By Teresa Younger •

To me, motherhood is a critical aspect of Black feminism. A critical understanding of our experiences allows Black women to contribute to each other, and the liberation movements in significant ways. My mother comes from a family that gatekeeps painful memories, but reflecting on a key experience that changed our family highlights my mother’s strength and the fortitude she was able to glean from an unlikely resource.

When I became a mother, my experience was heavily impacted by my own mother’s experience in that role. I was 10 when my father disappeared from my life. Although my father and I rekindled a relationship shortly before his death, I owe everything from age 10 through college, adulthood, and motherhood, to my mother. I still feel her presence, hear her voice inside my head and see her traits reincarnated in my daughter. On what would be my mother’s 89th birthday, I am still just beginning to understand her, 20 years after her death. Reflecting on our relationship helps me understand myself better and gives agency to my ancestors with whom I am in conversation, for their actions during the time they lived.

Like your ancestors, my mother and my grandmother lived through one of the many Black liberation movements. They saw the Supreme Court rule that educational segregation was unconstitutional, the signing of the Civil Rights Act signed, and the signing of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which directly affected where they could live. In 1970, Poised at the intersection of gender, class, and race, my mother and my grandmother, with the few resources they had, fended for five children.

I recently came across some letters that my mother wrote to her mother at a time when she was frustrated by experiencing adversity from her mother-in-law who was both adversary and ally, and enmity from her husband, my father. When I read them, I was shocked because they were such a sharp departure from her quiet stoicism. It was shocking to read because the sound of her voice in her letters was not one the way I knew her. The sound of her voice in her letters was not one I have ever heard her use. I never heard her raise her voice or use profanity. Written shortly before my father’s departure though, she sounds understandably angry.

She and her mother-in-law lived on the edges of each other’s lives. Seething, tiptoeing around each other yet forced eventually to work together. Both were betrayed by the same man, a husband and son, respectively. Their relationship as they tried to raise the five of us, bewildered me. No one sat the kids down to explain major changes in our lives, and since we were kids, we made up stories about us and what happened to our family. Looking back, it seems they were stuck making decisions between terrible choices. Still, they never gave up, they never abandoned us, and they never gave us away.

Listening to the voices of the Black women who came before me, about how cooperating and contributing to each other’s lives ultimately meant surviving intergenerational transmission of trauma. It is a story worth sharing because we are each other’s resources and path to survival. Today, I feel like it gave me the opportunity to talk about being a Black woman at this time, the way the world is now. Motherhood is a critical role that provided stability in my life, in my mother’s life and in her mother’s life. Today, I wish my mother a peaceful rest on what would be her 89th birthday.

Teresa Younger is an educator who enjoys history, writing, gardening, and loves being a part of a vibrant community. She earned her bachelor’s degree from UVA and her Master’s degree in education from USC, and has been living in Virginia since 2003 with her family.