My Motherhood & Friendship Journey at the 2012 Essence Fest

By Kelly Harris, BrassyBrown.com Founder/Editor

It was 2012. I was in a funk. Everyone needed me and I had nothing. There was a lot going on in my life. I was frustrated at my job. Separately, I wanted more opportunities to showcase my writing. I had spent much of my late 20s caring for my mother with breast cancer and then, in 2012, my 27-year-old sister was diagnosed with epilepsy. I felt mentally drained. I thought I should be further than where I was in life and I was pregnant.

Would a baby be the nail in the coffin of my dreams? It had been for so many women in my family. What was wrong with me? I was married to a wonderful man, had an advanced degree and owned a home.  We had planned the pregnancy, yet I was uncertain about my professional and artistic future. How would I manage a baby, a career, when I felt so uncertain of myself? Would I be a good mother?

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Then I received a call from a friend – a friend who didn’t know how I was feeling – urging me to apply to participate in the Healing Is the Revolution/SuperLife project sponsored by Essence Magazine, Chaka Khan and her foundation and the Institute for Women and Ethnic Studies.

That first night a room of dozens of New Orleans women of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, shared their stories. Some spoke of being raped. Some spoke of being homeless. I compared my pain to theirs and thought I wasn’t worthy of participating. I didn’t have a headline story, but my life wasn’t picture perfect. I thought maybe I should give my slot to another woman in worse shape than me. But IWES staff assured me that black women in all phases of their lives are probably coping with wounds and unresolved issues. Perhaps I didn’t need a house or a GED, but I did need some mental health assistance.

Participating in the SuperLife project helped calm my fears about motherhood. In one of our circle talks specifically about motherhood, Dr. Denese Shervington of the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies stressed that parenting is not about perfection. She said a lot of the ideas we have about mothering and children are based on a Western philosophy, but in other cultures around the globe motherhood and children are seen as vital contributors of their communities. Education and discipline are different too she added.

Chaka Khan and Dr. Dense Shervington
Chaka Khan and Dr. Dense Shervington at the SuperLife graduation.

Chaka Khan shared her personal reflections and struggles with the group about being a mother and grandmother and how important it is to be physically and mentally healthy to do the work God has set before us. Hearing her story and other local women’s struggles about motherhood helped me come to grips that being a mother would not be easy, but it would be rewarding.

I made two special friends, too. Danette and Annette (no relation). I saw Annette waiting for the bus one night and offered her a ride. Before she could go home, we had pick up her kids from her grandmother’s . Almost two hours later, I was home wondering how she juggled three kids by herself while working on a GED. Then she was cleaning bathrooms in City Hall. Now she works as an administrative assistant for the City of New Orleans.  I’m so proud of her. We’ve been friends since the program and we are trying to schedule a playdate with her kids and my daughter. Last year we celebrated her birthday with drinks and appetizers.

Danette, Annette and me
Danette, Annette and me

Danette is a teacher, but she struggled with self-acceptance. She became a homeowner during SuperLife which was a major goal for her, and she is now living a more healthy lifestyle. Danette attended my daughter’s baby blessing and often pops up at my poetry readings.

We’re an odd trio. Weaved hair. Locd. Curly. Single with no kids. Single with three kids. Married with one kid. Once a cleaning lady. Now an administrative assistant. Social studies Teacher. Poet/Writer. Picture us getting together to take a picture. Danette was early, as usual. My daughter went to sleep in the car, so when we got to the park I had to wake her up and she was mad, which made me a few minutes late. And Annette, well, she was fashionably late and, like a diva, still had to put lashes on her right eye while trying to teach my daughter, Naomi, the “Nay Nay” dance.

We laughed and caught up and talked about other women from the program we know are also doing well. After the program, SuperLife participants dispersed, went back to their own lives, hopefully better. But the three of us have lasted as friends since graduating from the SuperLife project at Essence Festival 2012.

On the day of our graduation at the Convention Center, I was 8 months pregnant. My belly was rubbed by many of the women in SuperLife project who declared themselves “auntie.” Even Chaka Khan joked about my wobble that day when I had to ride on the cart with her because I was too pregnant to walk the distance to the luncheon.

Looking at my 18-month-old daughter now, I know motherhood came at the right time for me. She was ushered into the world with love, wisdom, inspiration, music from a tribe of women there for me when I needed it most.

 

Naomi
My 19-month-old-daughter

 

Since the program, I’ve started this blog, served as editor for an upcoming New Orleans publication and love being a mom.