The Layers of Black Motherhood


Full disclosure: I struggled to write this piece. I struggled so hard that I almost backed out. When first approached I was so fired up to amplify black voices, the voices of black women, black mothers in this city, and I thought writing this would be effortless. But as I was bombarded with countless new stories of black men and women dying, in the midst of a world pandemic. As I looked at social media, I saw the responses to the protests, the hate, the micro- and macro- aggressions. The noise and pain of the world was so unbearable that I struggled to write. The last thing that I want to do, as I tell my story of being a black mother in this country, is to put myself on a cross and bleed in order to humanize my family. 

People who know me will often hear me say, “My story is my sword and not my crutch.”  I am empowered by my experiences. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not celebrate the pain. I don’t celebrate hate. But I do celebrate pushing through it. So, it is of utmost importance to me that you as a reader understand that God served my babies with humanity the moment they took their first breath. This not an effort for you to see the humanity in my race. Black mothers have been telling their stories for centuries for people to see the humanity in their children and it has fallen on deaf ears. I will not give anyone that type of power. I’m using this moment as a tool, to release some of this pain & heaviness that is on my spirit and giving other women/mothers the space to do the same. 

Being a black mother has many layers. 

The first layer for me, was love. I have never felt a love like the love I have for my children.  My babies gave me purpose. They amplified my will to succeed and drove my passions and commitment to community and doing my part to make the world a better place for them. I knew as a mother I wanted to empower them with all of the tools to be successful.  I also became ferociously protective of my babies. Every mother wants to protect their children from the monsters of the world. As a black mother, those monsters are amplified and sometimes they come clothed as teachers, leaders, neighbors, peers and yes, at times, police officers. 

Being a black mother is knowing as soon as your baby steps outside the protection of your home, that they will be subjected to being criminalized, aged and hyper-sexualized as early as pre-school. We have to prepare our children for this world that will begin to judge them and profile them.

You can look to the story of Kaia Rolle, age 6, from Orlando, FL who was arrested by a police officer for having a temper tantrum at school. As mothers, how many of us have had to deal with our babies throwing tantrums? How many of you would want your child handcuffed, put in a police car and taken to a juvenile detention center for acting like a normal child? It was later discovered that Kaia was suffering from sleep apnea which was disrupting her sleeping patterns. The video of this incident is heart-wrenching.  Being a black mother is understanding how incidents like these connect our children to the school-to-prison pipelines and that adultification of youth of color makes common childlike behaviors in black kids criminalized.

We know the disparities compared to white counterparts:

Being a black mother is acknowledging that our babies are born with multi-generational trauma, and at birth we hand them the extra trauma of telling them they have to act 10x better, and study 10x harder to get the same opportunities.

Being a black mother, is having to second-guess ourselves when giving our babies cultural names, as little black girl and black boy names could be denied opportunity, because even our names are profiled. It is mothers putting harmful chemicals on their little girls’ hair to assimilate them in to European standards of beauty. It is 2020 and there are actual laws created to protect BlPOC natural hair, because that is also policed.

Being a black mother is watching 12-year-old Tamir Rice get gunned down for having a toy gun, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin being murdered defending his life from a stalker, and Elijah McClain just trying to get back home and being murdered; hearing George Floyd scream out for his mother as he took his last breath…and watching the world try to rationalize their deaths and make victims out of their murderers. Then having to release your children into to this type of world.   

Being a black mother is knowing, at some point, your child will experience racism and that the pain of being judged by the color of their skin, will impact them so deeply that it will dictate how they move throughout the rest their lives. I have never understood how you can birth a life into this world – a clean slate that is filled with natural light and love – and teach that being hate. I have never been able to rationalize giving your child the trauma of having to project such an unnatural emotion, how you instill that into a child. That is a facet of motherhood that I never want to relate to.  Humans are not born racist; they are taught.  In 2020 we are literally carrying the views and distorted values of generations past. I look at hateful interactions online from adults, and wonder to myself, do they ever stop to think that our children are watching? 

Being a black mother, is understanding that there will be people who skip over this piece. Who may be offended by this piece, or even dismissive. The one take-away that I hope resonates with mothers is that if you cannot find the means to do better for my children, then do better by yours. Our young people are born into this world of social media; they are comfortable in it and live out loud in it. People raised with hate have to find ways to amplify it. They are the ones losing their scholarships, jobs and opportunities because they are carrying hate that has no real energy behind it, hate that was inherited. They are the ones who are being put on blast on social media which pales in comparison to black children losing their lives. Just as my babies deserve better, so do yours.  

Even with all of that, being a black mother is joy. Though we carry the pains of generational trauma, we also carry the strength, resiliency and courage of our ancestors and the ability to continue the fight against systemic racism and inequity.  Even in the heaviness of the world, we still thrive.

Marquetta Atkins is a community educator who brings her passion for working with youth and her creative energy to the table as a facilitator. For years she has dedicated herself to ensuring that young people are equipped with the tools for a better future. She was born and raised in Wichita, KS and graduated with a degree in Communications from Wichita State University. Her persistence in reaching her educational goals equipped her to be a mentor for high school youth in Wichita, including her own children Devon who attended WSU and Aimani a junior at Prairie View A & M University, in Texas. 

Marquetta’s passion for youth development is rooted in her conviction that youth are the change-makers we need for the transformation of our communities, both today and in the future.

In 2015, she founded Camp Destination Innovation to expose young people to a variety of career options; encouraging them to create their own future. The camp also helps youth explore strategies for entrepreneurship and civic engagement, grounding their professional development in a larger vision for whole and healthy communities. 

Striving to eliminate the barriers facing young people and women as entrepreneurs, Marquetta created Women Entrepreneurs of Kansas (WeKan!), an initiative to support the growth and power of women entrepreneurs. Marquetta’s talented facilitation challenges people to question their own assumptions and dig deeper into critical awareness. 

Marquetta is also the Director of Programming & Youth Development at the non-profit The Seed House, where she developed the youth group Progeny. Who are youth either touched by or passionate about the juvenile justice system. Teaching them leadership, organizing, advocacy and how to change policy and how it impacts youth. They currently launched their Invest Don’t Arrest Kansas Campaign.

Marquetta is committed to community and sits on various boards and committees throughout the city of Wichita. Her awards include winning Best in Innovation by the Wichita Business Journal, Ron Walters Leadership Award by the Wichita branch NAACP and Civic Engagement Award from Wichita Urban Professionals.