Like a good number of blacks in America, I grew up in a non-traditional household. Raised by a single mother, I grew up in a two-bedroom trailer with my eight siblings on my grandparents' farm in Tennessee. Yes, this isn't the norm, but why is it so unusual when many blacks grew up in non-traditional households? Well, for one reason, it's because in my house academic accomplishments weren't a time for celebration and some of my siblings took great advantage of this unspoken rule.
I recall the first time being told I made it to the final round of the spelling bee and it was mandatory for parents to attend. I was instantly filled with fear of having to tell my mom. Why? Because I knew she would have to take off work to be there. When I was young, my mom's job was cleaning houses for a living. Every penny counted, literally. Having to take off work meant a bill would go unpaid. I started to become embarrassed about excelling in school. My adolescent mind couldn't fathom other alternatives. The only conclusion I could think of was to tell the school administration that my mom was working on important projects at work, and in turn, not tell my mom of achievements where she needed to be present. This lasted for years, even when she started to get better paying jobs, because it came second nature to me to avoid her having to take off work for my accomplishments. Though an odd way to learn, it taught me selflessness, which is a key attribute of most millennials.
As I fast-forward 10 years of living out-of-state and away from my entire family, the selflessness that was instilled in me as a child, and was practiced by my mother, hasn't changed. Earlier this year, I was notified that my hometown was honoring me and I had to fly back to Memphis to walk the red carpet and receive the award. Naturally, I asked my mother to be my guest. She initially declined, but later agreed to accompany me. She despises attention and the spotlight, although she deserves every bit of it.
That Sunday night she graced the red carpet with a beautiful gown and her 8th child on her arm. She seemed so proud and hesitant of all the questions she was asked, but she shined like the star she truly is. However, that's not what makes her such a force of nature. The very next morning she woke up early to be at the prison to visit one of my brother's who is serving time. She's forced to live in two separate worlds. This woman ceases to amaze me. On the red carpet one day, and visiting the jail the next. No matter the choices her children make in life, she's always there for them without judgment.
I work hard because she taught me how, I give and care about others, because she did so my entire life, and I celebrate the successes of others without jealousy because that's what she continues to do to this day. I get my strength, my drive, my selflessness and heart from her. She's who I think about when white privilege tries to threaten and erase my blackness, when I want to give up because being black in America is considered a death sentence, and when I have to wake up not knowing if I'll live to see the next day.
Black mothers are national treasures that should be honored, celebrated and protected. They are truly the lifelines of black millennials. There are countless stories of black mothers being unsung heroes and hidden figures. Let's continue bringing them to light and celebrating these courageous women!