Over sixty years ago, my grandmother served as a community leader in Park Heights, located in Baltimore City. She was not only a resident but also a matriarch in one of the few Black families in the community. On behalf of her husband and six children, she advocated for Park Heights to the city government. To foster inclusion and belonging among minority residents, she organized activities where all were welcome. And because kingdoms should be majestic, my grandmother worked to uphold Park Heights’ amenities and overall charm.
Although I did not have the opportunity to witness my grandmother’s leadership in her community, I have often pondered how and why she earned the trust of predominantly white and Jewish neighborhoods in one of America’s most notoriously racist cities. This same question arose in my mind during a recent visit to the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, where I discovered that Black midwives, who were often Black mothers themselves, assisted white women in childbirth in rural and remote regions of the South after Emancipation. How were these women able to confidently and competently lead white families through such an intimate and vulnerable experience?
Ascending to the topmost level of the corporate hierarchy is a rare feat. The number of Black women holding C-suite positions is less than 5%, and among them, only two are Black mothers who have been appointed as CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. It’s intriguing to ponder how these two individuals endure the challenges in corporate America. Do they experience apprehensions in expressing their opinions, even if they are unpopular?
As a writing assistant, I understand and appreciate the significance of having a Black female stepmother as the Vice President of the United States. However, I am disappointed that there are very few Black mothers who hold leadership positions in government. Through the examples of my grandmother and other Black women, it has become clear to me that community leadership is not something that Black mothers actively pursue, but rather a role that is given to us. It is our inherent right and rightful place in the world.
It can be quite exasperating that our status as leaders is frequently unacknowledged or implied instead of being officially recognized. Although we may not hold traditional leadership positions, we still exert a significant influence on others as hidden influencers. Black mothers, for instance, can serve as powerful role models who inspire transformative change, whether it be through their work as midwives, social media pioneers, or advocates for public policy. They guide, direct, and organize others towards achieving meaningful progress in their respective fields.
The role of being a Black mother seems to be both a vocation and a designation imposed by society. An example of this is a Black mother and wife from Alabama who I find inspiring. She was not afraid to speak out and create controversy, as she believed it could lead to change. She also recognized that women were the backbone of one of the most significant social movements in American history. Although her husband was influential in his own right, she is often credited as the foundation upon which his transformative platform was built. She was so aligned with his mission and enthusiasm that she frequently led his community of supporters in his absence.
The name of this exceptional leader was Coretta Scott-King, who acknowledged that her role was not a self-appointed one. She realized this during the Montgomery Bus Boycott and recognized that they were leading a movement to free oppressed individuals not just in Montgomery but across the entire country. She felt privileged to be a part of such a significant and honorable cause that held implications for the world.
Our capacity to care for others never falters even when we face disrespect. Black mothers are creating innovative solutions to tackle issues in our communities that are neglected by the government and hospitals. These grassroots leaders have a long-standing history of mobilizing and guiding communities, which was particularly evident during the election of the first Black president of the nation.
Prior to becoming a mother, I was uncertain as to why so many Black mothers carry the weight of their position. It wasn’t until I gave birth to my son and witnessed the Baltimore riots of 2015, which were a response to police brutality and racial injustice, that I struggled with whether to accept my duty or ignore it. I had the choice to either fume with anger and hope for a better world when my son grew up, or to take charge and guide other Black mothers in advocating for their families and influencing public policy. By doing so, I could encourage my community to change their thoughts and actions, thus creating a better environment for all citizens.
Whether my kingdom encompasses a vast expanse of land or the entire globe, I, like my grandmother, possess an innate ability to lead communities. My role as a mother has transformed me into a catalyst for change, empowering and guiding others to make informed decisions. While leadership can be learned, this calling feels like a natural fit for me as a Black mother.