Social media has gone ballistic with tweets and retweets of a little Black girl photographed looking at a recently-featured painting of former first lady Michelle Obama at one of the District’s museums. Standing before the portrait, the child seems almost mesmerized — a vision that moved Sister Michelle to meet and spend time with the precious little girl — dancing with little Parker as if they were longtime friends.
The encounter reminded me of women in my life whose unconditional love, personal sacrifices and undaunted examples of overcoming overwhelming odds and circumstances remain etched in my mind and heart forever. The list of superwomen who helped me stand whenever I fell, who encouraged me when I was ready to give up and who wrapped me in the safety of their arms and perfumed bosoms is longer than I can share. Sadly, only two remain: my sister and my mother. The others have since heard those powerful words, “Well done my good and faithful servant,” and been invited to soar once more as spirits and one with God.
Their stories will never be featured in Black history books. The valleys from which they escaped and the mountains they conquered won’t be highlighted on the pages of newspapers or discussed on strings of social media entries. But that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve such notice. That’s why I must continue to honor and share their stories, sacrifices and successes.
These women, my mother, adopted mothers, godmothers, aunts, grandmothers, cousins, teachers, preachers and even gray-haired women I barely knew who lived on the street in Detroit where they taught me how to move from being a carefree little Black boy to a responsible, honest man, were more than just ordinary, nondescript Black women. They were superwomen — greater than Supergirl, more than a member of the Avengers, more than the Black Panther’s female, fellow warriors.
How else could they have survived being abandoned on the streets of Baltimore at the age of 12 like my grandmother did? How could they have emerged unscathed despite constant physical and emotional abuse suffered at the hands of their husbands yet finding ways to protect me, my cousins and my childhood friends from facing even more painful examples of abuse? How did they end years of alcoholism and depression without the assistance of 12 step programs to become brand new women? How did they see something in me that I could not — possibilities of great promise that required a shove, a tug, a foot in my behind or a gentle kiss on my cheek in order to propel me forward, refocused so that I could achieve what the world told little Black boys like me were nothing more than just “unrealistic, impossible dreams?”
Where did they find the exact amount of cash I needed when college fees threatened to leave me just short of earning my degree, when downsizing-minded employers left me with a check so small that I wondered how I’d pay the rent or buy groceries and when youthful, foolish antics got me in trouble with the police, facing the prospect of becoming another Black male statistic in the prison industrial complex — that is, until SHE stepped in?
I haven’t gone to see the new portrait of Michelle Obama. Not yet. You see, I’ve been busy lately, removing the dust that’s accumulated on the photos in our family’s albums and looking at the faces of the once forgotten sheroes of my life — wondering how they did it over and over again.
Then it dawned on me that if they did it, so can I. It helped me slap myself, chastise myself for finding it so easy to blame my failures and shortcomings on the seemingly never-ending list of tasks that now exist on my list of “to-do’s.”
It’s easy to find reasons for dropping balls, for arriving late, for forgetting and failing to make good on promises that you’ve made. Sometimes I even have felt like crawling back into bed, pulling down the shades and placing the covers over my eyes.
Then I remember the superwomen in my life and I am both ashamed and convicted. And so, I’ve found the strength and courage to start climbing again, climbing my personal mountains, refusing to look back at the valleys where I once felt so comfortable. My superwomen, my unsung sheroes, will forever be the “First Ladies” of my life. And they have made all the difference. Who are yours?