I first heard the statement “It takes a village to raise a child” in my single years, and all I could imagine was several hands grabbing a running toddler.
Now that I’m a mom of three toddlers (yes, three under three), I see that the village is much more than a collection of hands, it’s a collection of valuable relationships — an extension of the family, no matter what that family looks like. The village is not just a space for children to be nurtured, it’s the core of our human existence. Our civilizations, nations, and businesses are built from communities – all of which are an extension of those villages.
As a mother, artist, and cultural leader, I see the importance of the village in everything I do. That’s why I made a point to build a new village when my family moved across the country recently.
It wasn’t easy transitioning from Bedford-Stuyvesant to suburban Southern California, though the latter is where I actually grew up. When I moved into my first brownstone on Hancock between Throop and Marcus Garvey, I felt at home in my core. I knew I’d arrived at that settled place for my spirit to blossom.
Growing up as the token Black girl in almost every environment I walked into had done it’s fair share of damage. Being surrounded by the Black community in Brooklyn really nurtured my deepest self and gave me the confidence to discover my true passion, using my voice as a vehicle for change.
Finding home and building from that foundation is where the seeds of life begin — where mothering is a true extension of yourself and not just a job. And though I am no longer in Bed-Stuy, I remember how I felt while living there. Returning to that place in my mind gives me fuel through the day. Home is not always where you are physically. Home is a state of mind where I go to reset my system. Home reminds me of what’s important.
Figuring out what’s important
Building a village from scratch takes a lot of inner work. Home usually has a flow or a rhythm that aligns with your inner pulse. What does your pulse feel like? What makes your heart skip? Those will be the moments when you can identify your values and build a value system.
One of my greatest values is in making social change and addressing inequity. In my article, “Artists Changing the Course of the River,” I talk about how I believe my art practice cannot exist in a vacuum. I cannot fully express my full self on stage without challenging inequity and the lack of diversity that exists in my field.
Furthermore, what is a challenge for one Black soprano, woman, mother, and wife will almost always be a challenge for the next. I am stronger when I acknowledge my connection to all in the struggle and look for strength in the village.
Also, as a Black woman and mother, it is imperative that my children have a true sense of pride in being Black, knowing Black history, and maintaining a healthy sense of self. I must make that extra effort to drive my kids to events where they will see positive images of themselves, and where they can play with other Black children. I design my daily schedule around what I can do to nurture Black love and Black joy in my home and parenting.
Starting with gratitude
I always start from gratitude. As much as I dislike suburbia, it is admittedly great for raising a family. My husband and I somehow managed to move to a neighborhood with the most drama-free shopping I’ve ever experienced. Yes, we live in Cookie-cutterville, but stroller walks are serene and the babies sleep through the night. We have space to run and play and plenty of parking and no snow to shovel.
I have to remind myself of those blessings. Gratitude is the soil where seeds germinate. Now that I have a home, I can have friends over for dinner and host sister circles and book clubs. Now it’s up to me to make that first step and invite the community in. I have to build the village I want to see.
Being unapologetically me
Being a mom can sometimes be so overwhelming that you lose a sense of who you are and what your goals are. I’m an opera singer, entrepreneur, visionary, vocalist, and community organizer just as much as I am a mother of three children and a wife.
Knowing this, I have to be real with people and deny those invites to mega-churches and suburban-mom playdates. I have to be real and say, “No, I don’t want to sell Mary Kay,” “No, I don’t microwave my kids’ food,” and “No, we don’t eat at McDonalds – I like organic, local produce.” No matter how weird I will look to some people in this small town, I have to be me. My children need to know me and they need to see me if I want them to have the confidence to be who they are.
Finding my spiritual mothers, aunties, and uncles
When you look for a mentor, you think about where you want to be in your career. I had to think about the folks in my town that I admire as leaders, those who I want my children to learn about: living civil rights leaders, teachers, and historians. I had to find them, and when I did, I sought to nurture those relationships. Little do they know, they are uncles and aunties for my kids to look up to. These same individuals are also an inspiration to me and my work.
Throwing down in the kitchen
Community and relationships should be seen as assets rather than liabilities. Sometimes having friends over feels like more work: more cleaning, more cooking, etc. While that is definitely true, it’s essential to building the village. My best moments of connection in my community have happened when I’ve cooked.
Food is fundamental to how we interact and opens us up to have genuine conversation. For some, cooking is a chance to show off a complex recipe they’ve been dying to try, for others it’s more like “I’m opening a bag and putting it in a bowl.”
Whatever your talent and threshold, food and drink stimulate conversation. Those conversations are how I’ve built my closest relationships.
Building a village while raising three kids is not easy. At times it feels like double the work, especially when my husband travels and my folks are hours away. But I have learned that it’s the most essential part of who I am – being a part of the community and giving my kids real-life stories they can experience, not just read about.