(Part 1 of 3)
Growing up in Milwaukee, I remember as a 10-year-old girl that back to school meant a fresh press and comb, lace socks, Bubble-Yum, and cherry lip gloss. If you were a young hip-hop head like me back in the day, you also had Eric B. & Rakim’s “Microphone Fiend” and MC Lyte’s “Lyte as a Rock” cassette tapes bumping on your Walkman.
A fresh school year meant that I finally got to rock those new fits (short for outfits) straight out of layaway (Remember layaway? It was one of several big box stores our parents ventured to months in advance of school to basically put our back-to-school gear on a payment plan.) We’d spend hours the night before putting crisp creases in our jean shorts, wiping down that one pair of FILA’s, and writing our names in big bubble letters on everything in our bookbags! Because it was important that the class knew who owned the Bell Biv Devoe folder when the teacher passed it back with graded papers! Admittedly, I was the kid who loved school. I was that kid who reminded the teacher if we didn’t get our homework AND extra credit options. School was lit for me and I loved learning.
Back to school can be both exciting and nerve wrecking! From K-4 to returning as an adult student, we end up finding people to lean on to help us through. Those people can be found in the pages of books that inspire and motivate us and they can be the people within our homes and community. They cheer us on. They check in on us. We tape their quotes on the insides of our planners. We recall their advice when we’re trying to press on and get through mid-terms.
Black women have a way of giving advice that takes you back: To your mother’s kitchen. Your grandmother’s living room. Your foster parent’s quilts. Your father’s favorite chair. Your auntie’s homemade biscuits. The kindness of your neighbor’s home. Their words become like the honey in your tea on a cool day. It is why I reached out to black women and the mother of a black woman to share their words for black women and girls on starting a new school year.
Myra McNair, owner and founder of Anesis Therapy
Madison365. Myra, I enjoyed your recent vacation pictures and kudos to you for facing your fear of heights and doing the zip line! What hopes do you have for your daughters this year as they begin a new school year?
MM: I have two beautiful, intelligent, talented, and outgoing daughters. Both daughters attend St. James Elementary and Middle School along with my son Ian. My daughter, Tziah, continues to excel in academics; she has been a straight-A student in all of her classes since 6th grade. This year, Tziah will hold a new role as the president of Student Council and will lead the safety patrol. She’s been involved in athletics the past two years playing on the volleyball and basketball teams. This will be Tziah’s last year in middle school and then she is off to Lafayette High School. Before she leaves middle school, I want my 14-year-old to embrace who she is and understand the power of being yourself. I hope that she continues to grow and learn in a safe and fun environment where she is celebrated over tolerated.
My other daughter, Amira, is in third grade this year. Amira is confident, but struggles with some of her academics. This year, I would like for her to discover new books and literature and people from our history that she can aspire to be like. I hope she will use her confidence in the area of learning and move away from comparing her style of learning to the way other students learn in her class.
Overall, I hope that my daughters will see themselves in the things they learn and know that they can accomplish anything they put their minds to. I hope they find meaningful friendships and sisterhood as they continue to blossom into the beautiful young woman they are becoming and already are.
Nia Trammell, Administrative Law Judge, State of WI
Madison365: Nia, you have been an invaluable asset to not only black women and girls, but to the greater Madison community! What advice do you have for high school girls who want to get involved in the community but don’t really know where to start?
NT: The beauty of volunteerism is that it creates unique spaces for young people to give back to our community, while developing an identity and growing as leaders. There are so many opportunities to volunteer in our community that it puts our students squarely in the drivers’ seat to select where they want to engage and how much they want to be engaged. With all the choices, it’s important to take a holistic approach to volunteering.
My key advice to high school girls would be to make sure that they are matched with the right volunteer opportunity. The opportunity has to feel right and it has to excite the student. I would encourage our girls to focus on aligning their community engagement with their passions or career goals, maybe even both ideally. For those students that are still trying to pinpoint their community priorities or career goals, they should consider talking to other volunteers to find out what they find fulfilling about their volunteer work or they should volunteer with a number of different organizations to determine what motivates them.
Apart from finding the right organization to volunteer with, students should think about their volunteer capacity. They should give thought to whether the volunteer opportunity allows them to use any special skills they possess, whether it will give them the chance to gain new skills, and whether the commitment expected from the organization works with their schedule. This helps the students define how they want to be engaged with a particular nonprofit.
While this might not be an option for everyone, I would recommend that students find an adult that inspires them and work side by side with that adult as a volunteer. Whether it is a parent, a teacher or community leader, that adult will likely reinforce the value of the student’s volunteer work and expose the student to a deeper connection with the organization while imparting strategies and good practices for success.
Just as important, our students are encouraged to view their volunteer opportunity as a privilege. By seeing it through this lens, the students are more inclined to be professional and honor their commitment. Our girls should know that in volunteering — by their actions, their commitment, and devotion — they can determine the outcomes relevant to their own growth and development as well as helping an organization realize its full potential.
Tamara Thompson-Moore, Harambee Village: Pregnancy, Birth & Breastfeeding Care
Madison365: Tamara, we love the work you’re doing with black mothers and educating them about breastfeeding! As the mother of two daughters, how do you help them to embrace their Black Girl Magic throughout the school year?
TTM: Being mother to Jocelyn and Jasmine has been like owning treasure chests full of priceless yet intangible gems, let me tell you! In early July, Jojo washed her hair and started to style it. She came out of the bathroom with a smile I’ve never seen before. She decided that her hair was awesome as it was and proceeded to wear her well-rounded afro to the bowling alley, Jasmine followed her big sister’s lead and was eager to show Daddy and brothers after I helped her.
That’s what’s beautiful about helping someone in the ways I’ve learned to be the best: I don’t really have to do anything other than create opportunities for their internal wisdom to surface. Of course, I explain things to my daughters from their bodies to understanding the world around us, but it’s all of the nonverbal forms of teaching that reinforce what I say – and then the magic happens.
This school year will bring new people, information, and ideas to my children. Even though some of it will likely be the first time they’ve been presented with situations, we’ve established a sturdy frame of reference at home where new things can be connected to familiar conversations.
It’s been an incredible journey watching my children develop their minds and form relationships with one another, and believe me when I tell you they’ve taught me a thing or two. Jocelyn and Jasmine’s #BlackGirlMagic is inspiring because it’s in a space that they feel safe, supported, and confident to form a sense of identity that is celebrated by the ones around them. No matter what difficulties this school year may bring, I’m glad to see that they know there’s always a soft place to land between us.
Sagashus Levingston, Ph.D. Candidate
Madison365: Sagashus, congrats on the beautiful work you’re leading with Infamous Mothers! What advice do you have for other Black mothers who are starting now in their undergraduate studies with hopes to one day receive a PhD?
SL: Be a visionary.Think it and say it. Don’t censor yourself or get caught up in details. And before you know it, you will be doing what you thought was the impossible. One of the biggest things poverty and being black in this country can rob mothers (and fathers) of is the ability to dream. We have to get permission to do so much, and dreaming is one of those things because folks get scared of the power that can come with imagining. There is even more power in speaking that vision.
Academia, with all of its drive for innovation, if you are not careful, will require your dreams to only help build the institution. But you have to give yourself permission to let your mind go where it will take you. And your education should be in service of that vision … your vision — all the way through the PhD level. Own your studies. Own your dream. And let your educational path be a driving force fueling that vision. Let every course you take be intentional.