Black Joy

She didn’t bring you into this world, but she loves you like she did | Black Joy – May 12 2023

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With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I am thinking about those of us grieving our mothers, who are unmothered or who have complicated relationships with our mothers.

As a grandmama’s baby, I learned early on that “mothers” or even “mothering” doesn’t look just one way. And as I grew older, I realized how much of a gift it was to be raised by my grandmother.

But not just my grandmother. My aunties. My older cousins. So many Black women had a hand in nurturing me. And I witnessed many of those same women doing the same for other children in our community.

Today, I am celebrating the Black matriarchs and Grandmamas and AuntieMamas and NeighborhoodMamas. These are the folks who teach us what it looks like to love and take care of one another.

For this week’s newsletter, I am in conversation with two children’s book authors about the wisdom of grandmothers, and why Black children deserve to exist and feel safe outside. I also speak to a Black Quilter about archiving Black history through quilting.

I hope you take some time to honor the maternal figures in your life, both living and ancestors.


Grandmama’s love and lessons in liberation

Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if there were no police or prisons? If you’re like me, you probably have. When I imagine that world my next question is: what on earth would we replace them with?

This is what Junauda Petrus explores in her latest children’s book, Can We Please Give the Police Department to the Grandmothers? She envisions a world rooted in abolition and community care that centers both elders and children.

“Grandmothers have been that safety net in our society because there’s so many gaps to fall into in our communities. . . and so often it’s these women who have to be parents again to the children of their children [and] who have to take in family members. . .”

Read the full article on the Reckon website.

Finding joy in the roots

Growing up, I don’t remember reading any books about nature and, especially not Black kids in nature, so I was ecstatic to learn about Gwendolyn Wallace’s forthcoming children’s picture book, Joy Takes Root. In this book, a little Black girl named Joy visits her grandparents in South Carolina and discovers her connection to the earth and her ancestors through her grammy’s garden.

This story blossomed from Wallace’s own journey back to her body and to the healing properties of the Earth. After dealing with the long-term health effects of Covid, she realized she needed to be more intentional about self-care. She decided to start a garden with her mom and began taking an African Diaspora Herbalism class.

“I was not someone who considered myself very in touch with my body, but there was just something about feeling my bare feet in the soil, touching a leaf and learning to tell what my plant needed. . . searching on my hands and knees for strawberries, talking to my plants. . .those things made me feel connected to both myself and the earth in a way I hadn’t before,” she says.

Read the full article on the website.

Q&A with Paducah quilter Cheryl Sullivan

Recently, the Black Joy team took a trip down to Paducah, Kentucky for Quilt Week. While there, they stayed at the historic Hotel Metropolitan which hosted several notable Black figures during the Civil Rights era.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Cheryl Sullivan, a quilter who showcased her work at the Hotel Metropolitan. We discussed how she began her journey into quilting, how she preserves history through quilting, and why exhibiting her quilts at the Hotel Met was important to her.

Can you talk a little bit about your journey into quilting and how you got started?

I started sewing when I was a young child, sewing Barbie doll clothes. Then that progressed to sewing clothes for myself. When we wanted to go out on the town as teenagers, we wanted something different and fancy to wear. So, my friends and I would do outfits. . .after I graduated from high school, I wanted to go to Pratt Institute in New York City and study design and fashion. But my mother said no, you’re gonna go to a four-year school like the rest of the family.

So, I went to a four-year school and I majored in art. I had a love of African fabrics. I studied under one of the premiere African History instructors, David Driskell, and he instilled in me love of textiles, African textiles. . .My grandmother and my mother quilted, but I’d never had an interest in it till later on in life and that started my journey in quilting trying to combine African textiles with quilting.

I’m glad you mentioned your mother and grandmother because I was gonna ask if there were any quilters in your community or family that you drew inspiration from.

Yeah, I had several quilts from my mother. . . I never really saw her quilting until really late when she was in her 80s, but she made several quilts for the family. I have a couple that I held on to. I have one from my grandmother that is hand stitched with that very minute hand stitching that I cherish.

What role does storytelling play in your quilting practice?

What I do in some of my quilts, and I want to do much more in the future, is make a statement like in my Natural Wonder quilt, which is kind of like a self-portrait. I just talk about the wisdom of the Elders and I call it Wisdom is a Natural Wonder. . .

I do it in a lot of African fibers, like in the Slave Chain quilt, which was from the mid 1800s on the slave plantations and then it has fast forwarded into something called a Double Wedding Ring and Tuxedo Wedding Ring. . . I wanted to do it in African fabrics to talk about the history of where that pattern came from.

How does it feel to be celebrated at the Hotel Metropolitan as a Black quilter given the lack of representation at the Quilt Week convention?

That was very special and empowering for me. I did a quilt for the Hotel Metropolitan about the Purple Room. A lot of the stars would come and stay in the [hotel], and they would practice back in the Purple Room. So I did that quilt with photos from some of those stars, and it also goes back to the Green Book where a lot of our African Americans could not stay in the regular hotels. They had to stay at the Green Book hotels, so in that quilt I added the Green Book and like a highway, hit it to the Hotel Metropolitan and the Hotel Metropolitan is just special to me. It’s a historic hotel. And I just like to see it. I’d like to see it survive...

Editor’s note: In those days, the white establishments that were open to booking Black acts did not allow access to their venues for rehearsal. The Purple Room fulfilled this need and also hosted shows for Paducah’s Black community. The small building still stands in the backyard of the Hotel Metropolitan but has yet to be renovated.

What are your long-term goals or dreams for your quilting practice?

As I retired, I’ve had a desire to do more creative stuff. I’ve got in mind a series that I would love to do that could be displayed in a museum. Basically about our history from slavery to present times, and that’s on my agenda to get started on here real soon. [It’ll start] with a slave ship with the slaves depicted coming across the waters.

Are there any other final thoughts you’d like to share about quilting and your experience at the Hotel Metropolitan?

You talk about black joy, it’s just something that I really enjoy. I really enjoy getting involved. I love the finished product to know that I have cut all these little minute pieces of fabric to precise size and it comes out as a full quilt in the end, it’s something that helps me as I get older. . .You have to be detailed and it’s just something that I’m proud that I’ve been able to do as an older American, you know, [it] just keeps me a little sharp.

Well, that’s all folks! Continue to spread the Black joy! Until next time.

Danielle Buckingham

Danielle Buckingham

Danielle Buckingham (she/her), affectionately known as Dani Bee, is Reckon’s Black Joy Reporter, and a Chicago-born, Mississippi-raised writer based in Oxford, Mississippi. A 2021 Lambda Literary fellow, her work has been published in MadameNoire, Midnight & Indigo Literary Magazine, Raising Mothers, and elsewhere.

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