Reclaiming my time; saying ‘yes’ to me

It ain’t easy being a Black woman. Never has been. But I guess I figured we wouldn’t have to still be working this hard just to stay behind, no matter how much education and how many skills we bring to so many tables.

For every dollar that a white man makes, a Black woman earns 63 cents (even lower than white women, who earn 80 cents to the manly dollar). A Black woman must work eight months longer to earn what a white man earns in a year. In other words, a Black woman, even coming to the work game with excellence, has to bust her ass to have what comes naturally and with much more modest effort to even the most mediocre of white men.

So after you bust your ass, what next? As a Black woman, you are at a higher risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. In fact, while the saying “Black don’t crack” is entrenched into our consciousness as a statement of fact, the reality for many of us is far more sobering. We might look good and we might look young, but the collective weight of navigating life as a Black woman creates an extreme stress that causes wear and tear on our internal organs which leads to higher rates of illness and earlier death.

As this 2010 National Institute of Health study pretty much lays it all out, there is a real cost to being a Black woman. Let’s be real: it’s stressful. From birth to death, we often beat the odds in so many ways.

But again: At what cost?

I have been asking myself these questions for the last several months. I started going to therapy and immediately it became clear that I am doing too much. There is my day job as the Executive Director of Community Change Inc. We are a small, scrappy anti-racism organization that receives little in the way of grant funding; we are 90% donor funded. I spend a lot of time convincing people to support our work. Since 2014, I have managed to financially stabilize the organization and grow our programming, this is no small feat considering the other things that have happened since 2014. My marriage ended and I moved out of the family home in fall of 2015. My son got married in 2016 and became a dad in 2017, thus making me a grandmother. I also worked to grow the readership of this blog.

Our readership now extends far beyond Maine and New England. Last month a patron made a gift from Australia. This year alone, I have had over a dozen speaking engagements across New England and my fall speaking calendar is 90% full. But I have had to hustle for all that harder and longer than have my professional peers who aren’t Black and female.

My youngest child just turned 13 and I spend 50% of my physical time with her, but in the last three years, I have spent no more than 12 consecutive days at my own home due to my travel schedule. And sometimes that means time spent with her is at the family home I left when the marriage ended, while I’m in-between travel and my real home. And as you can imagine, that can get awkward no matter how well my co-parent and I get along.

I am inundated with requests to speak/teach/show up and honestly it’s overwhelming. People are forever asking if I want to engage in social/racial justice work during my off time. I’m frequently asked to do work for free or for amounts so low they might as well be free when you factor in travel costs and time lost. Um, NO! Even when I state this clearly, people still think they are an exception and ask for XYZ. Clearly the idea that a Black woman might have boundaries is hard for people to grasp.

All this to say: I have been heading head-first into the wall of exhaustion. I spent months trying to decide if I should take the plunge and quit my day job and trust that it would work out. I started ramping up my No’s.  No is my new jam.

The thing is, my situation isn’t unique. It’s what many Black women face, we give so much of ourselves and rarely is anyone concerned with our personal well-being. Even in a Black Lives Matter climate, how often do we see the Black women in our lives and ask what can we do for them? Do we see them as individuals outside of their Blackness? Or do they remain a fixed modern day Mammy whose mission is serve us, teach us and guide us? I’ve seen so many pieces published on how Black women are saving the country in so many ways by making things happen and building awareness and getting out the vote, but why are they leaned on so heavily to do that? Where is most of everyone else?

After months of feeling stressed, I worked up the courage to ask my board of directors at the day job for a sabbatical. Long story short: I am off work until after Labor Day. No emails, texts, calls or meetings.  Last night I slept for eight hours. To wake up and not feel like I have to hit the ground running is a marvelous feeling, it’s damn near orgasmic to not have to do anything and to not have to worry if I can pay my rent since this is a paid sabbatical. The internal silence is a gift. (However, as you see right here, I still have to hustle to work on the website here and post blogs and monitor my social media and promote stuff, sabbatical or not.)

