There was one thing that was a constant in my mothers life. First and foremost it was her Love for me – it was unconditional. Secondly, she made sure that I had a strong identity of “Self” and the skin I was born in. Next, she made sure I knew my history (not his -story). And not just my family history – but human history, African history, Black History in America. And she made sure that I read. As soon as I could read she started putting books in front of me. I’m so thankful for that.This poem is powerful and reflects the childhood my mother created for me.
My mother protected me – she didn’t “coddle” me. She raised me to be a man, not a boy.
Many mothers make this mistake. I learned and was given responsibility at a very young age. I picked out my own clothes to wear. When I was about 8 years old my mother let me pick out my “Easter outfit”. Wearing a nice outfit on Easter Sunday is a Black tradition. Starting from the bottom and working my way up – I picked out a pair of white shoes. They were leather, completely white with a rounded toe. With a wingtip motif to them, but definitely not a wingtip. Oh and lets not forget they had a beige crepe sole! With a three inch heel! I had white imitation silk socks. And now this is where it goes good. The pants were white with red stripes with a fair bottom pant leg. Hey, it was the 70s! The belt was a red fake leather belt. The shirt was a long sleeve polyester red and white striped shirt. And the jacket/blazer was a deep red burgundy. Oh, and to top off this master piece of an ensemble, a white tie with red stripes! I LOOKED LIKE A CANDY CANE! When I got older and I looked at pictures of this outfit I asked my mother, “how in the world could you have let me walk out of the house dressed like this?” She replied, I wanted to give you your independence. You were proud of the fact that you picked out that outfit yourself and you wore it proudly and with confidence. She stated she would never have told me not to wear that no matter how bad it looked because she said I wore it with confidence. And no one ever made fun of me wearing it that day.
I was responsible for getting my homework done. But not just the home work at school, my mother gave me separate assignments outside of school. She was an educator after all. She couldn’t afford a good private school as a single Mom, I was educated in Detroit public schools. And I didn’t attend the best schools. So I had to read outside of the classroom. For example, when I was about 12 she gave me the Autobiography of Malcolm X to read. I could barely understand it. But she wanted me to write a book report on it. I was given many books on African and Black history to read and told to write about them when I was around 8 years old. These were books that I was not reading in public school. Authors like James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, Poets like Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou, Musicians like Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Erroll Grarner (too many to list here). Where a part of my everyday life.
These were my ROOTS
In addition to teaching me about “self” and my “history”, she gave me “traditions”. birthdays, family gatherings, and Yes! Chores. My Grandfather taught me how to “fix” things around the house. But I was also taught how to cook and clean and build “stuff”. How to use my “head” and my hands. And yes she taught me how to sew!
With all of this I played sports too! Baseball, Baseball, Football (Mom hated me playing – but she let me anyway). And I was a good athlete growing up.
My Mom taught me how to write. She used to tell me – if you learn anything from me its going to be how to write.
She taught me how to play the piano sitting me down at the bench when I was about 4 years old. She bought me my first guitar when I was 8 years old.
She wanted me to be well rounded.
One tradition she and my Grandmother instilled in me was one that still evokes fond memories to this day.
My Grandmother had a tradition. Where this came from I don’t know.
These were my WINGS
And she taught me and encouraged me to communicate. No question was to dumb or unanswerable.
She gave me my Wings!