Blonka Winkfield—Howard University alum with a master’s degree in molecular and cellular biochemistry from CUNY Stony Brook—is an executive at The Learning Program in New York, a savvy socialite, and a stern but cool mom. Her family is a unique, proactive unit consisting of her ex-husband, her ex-boyfriend, and their respective daughters. While she is single and a mother (herself reared by a hardworking, ambitious mother), she abhors the label “single mother” and its unfair perceptions.
“I don’t like it,” says Blonka. “I don’t like the denotation of it, I don’t like the connotation of it, I don’t like the stereotypes. My mother grew up in the deep south picking cotton half the year, going to school half the year. As soon as she graduated from high school, she left the South and moved to New Jersey,” determined, married or not, that she would create more for her daughter.
Blonka calls her upbringing a community raising. “My nana (who’s my grandmother’s sister) and her boyfriend and her kids, we were always all together.” When she and her mom left New Jersey and moved to Atlanta, the same sense of family ensued. “Her sister was there, so I was also raised by my aunt and her husband as well.”
This gave Blonka’s mom some freedom. “As a single parent, my mom was able to go out with friends and actually do stuff, because she had so many people to support her. She was able to have a life of her own while raising me,” she says admiringly. “My mother was a big proponent of exposure.”
Blonka’s mom didn’t make a lot of money initially, but she made sure that if there was a free opportunity for her daughter’s life to be enriched—whether it was ice-skating or guitar lessons, for example—she took it. “I was very appreciative of that, whether I liked the lessons or not.” For Blonka, her mother’s efforts encouraged the idea of being bright and well-rounded. “Raising me, she had a ‘know what you know and know what you don’t know’ mindset. I like that. If she didn’t know something, she would ask a neighbor or a friend.”
Blonka and her mom definitely had a practical, familial bond. Connecting emotionally was their struggle. “We laughed a lot in my family, but my family was just not an emotional batch of people. My great-grandmother who raised my mother wasn’t that way; hugging, kissing wasn’t really happening.” Blonka says she and her mom largely communicated through notes on the bathroom mirror. “Now we’re buddies, but back then, any big discussion was relayed through notes… from either of us.”
By the time Blonka was a pre-teen, her mother got a great new job. “I got all the things I wanted or needed. We moved on up like the Jeffersons. The whole [affluent] Black Atlanta thing kicked in. Life was very good.”
Blonka revealed her sexuality to her mom at the young age of 15, and in their usual style— the aforementioned note taped to the bathroom mirror. “I have no idea what made me decide to tell her that. My grades were excellent, I had a job, extracurricular activities, I thought everything should be golden.” Blonka’s mom didn’t receive the info well. She didn’t say much, but asked Blonka’s cousin to have a talk with her. But by her junior year in high school, she was living her life her way, and even had her first girlfriend.
The first day Blonka hit Howard University’s yard, she met her future husband, Ted Hamilton. “We had a chemistry class together. We became really good friends. Ted was the only person I told at college that I was bisexual.”
She loved Ted, and he loved her, but walking down the aisle years later, “I was not sure at all. I felt like this was the adult thing to do and you have to make compromises. That’s how I justified it.”
Married and living in New York, they worked together at a celebrity-studded restaurant, Manhattan’s Soul Café, as assistant general manager (Blonka) and manager (Ted). “That was challenging. There were all sorts of temptations and I was his boss. It took a toll.” Eventually, the couple decided to divorce.
During the course of the marriage, Blonka received her master’s degree and birthed a baby girl, Blake Hamilton. Four years later, she had another daughter: Sasha Ché Allen (called Ché). “Motherhood changed me dramatically in some ways,” Blonka admits. “Overwhelming at times. I had to figure out everything. Now I get why my mother was tired all the time.
“The money piece: my mother was always writing on the back of an envelope, adding and subtracting money. I would be confused looking at her thinking ‘What is she doing?! She’s like Rain Man over there! What’s the big deal?’ Now I get it. As a mother, you worry about every dollar, every dime.” She doesn’t think being a mother changed the person she is. However, “It changed my priorities.”
