Black Parenting Joy
Essays by seven moms who say it loud: They could not be more proud.
The Cheering Section
Taylor Harris has taught her son and daughters that Black excellence isn’t just inspiring but a reminder that they, too, possess the ability to be extraordinary.
MY 4-YEAR-OLD daughter, rapt, points at the TV: “This is the first time we’ve heard Nia Dennis speak!” The UCLA gymnast, whose January floor routine celebrating Black culture went viral, is being interviewed. We’d watched the routine several times as a family. My three young children don’t know the music of Missy Elliot or Tupac Shakur; they couldn’t name the dances Nia did if asked. Yet watching her spin through the air and nail landings with conviction, witnessing how she flipped her long ponytail with purposeful sass, lifted their mouths into smiles, pulled gasps and giggles of delight from their stomachs. Nia was flying through space.
In his series Infinite Essence, artist Mikael Owunna presents Black bodies as celestial. Dazzling in fluorescent paint, these bodies, shot by his camera, cannot be unjustly destroyed. They are protected, part of the cosmos. Looking at his art feels a bit like peeking in on the beginning, on a time before racism. I’m no photographer, but as a Black mother, I innately understand the need
to remember that our bodies are gorgeous constellations, no matter what the world may say.
It’s this “no matter” that my kids have already begun to grasp, doing so long before I did when I was young. After Amanda Gorman stepped up to the podium at the inauguration, radiant in yellow, her hair a mark of royalty, my 10-year-old daughter feverishly researched her for days. “She has a speech impediment like me!” and “She likes Hamilton too!” I am watching my baby witness beauty, discover likeness. “I hear Oprah gave her some type of bird ring?” she told me, enthralled.
I tell my children about memoir and legacy, and how those who no longer live among us, live among us. It seems to make an impression. My son, 8 years old and slender with glasses and bronze-colored cheeks, climbs atop our couch one morning in April. He’s cut out words, written in Crayola, and now he tapes them high on the wall, near the ceiling. “Happy Birthday Maya Angelou!” they read. A child more drawn to numbers than letters, he has searched for the dates she was born and died and invites us all to celebrate her.
I still worry. My 4-year-old hasn’t forgotten the time a classmate criticized her hair. But when I’m two-strand twisting it, when her sister says, “We can do anything with our hair!” I’m reassured. My children haven’t forgotten the glory in their Blackness. Taylor Harris’s memoir, This Boy We Made, will be published next year. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. to swim in the summer of 2018, it was the first thing their teacher taught them. Inhale, purse your lips, and push bubbles out as you go.
They had won the swim classes in a city lottery that year and loved the experience. In 2020, before we sheltered in place, the kids had their second round of swimming lessons at the local YMCA. Now the lesson was to allow the water to support them. They crouched, poised to jump in, their little toes curled around the edge of the pool, knees pressed against their pouty, shivering lips, arms stretched out wide, calling on some kind of power I think only children know. Their teacher guided them as they jumped, then hoisted their wet-suit-heavy bodies halfway out of the cold water. “Try again?” she said. Again and again they jumped, until their old fears were former ones.
During quarantine, evening baths were our only connection to water, a way to pass the hours, days, and months. I’m a born-and-bred New Yorker, and so are my kids. We made the most of what our city offered us in a trying time. But this past summer, given the opportunity to stay at a friend’s COVID-19-SAFE home with a pool, I watched my kids literally jump back in. They remembered what they knew, as easily as my son’s toes wagged in the
water, my daughter’s skinny limbs swayed from side to side, their curls soaked and woven into their long eyelashes, nested beside their wide and joyful mouths.
