I recently came across a meme on social media that showed five items displayed on a table: 1) a belt, 2) an old fashion handheld telephone receiver, 3) an iron hanger, 4) an extension cord and 5) a switch (basically a small wooden stick). The statement across the meme stated something to the effect of: “If you ain’t been whupped with one of these then you ain’t have a real Black Momma!” I started rolling recounting the many ways and times that one of these items were used by my Mom to chastise, discipline and correct one of her four boys she was raising all by herself in the inner city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the late 1970s through the end of the 1990s.
Karen Hayes, My Momma!, was born and bred in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was a tall, lanky, intelligent, spiritual woman while in her adolescent and into adulthood. She is still all the descriptors used above simply with the “seasoning” (more pronounced laugh lines, a deep, penetrating intuition, a few more pounds, the Black aches and pains of accumulated stress, psychic trauma and dreams deferred, and a soft, inviting yet grizzled soul) that age, experiences and advocacy for Black Men in an inherently unjust and racist society will bring a Black Woman doing all those things.
She has not had a storybook life. Rather she has had many distressing instances occur in her life. She lost both her parents by the age of 23, thrusting her into being a “Black Mother” to her two younger brothers, James (Rest in Power, Unc) and Phillip. In addition, by this time, she was already mothering three boys of her own – Lawrence, Adigun, and me – whom she birthed at the tender ages of 15, 19 and 20 respectively. Her older brother, my uncle Billy (Rest in Power, Unc), passed away a number of years ago. She has loved intimately four men and has had to surrender the physical aspects of that love each time. She has been fired from jobs, passed up for promotions, held back for career advancement opportunities and even explicitly pay discriminated against.
I asked her what allowed her to make it through all of this with the palpable warmth and unwavering compassion she carries with her to this day…
“Remember to help me was a strong Black Male image in my Dad, Wyatt Hayes, my Black Mom, Hazel Thurmin Hayes, who told me ,while she was alive, “I better take care of her grandchildren, feed them and love them!” Uncle Bill, who would call regularly, check on me when I was sick and I could talk to about raising y’all! Cousins I could call to laugh and cry with when needed! Of course my spiritual helper, Jehovah!”
Through it all, she raised all four of us, four boys – Lawrence, Adigun, myself and Jared – all by herself. She taught us how to cook and clean and do laundry and all together keep a respectable house for visitors. She was gentle enough to encourage us to talk, be vulnerable, bear our feelings, cry with her and for her and for each other. She was also strong enough (her nickname was Mother Bundy… that is for another blog post! HA!) to correct us, educate us, discipline us, be patient with us and ensure we completed the day’s “to-do-list of chores and responsibilities”.
She nurtured an explicit understanding and cognition of Black Male Masculinity and its impacts on every situation we would encounter in life. Specifically, I vividly remember Black Mother soothsaying such as “Baby… No matter who is at fault, it will be your fault” when referencing our future forays and behavior with girls. This profound premonition has forever stayed engrained in my mind and has, I believe, kept me out of jail and kept me from shattering a women’s life by imposing or forcing myself upon them just because I was strong enough to do so.
Her origin for nurturing us the way she did and continues to do to be powerful yet discerning Black Men…
“Through the love of my Dad I knew Black Men were good men, y’all were from his stock so I knew you could be good Black Men too… intelligent, strong and beautiful!!”
Most importantly, she taught us how to follow the lead of, take insight and critique from and submit ourselves to Black Female leadership. She showed us what was possible when a Strong, Black Mother was present and engaged and determined. She role modeled strength, resiliency, and a straight-shoulder pride in embracing life’s successes and setbacks in stride. She never ran from and taught us to never run from, a difficult situation but to face them with a peace that surpasses all others because “Momma is always going to love you!”
Momma… You have never let me take on life alone. Your love has always propelled me forward. You have stayed by my side through every hyper speed twist and turn that living as a Black Man in this world demands. You are my superseding symbol of strength, purpose, resiliency and unconditional love. You are most treasured and most protected and most honored!
You are most loved, Momma!!
Shout-out to all the Black Moms in my life that have raised me and/or continue to impart wisdom, deep cultural insights and unapologetic Black Queen role models for my Black princess, Zuri Hayes! Thank you… my big sister Ayisha Hayes-Taylor, Aunties Valerie Stallworth, Zakiya Courtney, Assata Robbin Pearson, Cuzzos Yemaya Stallworth, Ezette Barnes, Sister-in-laws Avenashaybanay Gibson Hayes, Tanisha Fox-Hayes and Closest friends Courtney Crumble, Stacy Wells, Ayan Musse, Brittany Nash, Priscilla Coffee, Erin Roberts and many others. Deepest apologies if I have forgotten anyone.