestral roots of interdependence, and practicing the popular African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child,” we interrupt the effects of white supremacy, and Black parents unite to collectively heal on their own behalf, on behalf of their families and communities, to improve our collective quality of life.

Black parents attending Self-Care Sunday in Long Beach, Calif.

Black parents attending Self-Care Sunday in Long Beach, Calif. Courtesy of Trina Green Brown.

So one of our first gatherings will be to honor Black mamas for Mother’s Day with a Post Mama’s Day Politicking and Pampering Party, where we will celebrate mothers, practice community care (with DIY body scrubs), and politic about what it means to parent Black children. Rather than spending Mother’s Day running around with family dinners and making sure their kids look nice for holiday photos, it’s important that mamas actually enjoy the holiday earmarked for them. So, Black mamas, what are you doing for Mother’s Day? I encourage you to abandon all the running around for everyone else and instead return to our ancestral roots and connect with community, as it is one of the most life-giving and life-sustaining gifts you’ll receive.

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