By Sean Yoes, AFRO Baltimore Editor, [email protected]
My ascended mother Leslie is the star of the three most seminal moments of my life; the day I was born, the day I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior (she brought me to the altar) and the day she was murdered.
I think about her every day, I miss her every day.
A man’s relationship with his mother informs every intimate or familial relationship with every woman in his life. I believe that. And my relationship with my mother was complicated; we endured a lot including a period of estrangement. But, the last 10 years of her life were the most glorious 10 years of our relationship and I am thankful for that decade.
Perhaps my mother’s most enduring legacy on me is the slow rumbling epiphany over the years since her death that outside of my relationship with God, my relationship with Black women is the most important thing in my life. And with that realization comes the acknowledgement that I have to work hard in order for those relationships to thrive through all the inevitable changes.
That’s why when my friend Nneka Nnamdi, one of my powerful Sisters in this work to uphold our community, said I was “an ally” to Black women a couple of years ago it was perhaps the most important affirmation I’ve received as a man.
The reality is Black women have been there for Black men in many ways more than we’ve been there for ourselves (and maybe most tragically been there for them) since day one of our “official” presence in North America, which began 400 years ago.
To know that I am covered by Nnamdi and myriad of other beautiful Black warrior women (seen and unseen) lets me know as my church folks say that I am, “blessed and highly favored.”
One shining example is my friend Letrice Gant (also known as Ellen Gee) co-founder of the Baltimore Ceasefire Movement; she posted the following on Facebook on March 25:
“I think it’s appropriate for us to have a conversation about how women get away with the most vile behavior towards men because they are women,” she wrote. “Women objectify men, sexualize them, prey on them, and try to drown them in unwanted attention and then get mad when they don’t receive the attention they think men are “supposed” to give to them in response to abuse…cuz it’s abusive to treat people like objects. We ain’t gonna have it though cuz the first time a woman says something that sounds like men aren’t human, I’m going the f— off. We can’t hold them to a standard of behavior that we don’t even follow. And we can’t mirror the behaviors we say we don’t like.”
That’s tough stuff in the ears of some, but that type of fierce loyalty and love has kept the bond — although tragically tenuous — between Black men and Black women from being totally obliterated and has concurrently prevented the Black community from being torn asunder.
But, Brothers, we have to reciprocate. How many of us are prepared to be that selfless when it comes to the preservation of our women? Are we prepared to be vulnerable, adopt and embrace behavior, which may be antithetical to much of what we’ve been brainwashed to believe makes “a man’s man” (whatever the hell that’s actually supposed to mean)?
Today, I’m committed to that path, although it hasn’t always been that way; I bathed in, drank up and spewed out much of the so-called toxic masculinity, which drowns so many Brothers.
But, more than 30 years ago my dear friend Queen Nzinga Ama extended her hand and pulled me out of that cesspool. I was struggling with anxiety and insecurity in my relationships with women (rooted in a generational curse of abandonment) and I turned to this wise woman for guidance. Her instructions were simple. She said to me, “Ponder with your heart, not your mind this question. Are women as entitled to be as free as men?” In my mind of course the answer was “yes.” But, two weeks later my heart gave me the real answer and I cried like a baby.
The truth is, as my dear Sister Catalina Byrd tells it, “Sexism is deeper than racism.”
Despite it all, I’m encouraged that as a Black man, the most reviled, feared and hated (and secretly desired, admired and envied) being in the eyes of many on the planet, I am loved and protected by Black women. Most days I feel almost invulnerable because of this truth.
I ain’t no perfect man; not by a long shot. However, I’m trying everyday to be better and Black women, you need to know that in me you have a Brother to you, and a lover of you for life.
Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and the author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.