You are Appreciated
By Maco L. Faniel
We have seen them in our neighborhoods for years raising young Black men. They are hard working, gentle, vulnerable, scared, crafty, multitasking, vibrant, and no mess taking women who sacrifice so much for their families. Society and media attempt to sully their image, but these are the same single Black mothers who raised a Tupac Shakur, Christopher Wallace, Shawn Carter, Dr. Ben Carson, Kanye West, Jesse Jackson and a cadre of other successful Black men.
Single Black mothers are like the mother of fashion designer Joel Edmonson (Chaplon Clothing) who says that his mother was “a fighter and hustler…who instilled in [her boys] to be tough men…”
Long before Diahann Carroll, in her character as Julia and Claudine, showed the world the balancing act that single Black mothers play, we knew their strength. Without a man in the house, they are able to manage a job, rearing kids, romance, run an organization, and lead the choir. Single Black mothers have a remarkable impact on Black men, which is why the Intruders proclaimed, “I’ll always love my mama, she’s my favorite girl.”
These brothers say this about the impact of their single Black mother:
“The biggest impact that she had was being there. She was always available. She cared more about her sons than she did herself. She was supportive, non-critical, chastised when she needed to, and at times too giving. She was the epitome of someone who sacrifices for others. I am a mama’s boy, I can go on and on about my mama.” (Steven Edwards – Physician’s Assistant in Dallas)
“My mom has been like my backbone to me. She is somebody who I can go to and confide in, she has always been there and had my best interests. I have to give credit to her for motivating me to do my best.” (Richard Bailey – psychology student at Texas A&M University)
“I get my work ethic and fashion sense from watching my mom growing up.” (Joel Edmonson, Fashion Designer – Chaplon Clothing)
“My decision making often entails the question, would this make mama proud? She was a very strong and independent woman which is the type of women that I am both attracted to and married to. She was a very strong disciplinarian which I would like to think so of myself.” (Randy Leatch – President of a Financial and Retirement Services company – Houston)
But the question must be raised again; can single Black mothers raise boys to be men? There are many single Black mothers who tout their ability to do so, but are they only raising them to a standard of the type of man that they want.
“Mama Cleo,” mother of Houston City Councilmember Jarvis Johnson, says “Regardless of how much you love him and nurture him, you can’t teach him how to be a man. I did not know how a man thought, men and women are different. It was easier to help my daughter through things. I can relate to her. I had to struggle to find out where he was in his life. We fool ourselves thinking that we can raise him by ourselves. I could only teach him what I wanted in a man. We are blessed to see that when our boys recognize that because of their mother’s love, they want to do good by a woman.”
I know that my dating process was challenging, because my mother drilled in me how to treat a woman, especially when the song, “Treat Her Like a Lady” would come on the radio, but she could not tell me how to deal with the realities of a relationship, how a man deals with emasculation and pride, etc.
But like most single Black mothers, she did her best with what she knew about men and ruled the house with strong words and a hard hand to ensure that I did not become like the men who had failed her or who failed our community.
Steven Edwards says, “I think that my mother instilled in me values. I have a hard time saying that she raised me to be a man, because I think you need a man to do that, but she raised me to be a responsible person, with morals and values. She taught me to be a good person, but I had other influences in my life that helped me to become a man. I am the byproduct of a strong family.”
Single Black mothers who value the impact of a man on their boys are resourceful. Richard Bailey says that his mother reminds him of “the role that Angela Bassett played in ‘Boyz N’ Da Hood.’ She did her best to raise him, but she realized that he still needed a father figure in his life.” I can remember my mother telling me that she was going to get me a Big Brother, and always trying to find a man whom she admired to mentor me.
But singlehandedly, single Black mothers have done and do what others find difficult, even brothers. That is why some brothers get frustrated when they meet a woman who lacks the hustle, drive, gentleness, and sexiness of their mother.
The thought is, “well if my mother did it, why can’t she cook, work, be sweet, love on me, get a degree, and hang with the girls.” Mama had to do what she had to do to survive and single Black mothers today, do what they have to do to survive and take care of their families. And sometimes brothers are seeking that soul of their mother in their woman, because they know that the soul of their mother helped them be the men that they are today and they need that to progress.
When Black men think about their single Black mothers and then transfer that relationship to their mates, the results are amazing. Because single Black mothers often show their boys how to be respectful, loving, nurturing and many Black men don’t want their lady to have to endure the challenges that their mother had to face. Also, when Black men think of their mother, they are reminded that:
“She was just always there. She reminds me of the song by Babyface –‘You are So Beautiful.’ She is very beautiful to me in all aspects. I could never understand how someone so beautiful could be treated so badly.” (Edwards)
“She beat my a** for stuff I deserved worse for. But I mostly remember her even though she worked a lot to keep us afloat never not making a game or anything we did. . She reminds me of ‘Dear Mama’ by Tupac – ‘There is no woman alive that can take my mama’s place.’” (Edmonson)
“I was around thirteen, and I thought I was becoming a man. I told my mother hat I thought it was time I stood up for my rights and the last thing I remember my brothers standing over me asking me if I was alright. It was the last ‘whooping’ I received from my mother. I loved playing dominoes with my mother. She was a great domino player who hated to lose, especially to her baby son. Like Tupac said, ‘mama made miracles every thanksgiving.’” (Leatch)
When I asked my mother, Tonja Brantley, and “Mama Cleo” what is the most rewarding thing about being a single Black mother they said:
“To see him successful as a man; to see all of your hard work, sacrifice, encouragement, punishment, chastising, prayers, and tears for your son to see him successful as a man and everything that you poured into him go towards others. And then see himself successful and as a father.” (“Mama Cleo”)
“To see my son grow into a man and see him do the things that he wants to do. You look at it and say that a man was not in the house, but he accomplished what he wanted accomplished.” (Brantley)
Although at the time, many of us did not appreciate what our single Black mothers were doing, we now appreciate them. The methods may have been harsh, but the impact indelible. Just like we would knock a dude out back then when he would say “yo mama,” we stand up for you now because without you we would not be. We appreciate your sacrifice, love, hard work, intelligence, and resourcefulness.
When I think about my mama, I am reminded of the words of Raheem DeVaughn “and even as a single parent mama you still hold it down somehow, making ends meet somehow. I appreciate your strength. How you never bite your lip to say what’s on your mind.” Single Black mothers, hold it down!
Faniel is a contributing writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine.