Black History and Black Motherhood
A couple of months ago, Lil Bird and I were honoured to be part of photographer Solana Cain’s exhibit on Black motherhood. In her email to me, she explained the impetus behind the project:
I will be photographing Black mothers and their infants to recognize, honour and celebrate Black motherhood which is too often devalued - historically and currently - in our civilization. I have always been aware of the fact that Black mothers do not get the due that they are deserve but it wasn't until I started training to become a doula that I realized how much reproductive injustice Black women have faced and continue to face.
Solana and I collaborated on another project recently (she provided the imagery for my Hazlitt piece, ‘All Of Our Names’) and I’ve loved her work — not to mention loving the aim of the exhibit. I happily accepted and spent a lovely afternoon with her and my baby, hoping that we gave Solana what she was looking for. Our conversation and subsequent photo shoot really forced me to sit in my experiences as a Black mother, and it gave me so much to think (and talk) about.
We’ve reached another Black History Month, and so many of my thoughts on the occasion have centred around Black motherhood and the mothers in my past — particularly the things I want to honour, and things I want to heal. There are things that I say to my children that make me realize I sound just like my mother. There are life experiences I’m going through that have only just now allowed me to truly understand some of the things my mother went through. I see my mother’s big and bright eyes in Lil Bird’s, and I wonder which ancestor passed them on. I think about the mothers in my lineage who exemplified what feminism and womanism meant without the badge of the title. I silently thank the mothers in my lineage who lived as property but dreamed of freedom for their children, who first stepped foot on a Caribbean island far from home, fearful but strong.
It’s because of all of them that I’m here, and there’s no adequate way to acknowledge and appreciate the sacrifices, secrets, and strength that kept them going. Every day I do my best to live up to the title of “Mother” in order to honour them and the two beautiful beings I’m blessed to guide in the present.
I also constantly think about how I can not only redefine the identity of “Mother” to best fit me and my children, but also how to help other moms — particularly Black moms — to thrive. I was proud to be a part of the planning committee for the 2019 Racialized Maternal Health Conference that took place in Toronto on January 31st, and it was overwhelming (in a good way) to bask in the brilliance of people who have made it their life’s work to support Black mothers. Sitting through most of the speakers, chatting with attendees, and taking in the poster presentations left me feeling both affirmed and valued as a Black mother, but it also lit another fire under me and my desires to do more for other Black moms. The future of Black motherhood lies not just in the seeds we plant in our children, but also in what we do to help shape/reshape the definitions around Black motherhood for Black moms to come.
Here’s to honouring the past, healing the pain, and thriving in the present and the future. Happy Black History Month to everyone, especially my fellow Black mamas. We don’t always know it, but we make history every day.
Check out Solana Cain’s work as part of Nia Centre’s From The Ground Up exhibit. Myself and a number of other dope Black mamas and our babies are featured, recreating a black and white photo of an infant Solana and her own mother. Catch it at OUR Gallery (1444 Dupont St., Unit 31) until Feb. 14th!