“we all learn to be by imitation or indoctrination” a quote from the jackie hill perry herself in her poem, “what is a woman”. simply put, you are who you are today because of who someone else was yesterday. if i were to take a walk down memory lane and revisit those people who contributed to the christina you all see before you, i would return to you with the stories and lessons i picked up from all the great women in my life.
i was raised by a house of women. there was my grandmother from my mother’s side whom everyone referred to as ms. vi, short for violet. then there was dahlia, an older and wise cousin and finally my mother. talk about strength! there was nothing that these three shied away from in the name of being female. catching water and bringing it back to the house, they did it. cutting the heads off of chickens, mom had that down. she may have squirmed and ran away, but she still did it. a nicely sharpened machete to stalks of sugar canes, yep, did that too. the foundation of who i am is strength. it’s standing in the midst of adversity and seemingly dead ends and still convincing your family that things will be okay. that’s what i was brought up on and this is the trauma of being a woman, one that brings me to an all-time favorite poem of mine called “won’t you celebrate with me” by lucille clifton.
won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
now if this isn’t an emblem of what and who we are as women, i don’t know what is. we stand erect in moments that try to force our knees to bend. we know how to stretch a dime into a meal, fifteen minutes into just enough time to pick up the kids from school, make dinner, and get to work. we’re magical and we owe it to ourselves to celebrate every once in a while.
when we place our crowns on our heads, the little ones behind us start looking for theirs. i will never forget the first time i saw a woman truly wear her crown in front of a crowd. her name was rosemary flowers-jackson, my black studies teacher during my junior year of high school. prior to that year, i had never really seen any woman who looked like me fully embody everything that she was. i’d never seen a professional woman of color wear twists to school and do it so boldly. i’d never been looked at by someone in a professional setting and told that my afro was beautiful. every single day when i stepped into that classroom, i knew that i’d see her with her crown and slowly, i began looking for my own.
again, “we learn by imitation and indoctrination,” we become by observing and reenacting. i wear my strength boldly because that is all I saw growing up. i keep pushing even though it would be easy to lay down, complain and ask someone else to fight for me. it’s hard, being the one responsible for carrying the hurt with one hand and hope in the other. however, we’ve been entrusted with this. many of us are the backbone of our families and communities. it comes down to this question; if we don’t do it who will? that’s the power of the woman; saying i will.