This piece is offered in direct reflection of what is happening in Charlottesville, VA. This is also offered as a delayed reaction and long-time conversation that I’ve had with my mother. My mother, Carole Agard Williams, is the youngest of three girls, raised by my grandmother and community. She is a Pisces Sun, Aries Rising, and Sagittarius Moon - which in so many words means that she feels deeply, but takes no shit. None.
At the top of Leo season, we had a conversation that sent me running for my computer to try and capture the gems she was offering. I was navigating my usual dilemma of almost always being the first responder in the projects and opportunities that I take on. The good news I was coming from an intention that was celebrating the strength that I inherently have to do that work and then still have energy to channel back to myself. To which, among other things, my mother said, “recognizing the strengths that we have means that we have to be nicer to each other. Look at what we survived.”
I stopped whatever words I was fixing to say, and just let out a loud sigh. Conversations with her often feel and sound like I’m talking to an older, much wiser, version of myself. But this conversation immediately screamed for some kind of documentation. Some record that can be shared later on at the right moment. I had to breakdown every piece of what she said before I could say anything. In recognizing the strengths that we have, sometimes that means have to go back to the vault and isolate. For others that means we learn on the go through trial and error. Any where on that spectrum and beyond.
When she said that we have to be nicer to each other, I immediately thought of the themes brought up with the movie Girls Trip. Since that film’s release, a lot of essays have popped up around the need to check in on and lift up your strong friends. This theme and the essays, like this one, that have come out resonated with me a lot and forced me to reflect on how many times I had been the strong friend. The one to lift and support another person. I also realized that in many of those moments, I could have named that I was bent. Bending to the pressure to perform and live up to the ideas that had been imposed on me. Ideas of strength, stability, and groundedness. I say ideas because, in those moments of being bent, I was not able to be fully firm and sturdily embody those possibilities.
Because after I caught my breath, my mother goes “the folks who knew the most about how to navigate Whiteness where the mammies” and they “didn’t set out to get the knowledge and it came to them.” I wasn't ready for that (still aren't even as I offer her words). Ancestral wisdom saved many, but I worry sometimes that we can lean on that power too much and drain ourselves. The need to perform and be the strong one comes directly out of a legacy of slavery for a lot of Black women. Being seen as weak during the long arc of the history of the Middle Passage could cost not only your life, but the lives of those you loved. She’s also speaking from what she has lived and thrived through.
My mother’s people reclaimed Eastern Alabama as their home. And when I say people, I mean my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s (infinity). On the tree, on of the strong branches bears my grandmother’s grandmother - Doshia Peters Barrow. Half Black, half Indigenous, she never knew her birth mother’s name. She could tell you the name of her mother though, Eula Peters. Doshia told this name to her daughter Laura, who told it to Barbara - my grandmother. If you’re reading this and are wondering how my mom can drop bombs like that - look no further than Barbara Williams Glover. The OG, she was in her early 20’s when the Freedom Riders bus was bombed near Anniston, Alabama.
Her response was to protect her people, and did so by becoming an organizer with the Southern Christian Leadership Council. She can tell you what really happened in Selma, remembers meeting John Lewis while he was on the path to working with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and remembers the smell of the fire from the bus bombing. But in 1963, she brought her immediate family North, because it was safer and she (we) had family in Rockland County already. It was safer, except that her partner was coping with his PTSD from serving in the Korean War through alcohol. So my grandmother did one of the bravest things I’ve ever heard. She chose herself and her daughters first. She didn’t divorce him, but from some point in the mid-60s on, Charles didn’t live in the house with her anymore.
My mother seeing this as a small child (clearly) had an impact. She would have to go check in on her father and bring him home from the bar after having too many. She supported her older sister, who lost her husband unexpectedly, in raising her nephew - who I respectfully recognize as my mother’s first child (my only first cousin and play brother). The baby of the trio, she always responded and was (and still is) my grandmother’s right hand. The levels of labors of love run deep.
I now recognize that I come from an immediate and intimate line of women who have always been first responders. Not because we wanted to be, but simply because we had to be.
“Serendipitous learning” as my mom said during that phone call. Because navigating White supremacy has facilitated “Black women just trying to survive inadvertently preparing themselves to thrive in the global economy.” Trying new things, creating and inventing, and always adding to our tool kits. I would take it a step further and argue that this has allowed us to thrive in ancient exchanges as well. That knowing what tree to plant when, what herbs to eat and what not eat, making scraps of meat taste like the best cuts - whether it’s directly or indirectly - allows us to respond in creative ways. Whether it’s in a protest or in a sacred space. All ways, and always in the name lifting up our community.
This is a love letter to the women of my tribe born of the red clay on Eastern Alabama. This is a prayer to those ancestors that survived the Middle Passage and made that red earth their home. This is a promise to the next Seven Generations that are yet to come. Known and unknown due to the passages of time. We’re steady trying to honor between the no longer and the not yet. I am because we are. Black futures, bold edges, making spaces within spaces. Thank you.
“You just gave us plenty time to sharpen our tools.” - Carole Agard
"When we define ourselves, the result is complexity. We are none of us one thing, neither good nor bad. We are complex surviving organisms. We do appalling things to each other, rooted in trauma. We survive, we learn, we have agency about our next steps. We rise to great kindness, great bravery, rooted in lineage and dream." – Adrienne Maree Brown