Some days I have wondered if my mom had crazy dreams in her youth that other folks thought were outlandish. My guess was that young women, especially Black girls, in her day weren’t encouraged to dream outside of the predetermined categories established by someone other than the young women. Those who were lucky enough to have access to higher education knew that they were expected to be teachers, nurses, secretaries, and librarians. I believed that Mama had a calling on her life to teach because she dedicated more than forty years to educating students. While I don’t think that Mama chose her profession because of societal pressures, I always knew that she had awareness that for many women their futures, their lifestyles, and their trades were greatly influenced by expectations of others. She never said that young women in her day were coached to conform to societal norms and select career fields that supported life as a mother, caretaker, or teacher, but that was my perception.
Mama was a caring, pensive woman whose quiet spirit was often mistaken for passiveness or weakness. I realized in my adult life that wise and thoughtful also defined her being. When I finally settles on law school and a legal career, Mama encouraged my decision. She also advised me to “get all of the education I thought I wanted” as soon after college as possible. In her wisdom, she offered this sage advice because it had been her experience that “marriage and children will change everything for you.” I weighed her statements and considered what felt like a contradiction between her advice and the “you can be anything you want to be” speeches that I heard from her and Daddy.
Mama and Daddy dreamed of life beyond their rural upbringings and they wanted me to envision possibilities of life outside of the lines drawn by other folks too. They used to remind me of the power in using my brain for dreaming and thinking. As much as they promoted dreaming, it seemed there was just mere tolerance of my dreams of being a dancer, an actress, an interior decorator, and a speech writer. This type of tolerance provided an introduction to the experience of feeling resistance to my out of the box thinking and risks. It was not until more recent years, however, that I really got alright with the fact that I imagined and attempted things others believed impossible or improbable.
Mama and Daddy used historical events and people from our past to prove to me that societal norms and other humans working to set limitation for me shouldn’t be viewed as insurmountable barriers to me being my best me. They taught me about George Washing Carver who developed countless products with peanuts and sweet potatoes. We talked about Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to run for president of the United States of America. The history lessons recounted stories of people who overcame external influences that likely came with feelings of doubt and anxiety. Additionally, the history lessons highlighted some of the villagers who moved through history alongside the notable dreamers.
Mama and Daddy had overcome obstacles to earn degrees, integrate public schools, and exercise their rights to vote to name a few things they overcame. They were my best examples of the benefits of keeping dreams alive and building supportive villages around us and our children. I learned that young people need affirmation, exposure to varied uplifting experiences, and folks focused on being positive, supportive, and protective. I hope that my readers will acknowledge the blessing of young people and the blessing of nurturing their capacity for dreaming. Grown folks need to present opportunities that will challenge young people intellectually and artistically while keeping in mind their physical and mental health. As a parent and villager, I sometimes wonder how am doing. I don’t keep score, but if I did how would my village keeper score card measure “wins” and “loses?” Did I protect them from the boogeymen? Did I equip them to maneuver through mazes built by the man? Will they be ready to utilize wisdom I shared as strength to stand and plan their moves to the next thing or dream?
Mama was right that life can change your course. Daddy was right that in theory I had the ability to be whatever I wanted to be, but have a backup plan built into the plan just in case life does change your course. The common thread in both truths is that life gives us a chance to keep dreaming, keep living, and keep moving. Embrace their lessons for yourself and become an excellent villager for a young person who needs you to educate, empower, and enlighten them with stories of dreamers who overcame.