This post is a bit more personal than my usual these days but I wanted to be honest about where I am at this moment in my life. While I am not on a sabbatical from BGIM Media, I am taking it easy especially because I have enlisted the assistance of a podcast producer and we record our first episode next week. The podcast will launch right after Labor Day. Weekly postings will continue though we are looking at six posts this month rather than the usual eight.

For all of you who are there for Black women—I mean, really there—thank you. For those of you who haven’t been, please start stepping up because we can’t do so much alone and we damn sure can’t do it without some emotional, social and financial support for our efforts.


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Photo by Jared Rice from Unsplash

The evolution of loss, or Thoughts on Mother’s Day

It’s been 14 years since I lost my mother to a valiant but brief (and ultimately futile) battle with cancer. The loss of my mother remains, even after all these years, one of the single most defining events in my life. She passed away six weeks after I turned 31 and four days after she turned 50. To say I was unprepared for her death would be an understatement. I spent the early years after her passing in a dark space that was only worsened by the death of my grandmother (my mother’s mom), just 18 months after my mother’s passing. In less than two years, I lost the women who had mothered, nourished and raised me. I lost my moral compass and foundation at a time when I still needed them.

As a Black woman, my very essence sits on the foundation of my mother. The deaths of both my mother and grandmother left me adrift in a family of men and, as I wrote many years ago, my father in the early years tried his best to mother me. But despite his attempts, the loss of my mother was always with me.

Over the years, I have gone through many stages of grief and growth. The birth of my daughter, for example, served as a reminder that at a young age, I had become the eldest woman in our family. For better or worse, I was the matriarch of our little clan. It isn’t exactly how one expects to spend their 30s.

Since my mother’s death, my relationship to Mother’s Day has been very complex. On the one hand, as a mother myself, my children and others have wanted to honor me as such; yet, all around me. I see generations of mothers who serve as reminders of what I lost.

My son’s marriage last year and entry into parenthood have combined to once again redefine the very role of mothering (and by extension Mother’s Day) as I settle into my newest role as mother-in-law and grandmother. The newest editions to our family have forced me to realize that with loss comes evolution but that it’s often a slow-moving process.

Several days ago, I found myself in the card aisle trying to search for a card for my beloved daughter-in-law as I wanted to acknowledge her own entry and transformation into the mothering club. I have not stepped foot in the aisle selling anything related to Mother’s Day since 2005, the year my grandmother died. To say it was a jarring experience would be putting it mildly as I searched frantically for a card appropriate for my daughter-in-law and instead was surrounded by cards to our own mothers. Halfway through the card search, I felt my eyes well up as I realized I was surrounded by people looking for the right cards to give to their own mothers. A simple and maybe even at times onerous task that I will never again do in this lifetime.

I eventually found a card and my way to the counter and held it together long enough to pay for the card and to exit the store. It was upon leaving the store that the shifts that I have been feeling in the past year around my own mother really made sense. I will never not miss my mother but there are certain milestones that loom so large that you need the presence of an elder.

The past year has definitely been one of those milestones as my son’s marriage and his wife’s pregnancy felt very much like uncharted waters. After all, how exactly does one support their adult child after they get married? The parenting manuals don’t include these tidbits and Lord knows, everyone has a story about “that” mother-in-law and the one thing that I have committed myself to is not becoming that kind of person.

My mother’s absence was acute for me not only during my son’s transitions but in the past several years as I have re-started my life after 20 years of marriage. Truthfully, as the decision was being made to separate, it was my mother’s words and wisdom that I craved most of all, as no one in my circle could understand the decision to part ways with my husband.

Gone are the daily longings for her, but in the big moments…in the moments of indecision…I miss home; I miss my mother. Yet as the years pass by, I see her reflected in the habits that I have picked up over the years. I see her in the way that my daughter jiggles her foot and in her build which looks like it will be as slight as my mother’s. I see her in my son; unlike his sister, my son knew my mother and was close with her until her death. I even see her in my grandson’s eyes. The same dark eyes that we all have: her eyes.

