“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’” Psalms 137:1-4 KJV
Can home be found in a “strange land”? In the case of many Black mothers, home has not been defined only by geographic location. Rather, home has been where the songs, teachings and experiences of faith have been lived out and sustained. Despite forced migration and other socio-political ills that have been mitigated against them, their resilience and faithfulness have remained. Mother’s Day is a time to celebrate this.
Maudlyne Ihejirika, in her 2015 Chicago Sun Times article, says, “Church mothers are the foundation of the Black church. They can be found in the front pews and the hierarchy of many churches. They are the glue that has nurtured generations of worshipers.”
African mothers and mothers of African descent have also nurtured the home life of their families. Smokey Fontaine, writing on Black American Web, said: “Mother’s Day is the one holiday that honors not just mothers, but all the ways that the Black community creates and builds families … In the African American community, Black children have been raised by mothers, stepmothers, grandmothers, aunts, older sisters, cousins, family friends, foster mothers and adopted formally and informally, and they use Mother’s Day to salute those women as well.”
Still, Mother’s Day also reminds us that the leadership of Black mothers in their homes and outside the home has not been easy. For example, putting nurturing food on the table while battling the threat and injury of family separation in many African countries, and in the Americas during and after the enslavement period, has been difficult. The historic policies and vestiges of enslavement and family separations due to the sale of their children or themselves gave rise to this challenge. Today mass incarceration, the legacy of racial discrimination, separation of families at the borders, and sex trafficking still fuel this challenge.
This month, in Bread for the World’s Pan African devotional guide “Lament and Hope,” Rev. Dr. Marjorie Lewis reminds us of the link between the scripture and the establishment of the National Housing Act in 1934. The act created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which regulates interest rates and mortgage terms, following the banking crisis of the 1930s. The FHA began to insure mortgages issued by qualified lenders, thereby providing mortgage lenders with default protection. African Americans, however, were inequitably segregated through mapping of neighborhoods and typically ineligible for these loans, making it extremely difficult for African American mothers to provide decent housing for their families. Still, in all cases the faith of Black mothers and their families fueled their resistance and resilience. May Mother’s Day inspire us anew to advocate with Black mothers for an equitable world without hunger.
Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan-African and Orthodox church engagement at Bread for the World in Washington, D.C.