Mother, May I See You Heal?: Inter-generational Healing Among Black Women

I recently had the pleasure of working with a dynamic group of women to coordinate the Sacramento Black Women’s Health and Wellness Conference (SBWHWC). The event was attended by black women from all over the state of California and planning the event made my heart sing. But witnessing women of all ages, gathered in one room for the sole purpose of focusing on health and wellness was absolutely unreal! As I took a quick scan of the audience, I noticed a large number of women appearing 50+ years old in attendance.

I found myself thinking of all the wisdom that lived in the bones of those women…

My mind quickly shifted to my own mother, who throughout my life has blessed me by allowing me to bear witness to many of her hurts and much of her own healing. I’ve sat as she braided my hair and told me stories of new love and failed relationships. We’ve made holiday meals where she shared challenges she had with her own mother and fears she’s had as a result of simply parenting and protecting Black children in a world that didn’t always see Black children as needing protection. In general, I feel so fortunate to have the kind of access to my mom that builds strong legacies. I even find myself pouring the wisdom I received from her and grandmother into the younger women I’m fortunate enough to have in my circle.  But, over the years, I’ve been able to piece together stories my mother never told me, stories my respect for her never allowed me to ask. I’ve wondered about the generational lessons we miss out on when we don’t know our mother’s stories of healing.

In 2012, the illustrious Jada Pinkett Smith, sat down for a conversation with her daughter, Willow Smith, and her mother Adrienne Banfield-Jones for an inter-generational conversation that sheds light on the ways mothers and daughters can connect an heal. During the Red Table Talk, Willow says that even though she has an amazing relationship with both her mother and grandmother independently, she rarely interacts with them together, creating a gap in her understanding of how her mother and grandmother interact, as well as a gap in her understanding of her distinct place in the lineage. At one point, Willow expressed a desire to know more about who her mother was before she became a mom. After learning a small bit about Jada’s life before parenthood, Willow said, “It makes feel like I can go off of what I know and make different choices… I think we need to talk more about who you were and who I want to be.” Willow was able to gain insight into her own possible future through a story her mom shared. For me, this is exactly what inter-generational healing is all about, harnessing the power of our mamas’ past to create our best possible future!

This sort of love shown across generations most certainly exists outside of the bonds shared between mothers and daughters, too. Indeed, sometimes our relationships with mentors and play grandmothers are among the healthiest relationships we have. In this clip, Oprah Winfrey shares a heart-warming story of sitting at the feet of Maya Angelou who reminded her that we learn as we move through the world. Our job is not to harshly judge our younger selves, but to simply do better once we know better. In strengthening generational bonds, we find those small but significant opportunities to pass on our lessons of ‘knowing better’ so that other women can ‘do better’.

In recent years, we’ve seen a necessary focus on the health and healing of Black women and this certainly needs to continue… But as we go about the business of loving ourselves a little better, let’s remember that younger women are watching. Let’s be intentional about what we demonstrate.  As Willow pointed out, sometimes they are seeking to create the best possible versions of themselves. As their models, let show them how healing looks in real life. And like my grandmother used to say, ‘A’int nothing new under the sun.’ Much of what we’re trying to do, the older women in our lives have done over and over again. To learn from them, we only need to ask and be willing to sit at their feet.


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