For Daughters of the African Diaspora
My conversations with Zinzile were rich and fulfilling while I was in South Africa. I used every available opportunity to ask questions about her work in maternal health with the Human Rights in Childbirth Summit: South Africa 2015, her experiences as the Zulu Doula, and her expertise as a town planner and the co-owner of Azania Strategic Urban & Rural Developers (Pty) Ltd in South Africa. I always find it intriguing to consider others’ processes and perspectives… Zee has much to share.
As we were awaiting our meals at a restaurant one day, we were discussing some of the experiences we had had together. We had visited some new mothers and their newborns the day before where out of the six mothers who had birthed, four had birthed by cesarean-sections, which they call caesars. Zee explained the high rates of c-sections at South Africa’s public hospitals and even higher rates at private hospitals.
Modern technological advancements in maternity care include c-sections for mothers that face medical challenges. Still, as with any major medical surgery, there are possible complications that have prompted the development of global initiatives to reduce c-section rates in an effort to improve maternal health.
At some point, Zee turned the video on me, asked me about my motivation for being a birth mentor and doula (among all of the other hats I wear), and pushed record. Here was my impromptu response:
Not only is today 🌹Mother’s Day, but it is my mother’s BORN DAY here on earth. She is an ancestor now, but in recent years I “feel” her and I “hear” her more than I ever had before. I don’t doubt that her energy has been with me over the past 25 years as I tried to figure out how to be a mother. But I lived most of those years angry that she transitioned when she had promised me she would show me how this motherhood thing worked, beginning with pregnancy and beyond. I understand more now how she kept her word to me after all.🙌🏿 Even when I felt I was doing it alone, I really wasn’t.
My husband met my mother and there have been times throughout our marriage where he would look at me and say, “How did you know that? You don’t know enough about that topic to know that… That was your Mom.” Until recently, I did not know how to respond to that, but now I do.
Today when I mentioned my Mom, Mama Maureen (my South African Mom) said, “Ancestors are our angels, hence in African culture we do “umsebenzi” for them to plead on our behalf and give light on the paths we take.”
Each year, I sense my Mom’s presence more and more… and I remind myself of the 1st law of thermodynamics that states (because STEM and that’s how I think):
“💥Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; 💥energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another”.
And so when I feel “her” wisdom…
When I hear “her” words flow through “my” mouth…
When I notice that I handled a situation with my children the way “she” would have handled it…
(I thought by now I would forget what her voice sounded like, but) when an answer comes to me in “her” familiar voice…
I audibly say, “Thank you, Momma.”🤗
I know that everyone does not view the roles of ancestors in the same way, but I have found peace in understanding that I am NOT a motherless child… ALL of my mothers have been helping me through motherhood since they left.
The influences of my mother, Johnnie Mae Gray Little, and her mother, Clara Ryans Gray, and my Big Momma (my Dad’s mom), Carrie Early Little, continue to be expressed through me and my sisters and our children and our cousins and everyone else who was blessed by their presence during their journeys here on earth.
On another note: In this photo, I think I resemble the form of the female reproductive system… broad ligament (look it up) and all. Can you see it? The first “live” one I saw was in the Dominican Republic during a c-section… That makes this photo even more special to me! #MyAncestorsLedMeBackToBirth🙌🏿❣️
The most important events in my life feel very private. They usually overwhelm me and prompt me to hold the experiences close and near to my heart. Often I have hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of photos and videos that document these most precious times. For example, there is a Women’s Retreat I attend every year, and each year I take so many pictures that they call me PAPARAZZI. But no one has seen the photos beside the few I share with the retreat host.
Additionally, I have been to South Africa three times and have hardly shared any photos at all outside of close family and friends. The last time we visited our family there, we had a traditional Zulu wedding that was SO AMAZING… Yet it has been over a year and I have only shared a couple of photos. I am promising myself that I will share the experience next month for our 25th wedding anniversary, because there are so many that ask about it and others that would appreciate sharing in the blessing of making and connecting with family on the continent, so look out for that.
I am not sure why I hold these most cherished experiences so dearly. Perhaps I am a bit ‘old school’ in that way and longing for the days when we kept physical photo albums where we kept our most important photos to share with those who visited our home. I also think I want to make sure that whatever images I put out are portraying the messages that I intend and those that will work to my highest good. But perhaps there is a part of me that acknowledges that in the current age of social media, putting sacred, personal things out there leaves opportunity for them to be defiled by others who don’t hold them in the same in high regard.
With this blog post, I am doing something different… I am going to SHARE, primarily because I want those who presented me with this AMAZING AWARD to know how meaningful the entire night’s experience was for me and because there are so many other people of African descent need to know about Empress Menen.
In honor of Empress Menen
The award I am referring to was presented to me by the Rastafari Council of Chicago in honor of Empress Menen Asfaw, the co-regent of Emperor Haile Selassie I, the last Emperor of Ethiopia of the Solomonic Dynasty. If you are a woman of African descent and you don’t know about Empress Menen and her legacy, you should. I would take the time to try to describe who she was, but Dr. Asantewaa Oppong Wadie already explained it so well on that Saturday evening, so I will share her dynamic words with you.
By the time it was time to receive my honor, which followed Dr. Wadie’s presentation on Empress Menen, I was overcome with gratitude for the legacy that this amazing woman had left behind for us to follow. She saw the world clearly and positioned herself in it to help her people. Not only was she a powerful African woman lived so close to my lifetime, but she was also as a co-regent with her husband who understood the importance of wielding her influence effectively in order to help, heal and save her people.
For the first time, I heard my bio in a different light. As I listened, I felt a heavier weight of responsibility.
This evening turned out to be so much more special than I had anticipated. What made the honor so special? Well, after hearing Dr. Wadie’s presentation on Empress Menen, I understood even more clearly how honoring it was to be associated with such a woman on the day that her legacy was being celebrated. All of a sudden, there seemed to be very dynamic shoes to be filled. And as I listened to the life and work of Empress Menen and how she used her influence to “come to the rescue” of her people with her knowledge, skills and expertise, I knew I was being charged to continue to creatively use my influence to do the same. Dr. Wadie made such an appealing case for the need to celebrate the life and legacy of this amazing woman, that I have purposed to make sure that I continue to do so.
It was also special because of the four other dynamic women who were being the honored that night along side me, namely:
Bernadict Quarles, an educator who has developed a Black Diaspora Curriculum, was the co-founder of a charter school and the founder of the Black National Honors Society with scholarships awarded of over $80,000.
Barbara Allen, an Emmy Award winning filmmaker who is known throughout Chicago, the nation, and the world for her work that highlights the untold stories of Black people and their persistence that showed greatness in the face of adversity.
Martine Caverl, the co-founder of Ujimaa Medics (UMedics), a volunteer based Black-health collective developed to address the health disparities that follow trauma in Chicago’s Black communities.
Queen Mother Helen Sinclair, a 98 year old elder who continues almost 75 years of service in prison ministry.
But most of all, this honor was precious to me because it was given to me by MY OWN PEOPLE. I can hardly describe the feeling of being applauded for my work by a room full of people where our greatest commonality lies in that almost all were people of African descent. The appreciation for one another that was tangible in the room was so different than what most prefer to showcase when diverse Diasporic African people are gathered together, so I will show you.
I know some may not understand why being honored by other Black people is so significant to me. I liken it to the teenager who trains and works really hard to excel at a sport. The crowd is usually full of admirers affiliated with her school and perhaps those cheering for her success because of the love they have for her sport. Nonetheless, when she looks toward the bleachers, the faces she looks for and desires to see the most are those of her family… her kin.
On April 13, 2019, FAMILY celebrated the work that I am doing to support Black women’s abilities to help, heal and save ourselves. I am most grateful and appreciative for the recognition. It is a blessing to be seen.
Facebook Post from April 17, 2013
Follow-up Response: Thank you for the encouragement! 🙂 I really needed the support. (And I could tell some you had been “there” before as well and you felt my pain… Thanks for the empathy.)
I saw Andreu as he was passing out extra treats to teachers in the hallway at school. He looked at me rather bashfully, but the his classmate, Alex, ran up to me and said, “Mrs. Mason we LOVED the notes on Andreu’s treats. They were so cool… I got the one that said, ‘Andreu is brilliant!'” She went on to talk about how different ones got this one or that one that said, “Andreu is _____!” I must admit, I was happy at the thought of Andreu hearing all those affirmations about himself. 🙂
I asked him if he liked them and he said, “Yes…” and I asked him if he was surprised and he said, “Yes…” Sigh… When I was leaving the school building, I passed by his classroom. (I saw one of the treats on the corner desk by the door. 🙂 ) His classmates pointed toward the door… He looked… I waved… He ran out into the hallway (out of view of his classmates) and gave me a big hug and said, “Thanks, Mom.” Anita (my older sister), thank you for my award because all I could think was that all of my years of sacrifice and trying to be a great Mom were about to be foiled by forgetting a silly musical card. Nita Boo, you are right… My name sake and I are SO MUCH ALIKE! (It didn’t help that we had just celebrated his oldest brothers’ birthday BIG three days ago.
Andreu needed some time to get his emotions together and take it all in. He will probably be able to say more about how he liked them later, if he chooses to… But I think it was a good save… 🙂
“Update: Andreu indulged his Mom and told me more about how he felt about his birthday treats… He said, “I just kept saying, ‘How did she do that? How did she do that? … Like 5 times, Mom… How did you do that and the box wasn’t even open?” I asked, “So are you okay not getting a card?” He responded, “Oh yeah, it was waaaaaay better.” I asked, “Oh really? Why?” He responded, “Because it was all about ‘Andreu is…'” The icing on the cake was when my youngest, Omari, came in looking pouty and said, “Mom, you never did anything like that for me…” HA!!! So I retain my “Best Mom Ever” crown after all!”