I’m a daughter of Virginia. Most of my ancestors migrated to Virginia from the Carolinas during the late 1800s and early 1900s to escape what they referred to as “country life,” which entailed sharecropping. In other words: economic slavery. They came to port cities like Norfolk to seek a better life than what they had. I am here today because of them. 

I am the daughter of teenage parents. My mother was on her own, so we lived with my grandparents until she saved up just enough to afford a home in an environment that was safe enough for her to raise my sister and me. Though we suffered many hard times, the gift of being the product of a multigenerational home defines who I am today and is why I am drawn to communities in need.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). My first time living this scripture out loud when I was eight years old. Illness had touched our next-door neighbors, the Joyners. Mr. and Mrs. Joyner were an older Black couple who were always kind to me and sometimes invited me into their home. The yard between their house and my grandparents’ house seemed so interconnected, almost as if they were an extension of one another. There was no divide and no barrier; that was the sort of community I was raised in. The news of Mr. Joyner’s illness hit me hard. 

I always used to look out for Mr. Joyner to see if he was outdoors doing yard work. I would watch for them when they returned home and dart out to say hello as their car pulled into the driveway, an excited grin on my face. When they would invite me into their home, I always jumped at the opportunity. I would play the role of the curious and inquisitive child next door as I looked at all their little trinkets, hoping that they had some candy to share with me before I ran back across our interconnected yards and into my house. 

Mr. and Mrs. Joyner

When Mr. Joyner took ill, my routine changed. I would walk a quarter mile home from school but, before setting foot in my own home, I would always stop by the Joyners’ house to say hello and make sure that Mr. Joyner was on the mend. I went by every day after school to check on him until he had fully recovered. It brought me comfort to know that I could lay eyes on him and be assured that he was recovering. Mrs. Joyner told me that her husband was grateful that I showed such lovingkindness toward him and that they would always remember my display of love and concern. 

Looking back, I can see where the foundation of loving others was grafted into my DNA long before I ever thought to act upon the impulse. Caring for Mr. Joyner sowed a seed in my life that has been awakened in due season. 

One of my heroines, Mary Eliza Church Terrell, experienced a similar awakening. Her activism was stirred when a close friend, Thomas Moss, was lynched in Memphis because his growing business posed competition to white businesses. After Moss’s lynching, Mary Terrell joined Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s anti-lynching campaign. She also campaigned for Black Women’s Suffrage because she believed that the ability to vote would elevate Black women. 

Mary Eliza Church Terrell

In her autobiography, A Colored Woman in a White World, she said, “A white woman has only one handicap to overcome–that of sex. I have two–both sex and race…Colored men have only one–that of race. Colored women are the only group in this country who have two heavy handicaps to overcome, that of race as well as that of sex.” This is one of my favorite quotes because it has brought me comfort as a Black woman in white spaces. 

I am a Black Woman, a Black Mother, and a Black Wife. I have had the experience of being raised in the Black Church–the Church of God in Christ, to be specific–and later on to be a very young woman baptized as the only Black member of a white evangelical church. My hope for this column is that you will learn from the lived experiences of a Black woman living in America.