Emotional availability was difficult for Blonka when she became a mother. “That took me a while. I had a difficult time fielding that whole thing out. I had very little patience. I was used to everything moving very quickly, everything going my way… kids just aren’t that way.”
She credits meditation (which she’s practiced for 10 years) and Buddhism (five years) with elevating her emotional esteem. “I have more patience with my girls. I have more compassion. I watch my tone, which is an important aspect of Buddhism.” What also helped was having the conversation with her mom. She continues, “My mother expressed to me why she was that way and why she didn’t want me to lack emotion with the girls. It was an awesome conversation.”
Like her own mother, she allows time to do what she loves: great music, fun parties, lots of travel and engaging people. She takes her joy seriously. “I believe that my happiness comes first. If I’m happy, I can make sure everybody’s good.”
Blonka has a created a coming-of-age ritual for her girls: “When you turn 12, I take you to dinner and you can ask me any question you want.” So when Blake was of age for the dinner, Blonka had a question to answer that gave her the moment to tell her daughter about her sexuality. Blake was inquisitive and accepting. “I take Ché to that dinner this year. I’m a little nervous about that one!”
Ex-husband Ted (a high school teacher) and ex-boyfriend Tai Allen (singer/poet/creative director), the fathers of Blonka’s children, work in tandem as a family. When it’s Ted’s weekend to take his child, he takes both girls for the weekend; the same with Tai. “It’s always been that way, always. Tai has never made any distinction between the daughters. When Ted remarried, his new wife had two kids into the marriage. So then, we would each have all four kids on our weekends! We wanted to keep the kids together. But for Tai, a single man, to take on that responsibility, it’s impressive.
“My exes don’t stress me, they don’t bother me.” Warmly, she states, “They allow me to have a life.”
As the vice president of marketing and development of The Leadership Program, Blonka states, “I love my job. I love the people that I work with. I am moved by the impact we are able to make. We work in 350 schools—we service 20,000 kids a year, 5,000 parents a year, and 2,000 teachers—so we are able to make an impact. We provide role models and direction for predominantly Black and Latino kids and their families.”
Blonka describes her children as cool Brooklyn girls, with no hint of her southern, suburban upbringing. “Blake is so open-hearted and kind, she’s always been that way. She is a really good person. She makes the best of everything.” On her youngest daughter: “Ché is a whole other batch of things. She’s smart, sarcastic and very creative—like her dad, really interested in the arts and entertainment. I can see her being the next Missy Elliott or Pharrell.
“The great thing about the relationship we all have as parents is that we all bring very different but very necessary things to the table. Ted is more serious and focused on education. Ty is the fun dad who exposes them to artistic aspects. I am the mom who will dance with you in the house but I am also the disciplinarian,” she says.
Accepting everybody for who they are is Blonka’s measure for a successful family. As far as children, she attunes with the notion that kids don’t belong to you, they come through you. Says Blonka, “You give them everything you have. Even if you may not be doing the right action, as long as you have the right intention,” it will resonate.
The Coolest Black Family in America is an EBONY.com original series: an ongoing look at the intricacies, layers and compelling beauty of African-American family life. Of course, The Coolest Black Family is not one family but many. In fact, we’ve found that there are as many Coolest Black Families as there are versions of cool. Also consider: family doesn't always mean mother + father + kids. What defines family is connected hearts and supported souls. Ride with us weekly as we crisscross the country in search of kinfolk whose cool is so palpable and real, it comes second only to their love. Think your cool fam qualifies? Email us at [email protected] (with Coolest Black Family in the subject line)!
Joicelyn Dingle travels to find the Coolest Black Family in America exclusively for EBONY.com. She splits her time between Savannah and Brooklyn. She is currently completing a documentary on the making of Honey magazine and the 1990s urban publishing era. Friend her on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @editorialgenius.