8 Things My Grandmother Taught Me Before She Died

These vital lessons resonated with me and they can help guide you, as well.
05/14/2017 12:48 pm ET
Bari A Williams

The beauty of the Black family, since arriving on these shores, has been multi-generational families and extended communities to comprise your village. Grandparents, in particular, are people you saw at least three times a week, if not everyday. The backbone of those families are Black women, and fabulous matriarchies. My lineage is no different. My grandmother was my favorite person on earth, and before beginning a nine-year battle with Alzheimer’s and succumbing in 2014, she imparted much wisdom. While making meals and having my hair washed, conditioned, and pressed on lazy Sundays, the lessons I learned sitting at the knee of foremothers were lifelong lessons my mother, now a grandmother herself, and I can’t wait to impart to my daughter. But they are also lifelong lessons to be shared with those that weren’t fortunate enough to be gifted with their own Black grandmother. So, I’d like to share some of mine with you.

  1. “You teach people how to treat you.” If you allow people to treat you poorly, or you don’t give them guidelines, they will treat you how they feel they should, until you protest. Even if/when you protest, they may resist, because you tolerated the poor treatment until that point. Demand respect.
  2. “Do what you gotta do until you can do what you wanna do.” Always play the long game. If you aren’t in a position to call shots and walk away from a suboptimal situation without ramifications, then you do what you must, but keep your eyes on the prize to set yourself up for what you want to do long term. 
  3. “Always be prepared to make a new friend.” Be prepared to meet new people, as you never know who they are or what you may learn or gain from that association.
  4. “Pardon me? Come again?” This phrase is a tactful warning shot, and let’s you know you are treading on dangerous ground. This is a polite way to ask you to repeat what you just said. Be sure you meant what you said, and if so, you just opened the library and will most certainly be read.
  5. “Never lowball yourself and don’t negotiate against yourself.” If someone asks you your worth, monetarily for a job or otherwise, always start high. Very high. 
  6. “When it’s “everybody else,” it’s you.” This is something my grandmother would tell me when I would complain about multiple people telling me the same thing. She would gently take my hand and say, “Baby. No.” Then she would explain that if a crowd of people all had the same complaints about me, it likely said more about me than it did about them, especially if they didn’t compare notes. It’s the most eloquent, yet real, version of “check yourself” I’ve heard to this day. 
  7. “Gospel or gangsta rap. Pick one and handle your business.” Different things will motivate you, and it’s wise to tap into that early and often. Harness your power in whatever form it presents itself, and go to work. My grandmother knows me, and she knows sometimes I need to hear a musical ministry, and sometimes I need a hard beat. Do, and listen to, what moves you.
  8. “Watch people’s feet. They can say anything, but watch what they do.” This is a black grandmother’s version of “actions speak louder than words.” She was never wrong on this front. 

The beauty of sitting at the feet of grandmothers is all of the wisdom gleaned from not just their words, but their examples. I learned to be the backbone of my family and my community, and these are lessons to impart not only to my daughter, but to all daughters. Infinite wisdom is to be found in these words. Black grandmothers are oracles.

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