I am the daughter of Marie. The granddaughter of Mildred. The great-granddaughter of Ida. The great-great-granddaughter of Lula Mae. The niece of Virginia, Barbara and Janet. The object of affections showered by no fewer than 10 church mothers who smiled encouragement during my garbled Easter recitations and put daintily folded dollar bills in my patent leather purses.
I am a student of the writing and thinking of Kierna Mayo, Danyel Smith, Joan Morgan, Denene Millner, Susan L. Taylor and Melissa Harris-Perry. I am the adoring protégé of history-making badasses Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou and Ida Wells-Barnett.
I am also the mother of a fiery, contemplative and fiercely independent girl child who, a mere 16 years into her life, has demonstrated her own brand of power without really recognizing it yet. Her name is Skylar—“scholar” in Dutch—and even without my fully knowing it when I put it on her birth certificate, it predestined her brilliance. It’s a pleasure to raise her, even as she challenges me and frequently tries my last good nerve.
Like all kids, she’s in a vortex of influences, from the media to her friends to her own decision-making. In my house she’s my daughter, but in the world she’s just another black girl. I need to steel her for the complexities of that experience of being loved but unloved, heard but silenced, celebrated but objectified.
I am who I am because of black women, an investment of a village of beautifully proud and accomplished sisters who poured into my childhood or inspired my adulthood. The wisdom and empowerment they sowed in me is the wisdom and empowerment I am actively sowing in my own daughter.
1. It’s OK to have a thigh gap. It’s OK not to have a thigh gap. It’s OK to have a tummy bulge. It’s OK not to have a tummy bulge. Your body is amazing. Take good care of it, but don’t exhaust yourself trying to fight it. Embrace it the way it is.
2. Speak up for yourself. Don’t let other people tell you about you. When you set the precedent of accepting disrespect, it’s hard behavior to correct.
3. Operate from a center, that place where God and good sense reside. Check in with it often. Listen to it. Even in moments of chaos, it will tell you what’s right.
4. When you have a bad day, do something to make someone else’s go better, and yours will automatically improve.
5. Nothing ever happens for nothing. You don’t always have to figure out the reason, but just know that there is, in fact, a reason. And sometimes, dear, sweet daughter, it’s not about you.
6. Chase dreams when you’re young, chase dreams when you’re old. Don’t box yourself in by the concept of a timeline.
7. Embrace and celebrate connectivity with other women. Don’t buy into played stereotypes about us not getting along. Feminine power is real and intimate and magical.
8. Love yourself before you invite a man to love you. He’ll follow the lead of how you treat yourself, and if he’s really good, he’ll one-up you.
9. Meet people where they are. Don’t allow yourself to be pulled into drama that will drain and deplete you, but have empathy for other folks’ challenges. Everybody is struggling with something.
10. Always, always, always put some extra money in savings, and never, ever, ever go on a date without cash to get home on your own.
11. Take three long, slow, deep breaths before you cuss somebody out or respond to an angry email. Fighting fire with fire works best on TV, but you don’t get do-overs in real life.
12. You’re only a victim if you allow yourself to be. Your womanhood, your blackness, your background, are never the burden that other people will make them out to be. They make you, you, and they are beautiful.
13. If you find yourself proving your worth to the man you love, it’s time to go. Either he’s not seeing your greatness or you feel the need to show it to him—but both are unhealthy.
14. If you settle for a job that’s just a job, don’t expect anything more out of it than a paycheck.
15. Don’t be too proud to ask for help when you need it, but learn how to do as much as you can for yourself. People intend to mean well, but they’re not as reliable for you as you are.
16. Other girls’ lives will look better. Easier. Prettier. More successful. Don’t compare yours with theirs. Your purpose is specific and your journey is always unfolding, every day. The magnificence of it may not wow you in big, audacious events. But it’s happening. And that in itself is magnificent.