No one can ever replace her and as long as I am of sound mind, I will never forget her. But after all these years, I have come to realize that in giving me life and loving me, she bequeathed something far greater. A spirit that lives on in not just her children but her grandchildren and now her great-grandchild. The day my grandson was born, I had a somber talk with my father as I was feeling her loss on that day and wondering what she would make of becoming a great-grandmother. My father reminded me that she was with me and knew and indeed she is. So on this Mother’s Day weekend, I thank you Mom. Until we meet again and until that time, may your spirit rest over our clan and may I be half the woman you were.
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A Black mama’s dilemma, or My private fears

It was a simple request and yet in asking my permission for what should be a natural progression, it triggered my worst fears on a week where news of Black and Brown girls gone missing in the nation’s capital is finally starting to get the media coverage it deserves.

After months of my parental nagging about getting involved in extracurricular activities at school, my daughter (who is now in middle school) wanted to learn about a possible activity but it required being at school a half hour earlier than the official start of school. Given our island residence, that meant getting up an hour earlier to take the earlier ferry to the mainland and rather than taking the school bus as usual, she and her friends would walk the mile or so to school at 6:35 in the morning. Her friends have done this trek before. Island kids before them have done this trek. Hell, it’s probably some type of rite of passage as an island kid. A chance to walk the city early, grab a doughnut and head to school sans the adults. A taste of freedom.  

Yet in my mind, all I could think about was the fact that at 6:30 in the morning, the city is just starting to stir as the street people start getting out and about; the same ones I have walked past who have made comments about my blackness. The ones who leer, the ones from whom I have made sure to keep my girl sheltered. In that moment, I was aware that her white friends don’t face the same challenges that she faces. Yes, there is the potential for leering and catcalls but there are the ones who also will single her out for her color in addition to her gender; the potential for people to single her out when they might not single out her other friends.

I reached out to the mom of one of the girls, who felt that with three girls making the trek, there would be safety in numbers. Also, her daughter, one of my girl’s closest friends, had done the walk before and knew the most direct route for avoiding the more unsavory elements that might be walking around at that early hour. I talked to my daughter’s dad who admitted that he had his concerns but that she is getting old enough to start being able to walk around on her own off the the island. I said yes, but not before giving a list of directives that including calling me as soon as she made it to school safely and that if she forgot, that would be a mistake she would not want to make.

In the end, the girls got up early, hopped the boat to town and the dad of one of the other girls gave them a ride to school, thus calming this anxious mama’s heart. Yet I know I cannot hold her as tightly as I have; I have to give her space to test her wings. In some ways, it was easier with her brother. The circumstances between his father and I demanded a trust that now seems naive in my middle age. Yes, I had fears for him but I always trusted that he would be okay. My son is my emotional and mental doppelganger. His warrior spirit was always present. My daughter’s warrior spirit is not yet present; she trusts in the goodness in the world and in people and until recently I have wanted to preserve that almost ethereal quality that has been present since birth.

Yet in a world that consumes Black women and girls with little regard for our spiritual, emotional and mental well-being, I find myself at the crossroads. As her mother, I must equip her with the tools to navigate this world but at times I fear that the harshness will be too much for her. At times the burden of Black motherhood feels to heavy to carry and yet my work isn’t only to love and nurture but to literally take her sweetness and stuff it down enough for her own survival. That is a task that no mother should have to consider but, for Black mothers, we do many things that our non-Black counterparts don’t have to do.

We live in a world that has little value for women and girls like us. I probably have written this more than a few times but with my daughter growing ever closer to the teen years, I feel a greater sense of urgency around just how undervalued we are in this society. I feel it in my own life, I see it in the lives of other Black and Brown women whom I know. Some days when I think too hard about how for most Black women our worth is only tied to our labor and what we can do for others, to quote Marvin Gaye, “it makes me wanna holler!” 

I want a better world. Not for myself but for the beautiful Black and Brown girls who deserve to stay cerebral and light throughout their lives instead of being forced into society’s roles and/or forced to adopt separate and unnatural personalities with which to protect themselves from the worst of society’s predations and oppression. I am not quite sure of how we get there but damn it, we have to keep trying. In the meantime, I will work on stuffing down my fears so that my daughter can start taking the baby steps she needs to make as she starts the transition to the teen years.
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If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.