A Letter to my Young Daughter about Living as a Woman of Color & Radical Faith in America 

Photo Credit: Devin Allen

Dear Nai,

One week ago, while you slept, Mommy stood in the kitchen, surrounded by plates and cups and cried. I nearly collapsed, knees aching, my stomach somersaulting with uneasiness and lingering pain.

I cried because when I looked at Philando Castile’s fiancée, her eyes, worn from grief and shock, mirrored my own in ways you will one day, sadly, know as a black woman, unless the conscious of America profoundly shifts. Your Mama is an optimist, and a Christian so I stand on the anchor of hope (Hebrews 6:19), praying we will begin seeing each other not as Americans but people, people whose individual truths are valid and real.

Frankly, I don’t know if this will happen in your lifetime, but I want you to extend the love your Daddy and I give you always. Allow it to take up residence in your heart, and fill it often as you come before God in thoughtful prayer and communion.

Kes, Nai and me Photo Credit: Wayne De Coteau

You will need this love to live in a country and world which insists on rendering you, your perspective and intellect, your unique truth, invisible. Mama wants so desperately to protect you from the pernicious sting of rejection, but I cannot. And when I am forced to acknowledge this grimness, the weight of it nearly crushes me.  But then I think of women of color like Dr. Maya Angelou whose sentence from the poem, “Our Grandmothers” rests within Mama’s spirit, eviscerating this looming mist of defeat which attempts to choke out hope: “I come as one, I stand as ten thousand.”

Say this to yourself, my love, often, especially when you think you cannot overcome an obstacle. “I come as one, I stand as ten thousand.”

You are the descendent of a people rooted in resistance and resilience, dear heart; they refused to allow the ideology of white supremacy to define their destiny. Madam C.J. Walker became the first woman millionaire in America because a divine vision, superseded manmade barriers of skin color and gender.

Your Great Grandmother started working at age 5, and did not stop until her 60s; her retirement from being a domestic worker came because her daughter, your Nana, held a fierce determination within her heart, shutting out the high school counselor’s prediction that she should sweep floors, instead, she graduated with honors from Morgan State University.

Nana became an educator, touching the lives of thousands of children in Baltimore city, opening their minds to a more expansive history of the U.S. And then she came home, every day, and poured these revelations of our past into her children so our futures would not become marred by defeat, but instead, armed with this biblical truth: “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” Psalm 139:14

Each time you hear the lies of “not enough” (smart, beautiful or talented) echoed from American culture refute  these destructive words and live. Live because your life is a testament to triumph over fear and hatred.

Lucille Clifton, renowned poet, proudly declares, “come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.” These are your foremamas, Nai! Their struggle shall be your strength.

When you experience discrimination and meet others who do, waste no time bemoaning it, put your energy (all of the sadness, anger and frustration) into action. Allow these verses of scripture to dwell within your soul:

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.

Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Proverbs 31: 8-9

You matter. Your ancestors built this country, not as slaves, but as survivors whose sheer will birthed an unrivaled ingenuity spanning every field and occupation. Listen. You will hear it couched in the melody of the blues, rising in the triumphant praise of gospel music, and through the eloquent work of writers such as James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis and many others.

You are always enough. God created you not to conform to this world, but to transform it.

And so, I leave you, my darling, with the words of Howard Thurman, a great African-American theologian, author and thinker (Jesus and the Disinherited) who inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other seekers of justice:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

My Love For You Is Eternal,

Your Mama

Emelda De Coteau
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8 Replies to “A Letter to my Young Daughter about Living as a Woman of Color & Radical Faith in America ”

  1. Emelda, this letter is beautiful and powerful. I can feel the love you have for your precious daughter through my smartphone. Please, please read this letter to her someday. She comes from such a long line of strong black women! Such a dope letter, girl! 🙂

  2. What a beautiful article. Well done my sister in Christ and I know your daughter will appreciate this when she get older. Be blessed.

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