Growing up, mommie, Carol, was my hero. She was my role model, my best friend, and the first Black woman I was ever in the presence of. She shaped all I knew about the world, and what it meant to navigate it with my head held high, proud of all the ways we stood out. I would look at her—tall stature, gap-toothed grin, and beautiful skin—and think to myself, this is who I want to be. She made sure that my life was filled with things that reminded me of the unique position I held in being a Black woman in America. All my doll babies were brown; when we'd color, the pages were filled with brown faces; my birthday cards were all brown little girls ... even if she had to make them that way. Heck, even my birth announcement was one of the few with a brown baby on the front. In her presence, I never once questioned my beauty or value—you could not tell me that the rich tones of my skin were anything less than spectacular.
We watched a lot of television and movies together growing up. About once or twice a week, after school, we would wander the mall before inevitably winding up at the theater watching whatever caught our fancy. We traveled to Africa and outer space in that darkly lit room, witnessing all types of folks on screen. Those images would become other reference points for me, for the world and how it was. I will never forget seeing The Cosby Show for the first time and being introduced to one Clair Huxtable. In that single thirty-minute program I saw a woman who was every bit my mom. The same charm, elegance, and strength that I saw every day, I knew then that the world was seeing it for themselves in Clair. I knew they would understand just how amazing Black women are—especially Black mothers.
You often hear folks say that their mom is or was their best friend, but I can safely say mine was. Even as an adult she was the person I talked to and loved spending time with the most. She challenged my thinking often, and was one of the few people I could be completely myself around. What we had was rare for many mother-daughter relationships. When she passed away in 2018, it changed my life completely. There was a sense of feeling adrift without this anchor that I'd had for all of my life.
As we were preparing for her farewell party, I started looking through all of the photos we had stockpiled in the house. There were images dating back to the early 20th century, of relatives dressed elegantly as only the women in my family could. I kept poring over photos and, in time, found the requisite images of the two of us: me with a bottle in my mouth, images of us traveling, and the formal sort of photo you took at Olan Mills. At one point, however, the images of us just stopped. There were only a handful of photos of my mom past the age of sixty and even fewer of just the two of us. I think I can count on one hand the images we have of us after I became an adult. Actually, there is only one.
It’s a photo I took on the fly at a wedding a couple of years ago. It's not perfect at all, but I cherish it. Her smile is completely genuine and I remember every bit of that day as a result. I had no clue that this would be the last photo of us together, nor that her—actually our story would not be told anymore. During my period of mourning, I began to realize even more just how important it is to have those images of mother's and daughters who, like us, have and had wonderfully distinct relationships that have carried over into adulthood. A year ago the seeds of this project were born: I wanted to tell our story. I wanted to tell the stories of other Black women, Black mothers and daughters who had similar relationships, and share those stories with the world.
Our representation does not end with Clair Huxtable. She's part of a long and large legacy of amazing Black women who have taken on the task of being mothers to generations of young folks. Women who have worked hard and helped us be the women that we are today. Once a month I'll be highlighting a young Black woman and her mother or mother figure, along with some photos and a little bit of their story. My hope is that you will read their stories and celebrate their relationships.
Welcome to The Iya Sessions.