© 3/15/2021, By J. Joy “Sistah Joy” Matthews Alford – As a poet, my self-affirmation includes the celebration of my womanhood, and beyond that, my Black womanhood. I embrace the reality that my experience on this planet is factored through the filter of estrogen that birthed me as female. There are trials that taunted me as a girl, as well as challenges and victories that continue to sustain and guide me as a woman.
My dawns are different from my children’s. Each sunrise brings a praise to my soul. My sons and my daughter, whom I love and cherish more than life itself, for they have loved me in ways the world seldom did, are my greatest joy. It is my sons’ seed that will carry me to generations I shall never see. But it is my daughter whom I’ve taught toughness and tenacity “through lace and smile.” I’ve tried to teach each of them to navigate the world with the understanding that there are those who will run you down if you are weak, and will also set out to block you when they perceive you to be strong. Although my children received love and validation from both their father and me, and we certainly taught them to be proud, I regret not saying more emphatically and more frequently two important words: “Love yourself.” I implore all parents to convey this message often, and to convey it through more than merely words. This is not to bolster their ego to unhealthy levels, but to instill in them a firm foundation that will negate the need for them to seek validation from unhealthy or worse, unscrupulous sources.
On another slightly different note, but also reflecting as a Black mother, I confirm that my sons receive my prayers and lessons on returning home safely from store errands, gas stations, cruises down life’s highways that offer others fresh air and freedom. Right or wrong, fair or not, I knew early on that these lessons were most crucial to them. But I also knew my daughter must be taught another crucial lesson – that of comprehending and navigating the mire of sexism. I knew she must be made to understand that rage, her own, when controlled, is powerful beyond expectation. Women — Black women, in particular, have come to know that rage is necessary if we are to be victorious in navigating these turbulent waters that even baptism cannot calm.
My sons come to me for care and comfort, with questions and concerns, and offer the same in return, with dignity and pride. But when my daughter comes to me with heartbreak because the world denies her opportunity, the fullness of life, because of her womanhood – her Black womanhood, this is unacceptable. Heartbreak from puppy love or even disillusionment with one’s partner can be tragic, traumatic even. But there is no alternative in this world to her womanhood, her Black womanhood, nor should there need to be. Past generations have given up too much, and future generations must yet be protected and provided for. So, it is my responsibility to offer more than salve or balm. The ‘sterner stuff’ that empowers her to be victorious had to be planted early and nurtured sufficiently to ensure she could weather the storms that have befallen Black women for generations. I freely acknowledge my own wounds with this philosophy, and unapologetically offer my daughter every fiber of strength that I can. So yes, I have raised my daughter differently than I have raised my sons. I pray that which I have given each of my three children is sufficient. I pray that I’ve given them what they need, and I will continue to give it to them now that they are adults, two of whom now have children of their own. I did what I could to ensure they had what they needed early in life, unlike their mother who had to navigate and discover much on her own.
But then again, there was always God –and angels and signposts, and tools like books and pens and pencils. For some reason these seemingly simplest, most ordinary of things stood out to me. They shined in the dark. So today as a poet, a Poet Laureate no less, I embrace fierceness quietly and ferociously. I don’t profess to have all the answers, and at times seemingly have very few. But I will continue to acknowledge my nobility along with my humility. It is this balance that allows me to walk in assurance that God has prepared my path. I need only stay true to His word. As a poet, my work is to offer my truth by sharing my thoughts, insights and yes, when warranted, my opinion. This is a dance with which I have become well-versed. If my works inspire conversation, communication and even challenge, then I perceive this to be a good and necessary thing, for ultimately it is the poet who builds bridges of communication so that understanding can occur. This is the channel through which my work as a poet occurs.
As a Black woman and mother who happens to be a poet, I strive at every opportunity to clear paths for others while acknowledging this journey is also for me. My dance with words works well with my spirit. At times the notion that this may be all I have can feel heavy, but then I remember The Source. I remember where I would be without this dance. That’s when the power of word, which I pass on to my sons and my daughter, and to my nine grandchildren and now to my great-grandson, feels strongest. That’s when the power of word becomes the most real, for by every account, statistics have said my life journey has been most unlikely. I am a poet — a word warrior who, during this Women’s History Month and always, embraces life’s battles, for I have come to learn that these battles are worth fighting. As a Black woman, as a mother and as a poet, I know there is no other choice, nor would I want there to be.