When I was a child nothing excited me more than hearing what my mother used to refer to as her ‘long time stories’. She only shared these stories when her relatives gathered together (this was on rare occasions), but when she did share them it was magical for me. They were a way for me to know my grandmother and grandfather, who had both died when my mother was a child. Hearing of my grandmother’s strength and even about how her fingers were long and crooked like mine somehow helped me feel connected to her. I learned about my mother’s home, a place I’d never been to but that I developed an intimate bond with as it came to life for me in her detailed and animated accounts. I also learned of the struggles my mother, her sister and brother faced, and the compromises they made to survive the challenges of being poor, orphaned and black in a British West Indian colony in the 1940s.
It was only as I grew older that the fact that these stories were so utterly precious was revealed to me. They were a testament to the creativity, resilience and survival of these communities. They also offered an important oral narrative of some of the ways that gender, race, poverty and violence were critical to who my mother and family became, and also to the conditions of the larger communities that we were a part of. As a child, I did not encounter these stories in my history books, in the news, or on television. These stories were quiet ‘private’ memories that did not really seem to matter in public spaces.
As we celebrate Black History month this February, we are given the opportunity to reflect on why these stories do matter, while commemorating the losses, sacrifices, and victories of diverse Black communities across the globe. Black History Month, which began as a week-long tribute in 1926, has evolved into the month long event we mark today, and as we take the time acknowledge the significant contributions and ongoing struggles of Black folk across the world, it is also critical that we never stop asking the questions: Whose stories are still not acknowledged? Whose stories do we attend to more often? How do we ensure that we are open to the diverse stories within our communities- our transtories, herstories and madstories, among others? How do we value these diverse contributions? Here at Nellies, we are committed to challenging violence and oppression, and to building equitable communities where all of our stories matter. So let us commune, celebrate, question and continue to share—Happy Black Stories Month!
*written by Nellie’s Shelter staff member.