Years ago, Sister Sledge had a hit song, “We are Family” and it soon became an anthem of a sort at Black family reunions. It was a song that emphasized the closeness of sisterhood and was applicable to all family members. Family, as defined by sociologists is “a group of one or more parents and their children living together as a unit”. Another definition is “all the descendants’ of a common ancestor.”
Family goes beyond bloodline. Think about all the “aunties” who do not share your ancestral lineage. Think about the women who are not related biologically, but have a DNA of love, caring, protection, compassion, and spirituality. In other words, they have you covered from head to toe. They are there to nurture and pass on values.
Over the generations, Black women have taken into their homes and under their wings children and family members, and even neighbors who needed the care and love of family life. Our mothers and grandmothers and aunties would stretch meager portions to feed a multitude of hungry mouths. It was as if they were gifted with the same miracle-working abilities that Jesus enacted in the multiplication of the fish and loaves. Social Scientists have referred to this phenomenon as fictive kin.
Africa is said to be the root of human civilization. The Human Genome Project has provided anthropological proof that a Black woman is the mother of all civilization. It is the DNA of Black motherhood that is the source of all life. So, it is not a mystery that our genetic memories, even scarred by the trauma of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, have not forgotten that we are mothers of all creation. Just as the African Elephant is ever remembering, and forgets nothing, we, too, have not forgotten our core participation in the Creative works of humanity.
Black History is really a Herstory Legacy as well. Hosea 13:8 speaks of the nature of a mother bear- like a bear whose cubs have been taken away. “I will meet them as a bear bereaved of her babes and will rend the covering of their hearts like a lioness.” The actuality of the Elephant as the Matriarch is truly symbolic for the Black woman. It is the Matriarch Elephant that has the wisdom, knowledge, and memories about the dangers and needs of the community for survival.
Who are some African Matriarchal Elephants in our lives? Let us call their names and remember!
Harriet Tubman’s family were those enslaved brothers and sisters on her thirteen rescue missions on the Underground Railroad.
Rosa Parks became the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement, as we all became her family.
Coretta Scott King became a widow due to an assassin’s bullet, but an entire nation of Black folks adopted her into their hearts.
More recently, Vice-President Kamala Harris, in her acceptance speech, proudly acknowledged the familial support of her esteemed sisterhood, the Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) sorority.
Amanda Gorman, the sensational and awesome poet laureate at the inauguration of President Biden, became our National Black daughter in spirit, as she recited The Hill We Climb. Later, she cited the accomplishments of Vice-President Harris as a role model.
My own mother, Beatrice Smith, a newly celebrated centenarian, is a witness to the legacy of Black Motherhood. Her virtual birthday tribute is a testimony to the numerous spiritual children across the generations that speak to the fact that they regard her as “mother.”
God bless our family.
In memory of our Sister Jaqueline Wilson – the Sisters in the Spirit call her name as an African Matriarchal Elephant –
Authored: Burma Hill, Member of St. Joseph Catholic Church, Largo Md.