Fictive Kinship: The bonding of people who demonstrate concern, affection and responsibility for one another; although they are not related biologically or through marriage.
Never would I claim to know “everything”; however, I do believe it is my responsibility to nurture and educate by sharing what I do know. Life’s experiences are necessary so that we may grasp knowledge to teach others along the way. It’s been said, “it takes a village to raise a child” or that “two heads are better than one”. Perhaps it took me a little longer than most to fully comprehend the message.
A Neighborhood Away from Reality, but so Close to Heart and Home
Drastic change occurred in my life when I moved into a new community far removed from my reality. After being laid off from a position I held for more than a decade, with a steady income that had been more than enough for my children and I to live comfortably, our lives were definitively altered. I could no longer afford to live in what was considered to be a moderately classed neighborhood. We were forced to move into a low-income housing complex that was very different than what we were accustomed to. My days were marked by sitting at my kitchen table staring out the window as I wrote in my journal. As a mother, I was concerned about what I witnessed and was overcome with a range of emotions from sadness to anger and confusion. Young men standing around with their pants sagging, smoking marijuana and wasting precious time was a constant and pervasive event. Overwhelmed with tears yet knowing the Lord was present I asked, “why did you do this to us?” Day in and day out like clockwork, it was the same pattern from usually the same group of young men. Every now and then a new one would come along and join the pack.
For nearly the first year of living there I rarely spoke to anyone, choosing to remain unconscious to the issues surrounding my family and I on a daily basis. Like most, I’d convinced myself that it wasn’t my problem. I witnessed young children no more than three to five years of age playing outside with no parent in sight. Often, I’d watch for hours waiting to see if someone, anyone, perhaps mom or dad or maybe a sitter would come looking for them, which almost never happened. Usually it would be a sibling, not much older, who came to the rescue of the unattended child. After a year of unsuccessfully searching for adequate employment and watching a landscape of deprivation, frustrated by the scenery growing more depressing, I decided to attend the college across the street from the complex.
It wasn’t until I became part of the Umoja Saku Learning Community at the college that I began to think differently regarding my surroundings at home. To be an Umoja student was not simply about learning typical subjects like math or science. It was about learning from a holistic perspective of life focusing on culture. All my professors were of color and the materials utilized were based on lived or professional experiences and scholars of color. One of the main concepts I learned that has stayed with me is how much more can be accomplished by simply working together. The most valuable lesson for me was as an African American woman, I cannot continue to ignore the events taking place around me. As a mother who wants change, I am not only responsible for the children “I” gave birth to, also for my community as a whole. Everyone has a story that needs to be shared. We all need to be encouraged and uplifted. My Umoja family did that for me, how dare I do not do the same for another. Everyone, regardless of color wants to be loved or know that someone cares and that they matter. The Umoja experience motivated me to re-evaluate my maternal mentality. After all, I am a mother raising a teenage son in this environment trying to do my best in keeping him on the right path. If I reach out to some of those neighbors and young men by offering what I can where I see there is a need, perhaps we can work together by looking out for one another making this an enjoyable place to live.
Before this time, I’d never viewed myself as a role model because I’ve made plenty of mistakes and still do. However, after deciding to face my fears and frustrations head on, it wasn’t long before I was being recognized as a positive influence, but also very well respected. By simply having a conversation with some of these young men, learning their stories, finding out about their talents, none of us were much different than the other. Sometimes all it takes is to offer a homecooked meal when it’s evident that someone may be hungry. Perhaps that young man doesn’t have a job because no one ever took the time to not only show him how to create a resume, but never encouraged or believed in him enough to motivate him. Perhaps that young mother has her child running around with a soiled diaper because she’s been depressed, has no one to turn to and may need someone to simply “listen”. (There was a point when I took it upon myself to change a few of those diapers or convince mom it was time for potty training). I have to say it’s an amazing feeling to come from being angry and fearful to suddenly being referred to as “Ms. Tammy” or “Momma Tammy” and knowing that my efforts are recognized as well as appreciated. Somehow at some point I began to feel that as a black woman it is my duty to take advantage of opportunities to motivate and encourage our sista’s & brotha’s . Often all it takes is a compliment, letting someone know they have a beautiful smile. Maybe say a prayer with someone when they’re willing. That one caring gesture can be the difference between providing hope and preventing a tragedy from occurring.
Note: This was originally titled Black Fictive Kinship and was published with other works of mine in Our Black Mother’s: Brave, Bold & Beautiful 2015. I revised it today and made a few suitable changes. I first moved to the Vista’s as they were formally known in 2009. While I wouldn’t dare take credit for anyone’s accomplishments, I think it’s important to note that now nearly thirteen years later, many of those residents I came to know have since shown tremendous growth. I will own though that it feels great when I’m told that I’ve inspired someone and while I am humble, with my past of fear, fighting and not trusting, those same residents taught and helped me as much as they say I’ve helped them. Some I crossed paths with again during my homelessness and they love they showed got me through. Others have looked out for my son and g-son when I couldn’t. I’m sure many of you have already learned this, I’m sharing because of what I learned. This is how I know that God is always working, why we have to be kind to one another. Give unselfishly when we can because it does come back to us in various forms when least expected. Somehow along the way, the ties of unity began to unravel. It is of the utmost importance that we make an effort to strengthen that bond, even if it means doing so one sista or brotha at a time. Blessings to everyone and a Happy New Year!