Being a Braxton


Every year of my life, I’ve spent Christmas day with my cousins, playing in my Grandma’s basement. Now that Grandma has passed, we all gather at my parent’s house, still in the basement, to sing, dance, and take a plethora of ridiculous pictures. Anything goes at the Braxton home on December 25th.


I guess the tradition of our family gathering started before I was born. At one point, close to all of my maternal cousins came through Grandma’s door on Christmas. It was about 100 Murphys , 1,000 Phillips, 50 Lanseys but only 2 Braxtons.  Where were all my Braxton cousins? Well, I don’t know.


You see, my Grandfather Braxton was a rolling stone. I know a few things about him. He was married to my Dad’s mom, two of his very smart sperm made my father and aunt, and he liked to get his “party on.”

Daddy says I met my Grandfather Braxton once when I was a baby and to my knowledge, I’ve never met any one else on his side of the family. Maybe it’s because everyone on my mother’s side of the family looks just alike and I stick out like a sore thumb. Or because most of my maternal cousins have traditional careers while I’m a starving artist. Whatever the reason, I’ve always yearned to meet my grandfather Braxtons’ side of the family, where I’ve imagined many similarities lie.

My dad must have known that I felt incomplete on the day he showed me and my little brother an invitation to the Braxton Family Reunion. I was in elementary school, maybe middle school and I read the invitation out loud with so much joy. At the bottom of the letter read, “Cousins Toni Braxton and The Braxton Sisters will perform on Sunday.”

toni-braxton-sisters“What !! I exclaimed! They are my cousins??! I remember how tickled my cute little brother was, and I was just so happy to be invited to our Family reunion. We didn’t have too long to relish in our joy before my father took back the invitation and said we weren’t going.

I don’t know why we didn’t go.

As uninformed children often do, I pieced together clues and assumptions. Now that I think about it,  maybe Daddy didn’t want to go just because he didn’t know anybody. Now, I don’t want to offend any of my blood relatives; I love to party, too. But, God knows  the reserved members of my mother’s side of my family have been my angels on earth. You see, Shannon-Eli Braxton is a lot like her cousins Trina, Traci, Towanda and Tamar, And, like Toni too. I have a love for Pina Coladas, a mouth that has gotten me into more trouble than a little bit, and like these women, I have risen against adversity; I have not surrendered to illness. I have used my hard life lessons to mentor others, and I will never stop listening to my heart a.k.a. the voice of God.


So, thanks Dad for sharing the information you had.  Approximately 20 years later, while watching an episode of Braxton Family Values, I scanned my TV to see the faces of all of my Braxton cousins at Michael Braxton, Sr’s birthday party. There they all were, right here in Maryland, partying it up. Oh, how I would’ve loved to have been there.

me and daddy

I bet many of you can relate to my story, whether your father’s side of your family has a reality show or not. My big cousin, Tenyo Pearl, professor at Coppin State University, often talks to me about post slavery syndrome. One of the symptoms of the 400 years our ancestors suffered is the dishevelment of our families. As a result of the slave trade and it’s legacy of dysfunction and pain, it’s not uncommon for African-Americans not to know our paternal family and even worse, it’s not rare to not know your father at all.

So, for you Daddy, I am immensely grateful. And for you too Granddad Braxton, may you rest in peace. And, to Toni, Traci, Towanda, Trina and Tamar, Auntie Evelyn, Uncle Micheal and Mikey, to all my little Braxton cousins including the newest cutie patootie Logan, you all are my inspiration on many dark days. I am so proud of you and love you always.


From Baltimore,

Your cousin

– Shannon
(@FreeShannonEli )


Emelda De Coteau
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