This image, my Black children happy in the water, is part of a bigger account of being Black—and of being a Black city kid. Accessibility to kids’ swimming classes, in New York City and across the country, has historically been tied to wealth and class, effectively perpetuating racism and classism. I have countless photos of prior summers in which my children run through splash pads with their bare, chunky feet, smiling and laughing. But this particular joy in the pool, of their full bodies connecting with the water, how they allowed themselves to trust it so easily, despite everything they had experienced that spring, was one of the most powerful sights I have beheld as a mother and a woman. It wasn’t just the happy faces of kids in a pool or only their remembered comfort with the water. It was a boundless freedom, something tangible and beautiful that they learned they had a right to access, and that they could. Because I’m lucky enough to be their mother, I can too. Latonya Yvette is the founder of the lifestyle blog LY and author of the book Woman of Color and is currently working on a memoir and a children’s book. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
I FIND MYSELF thinking often of what home should mean to my five children (one girl, four boys). I try to create a space that affirms their Blackness, that tells them positive things about who they are and what they have to offer. It’s vital that they feel strong and confident when they go into the world, and to do that, they need a place where they feel protected, where they can take off the armor and breathe. A place that allows them to process feelings, inhabit their identity, feel that their voice is supported, and build a sense of belonging. A sacred place to refuel and recharge. The two principles in our home: “You are your brother’s keeper” and “Practice the Platinum Rule” (treat others the way they want to be treated).
As a Black mom, I continuously pour back into them, building a strong racial identity and sense of cultural pride. My family started an ancestral search a few summers ago. As we dig into our African history, we talk about the sacrifices made for my children to have opportunities and freedoms that were stripped from the generations that came before. I see my Black children, so grand and majestic, standing on the shoulders of these resilient people. I remind them to take pride in being the chosen ones, the generation that gets to live out our ancestors’ dreams.
And I cannot explain my delight in watching, teaching, and raising Black boys who refuse to fit into anyone’s box of who they’re supposed to be. We have open and candid conversations about race, social justice, and defying and redefining the narrative of being Black and male. I constantly remind them: “You are more than how others define you.” They question, push back—not in defiance but against inequities and injustices. Raising Black boys who believe the world owes them answers and respect is both my responsibility and my greatest pleasure.
Filling my children with radical self-love and unwavering support is essential to their doing good things. And so I build this home for them, where they know they are heard and where they hear counterarguments to the things the world tells them. I won’t let outside messaging become louder than my voice—the one telling my kids they are beautiful, brilliant, and deserving of happiness. Dr. Traci Baxley is a Parents advisor and the founder of Social Justice Parenting. She lives in Boca Raton, Florida.
MY FAMILY immigrated to the United States from Jamaica when I was a toddler, leaving an island where Black people occupied all levels of society, and became minorities overnight. I can only imagine how it felt for my parents to raise two young daughters while navigating their own educations and jobs and experiencing the impact of race on both. It’s not a coincidence that my sister and I were raised to be cautious, stepping carefully through the world with the knowledge that our place in it was precarious.
Decades later, in 2008, I whispered to my sleeping then husband, “It’s a girl, and her name is Violet.” After countless negative tests, I was finally pregnant, I had seen the magical result that would change our lives forever—and even if science didn’t know it yet, I knew I was carrying a girl. I now have two daughters, and the gift of watching them grow up is priceless.
Raising Black girls is a special honor—particularly when you have daughters who don’t proceed with the kind of caution I was raised with. They’re only 12 and 9, but my children
THEY NEED A PLACE WHERE THEY FEEL PROTECTED, WHERE THEY CAN TAKE OFF THE ARMOR AND BREATHE. A SACRED PLACE TO REFUEL AND RECHARGE.
occupy space both humbly and unapologetically. I asked them recently why they carry themselves as they do, and their response was that they haven’t been raised to be small, to fit a particular expectation of girlhood. They are self-possessed in a way that belies their ages, and in a way I don’t think I could have been. And they greet difference with curiosity, with questions and insights that bring me true joy.
Some of these differences exist at home. The three of us have very different hair: Mine is black and thick with tight pencil-width curls, some of which kink; my older daughter’s head overflows with voluminous walnut-colored corkscrew curls; my younger daughter’s delicate curls change color with the seasons, displaying every shade of maple syrup. Their father is white, with straight hair that was blond when he was a child. My children are Black biracial girls in a world struggling to find its way toward equity. They are keenly aware of this.
But they intend to do their part to push society forward. Recently, while discussing the need for a Black female president, they strategized ways to make sure it comes to pass. In the end, they devised a brilliant solution: Run against each other.
Dr. Khama Ennis is a Parents advisor and associate chief of emergency medicine and medical staff president at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, in Northampton, Massachusetts.