"...She stood in mid ocean, seeking dry land.
She searched God's face.
she placed her fire of service
on the altar, and though
clothed in the finery of faith,
when she appeared at the temple door,
no sign welcomed
Black Grandmother, Enter here...
These momma faces, lemon-yellow, plum-purple,
honey-brown, have grimaced and twisted
down a pyramid for years.
She is Sheba the Sojourner,
Harriet and Zora,
Mary Bethune and Angela,
Annie to Zenobia...
Centered on the world's stage,
she sings to her loves and beloveds,
to her foes and detractors:
However I am perceived and deceived,
however my ignorance and conceits,
lay aside your fears that I will be undone,
For I shall not be moved."
By Maya Angelou
When I was inside the Beltway last week, the hot topic I discussed with African American cab drivers, bell hops, shop owners, security guards, police officers, transit riders and teachers was not about President Elect Obama, but Marian Robinson. Without fail, at some point after talking about the election with them, they would declare with pride that, "Big Mama's in the White House, and I feel so good!"
Some of my fondest memories as a little girl were when my parents and I lived with my grandparents on 126 The Mall in Berea, Ohio. As I knew it, my grandmother's name was "Big Mom." She was "Big," because she was in charge.
A chocolate addict at a very young age, if I wanted another Hershey bar and my mother did not want me to have it, I would ask Big Mom and she would get it for me. If my uncle Allen (we were nine months a part), and I did not like something that either my parents or grandfather did such as not take us to MacDonalds for the third day in a row for a cheeseburger, small fry and chocolate shake, it was Big Mom who fussed until we'd end up riding down Bagley Road to the "Golden Arches." When Christmas time came, it was Big Mom who talked to Santa to make sure I got the presents I wanted because my parents did not have any money. It was Big Mom who ordered my grandfather around.
Big Mom told me countless stories about my family heritage that included black, French Canadian and Scottish. Big Mom was not shy about her looks either; always primping for my grandfather and, yes, smiling when other men noticed her, she was a proud black woman. She sadly talked about what it was like to pass for another race to get a "job." She watched countless job applications get thrown in the trash because the applicants who applied were darker than she was. Big Mom, died in 1986 of Ovarian Cancer. I miss her.
African Americans know the value of having a Big Mama in the house and this is why we celebrate President Elect Barack Obama and his wife Michelle as they welcome Mrs. Marian "Big Mama" Robinson into the White House to help raise Sasha and Malia. "All Hail to the Extended Family!"
Grandmothers are an extremely powerful force in African American family life. Analyzed as part of the multi-generational black family, grandmothers have often served as both patriarch and matriarch guiding the black family through the toils and crises of our time.
From the slave ship to the cotton field it was the Big Mamas who sang the Negro spirituals to keep the sanity of our people. It was Big Mama who put herself in harms way so that her daughters might be safe from the predatory hands of her white slave owner for another day. From the Master's house to the assembly line, it was Big Mama who worked more than she slept, barely eating, to put the best of the scraps on the table for her children and grandchildren so they could eat at least one good meal. From the hot kitchen to owning a hole-in-the-wall hair salon, it was Big Mama who always showed the younger women how to use a hot comb. It was Big Mama, even if she could not read, who taught the culinary arts of soul food and defining what it is to be Black and Beautiful. After giving every dime she had so that her grandchild could get a college education or, sadly enough, stay out of jail, it is Big Mama who comes out of retirement to work her arthritic fingers once more and again for a better life for her grand babies. Big Mamas are the prayer warriors in every black church across America.
So it is befitting that a Big Mama comes to the White House to symbolically pay tribute to the sacrifice and unconditional love these women give to their community on a daily basis. Big Mamas are not only grandmothers to their own, but entire black neighborhoods and in some cases towns. Big Mamas are the village!
The psychological impact on the African American community behind the news about Mrs. Robinson is heaven sent. Her presence in the White House shines a positive light on the role of the extended family as well as a healthy pressure to reconstitute and celebrate black family unity, community and social responsibility. Now, all of America and the entire Free World can experience what I have been blessed with as well as so many African Americans -- what it is like to have the "First Big Mama."
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