In the Footsteps of Empress Menen of Ethiopia

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.

Daughters of the African Diaspora

“Don’t worry Anny, when you have your babies, I will come where you are and show you everything you need to know…”
Within a year of my mother saying those words to me, she had become an ancestor. That is one of the few statements that I can still hear in her actual voice, and I have spent the past 25 years, through births of my own and many others, chasing her words and trying to figure out what she would have shown me.
Initially, my questions lead me to elders in my life. But then I visited Africa for the first time and recognized similarities between how they do some things and what we did during the many summers I spent at my grandparents’ farm in rural Alabama. I clearly saw our connection as people of African descent. I saw traditions that affirmed our “Africanness” and practices that until about 50 years ago had been passed down from generation to generation to ensure our survival.
Until a half century ago, when the U.S. granted people of African descent citizenship, Black women practiced the same birthing skills that had been practiced for centuries prior, brought to this country by African women. Some fifty years later, in a time when maternity care is assumed to be the most advanced, Black mothers and babies are dying at increasingly alarming rates higher than the general population of women.
How can this be happening in the world’s most industrialized, western societies?
It is clear that something is wrong… I would go even further to say, “Something is missing…” or better yet… “someONE is missing…” And I will walk all the way out on the tip of the ledge and say that the SOMEONE missing in OUR story is THE BLACK WOMAN. I believe that in recent decades, we have been missing in our own story. And I believe that WE are and have always been the secret ingredient that allowed us to sustain ourselves during childbirth and beyond.
While more and more attention is being drawn to the ways modern medical systems have failed Black women from the beginning, there is also room to point out our need to “RECLAIM OUR BIRTH RITES” and practices.
What did our grandmothers and great grandmothers know that allowed them to support themselves and others during childbirth that we no longer know?
What knowledge and skills about childbirth did families use when they were not allowed into modern health facilities?
What resourcefulness have we abandoned as “the old way” that was actually keeping Black women and children safe in the face of so much systematic oppression and adversity?
Have times changed as much as we think they have? Or is it just time for us to SANKOFA… to go back and get all that has been lost, stolen, abandoned, forgotten and surrendered.
Daughters of the African Diaspora Alliance (D.O.A.D. Alliance) was established to assist us in our journey to RECLAIM what is ours, so that we are once again the first resource and the first line of defense for our women and children.
It is my prayer that we as Black women who are mothers, grandmothers, aunts, daughters, sisters, cousins and friends will CATCH THE MANTLE OF CARE AND NURTURE FOR BIRTHING WOMEN that has been left behind by OUR MOTHERS WHO ARE NOW IN THE HEAVENLY REALM; and intensify our efforts to learn and RE-MEMBER WHO WE ARE so we can “HELP ourselves to HEAL ourselves, and SAVE OURSELVES!”
P.S. Daughters of the African Diaspora Alliance was launched on February 5, 2019, 25 years after my mother Johnnie Mae Gray Little became an ancestor. I recognize this day as her Legacy Day and a time to celebrate her legacy and how it has influenced and been manifested throughout my life. May she be pleased with the work I am striving to do.

For Daughters of the African Diaspora

Day 4… It’s My Turn…

My plan was to stay up until 8am GMT +4 (12 midnight my time) when I knew the  Day 4 presentations of the Sacred Postpartum Summit would be posted… My plan was to be the first person to view MY PRESENTATION… Why? Because I have this tendency to read or look at presentations that I give and not remember saying half of the things that come out of my mouth. I wanted to watch it while our side of the world was still asleep.


When I saw my face on the page, I got excited and a little nervous. There have been an amazing array of birth workers from around the globe on Days 1-3. I have enjoyed gleaning from these knowledgeable, capable women.

I clicked on the video  and watched it. Sure enough, there were some statements that I made that may land on different ears in different ways. Anytime a person talks about the appropriation of Black culture and postpartum birth practices in the same presentation, there are bound to be diverse opinions about it… but I stand by every word I spoke.

You can still register for the Sacred Postpartum Summit to enjoy the last three days. And if you are a postpartum birth worker, you will learn so much that can enhance your postpartum knowledge and… It is FREE! Take some time to watch my presentation (along with the others) and let me know what you think in the comments below.