I won’t soon forget the day I grasped my son’s hand and stepped into the White House. Last February I was there as part of an invited contingent of African-American mothers from across the nation who are leaders in Mocha Moms, Inc. With over 100 chapters in 29 states, Mocha Moms is a support organization for Black mothers with a particular focus on professional women who have deviated from their career paths to accommodate motherhood.
We gathered to learn exactly how Obama policy impacts our health so that we could spread the word to the people in our respective communities. We learned more about the Child Nutrition Law, which one speaker called, “the most significant change in school lunch in over 15 years.” We heard all about the provision in the Affordable Health Care Act that enables young people to remain on their parents’ insurance plan until age 26. We gained important knowlege about the heath care provision that addresses domestic violence.
The focus on wellness for an organization like ours made sense. Some of our members shifted from full-time employment to part-time or flex-time work after their first child was born. Many stopped working altogether. Others, like me, work from home, making the money flow as best they can during naptime and after bedtime. A large number of Mochas 9-to-5 full-time, but remain active in this organization that supports them. All of us are deeply committed to community service, to improving the lives of all babies – and to each other. So, when the White House invited the organization’s leaders to a historic Moms Summit as part of the nation’s Black History Month celebration, we jumped at the opportunity to learn about the policies, initiatives, and legislation directly impacting families.
Mocha Moms, Inc. partners with several health-related organizations including the United Nations Foundation Shot@Life Campaign, which enables dispossessed children in developing countries get the vaccinations they need for a healthier, longer life. And, of course, individual Mochas volunteer in local communities as well, like the South Fulton, Georgia chapter leader who told us how she works with an organization in her area that offers breastfeeding support to young mothers.
So we also gathered to be inspired, renewed, affirmed. And we certianly were. Michael Strautmanis, Chief of Staff to Valerie Jarrett, popped in just to say, “Keep doing what you’re doing… don’t let anyone tell you you have to change to help move America forward!”
We have made so many strides. Women and men of color at the highest levels of the federal government coming out to address a group of Black mothers confirms that. Certainly we have much more work left to do. The fact that the Dept. of Health and Human Services has made an Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities confirms that, too.
But I feel good. The summit took place on a Thursday, a day my son played with his cousins under the care of my loving in-laws. That Friday, we toured the White House with other Mocha families. I held him close as we entered the place “where Barack Obama lives,” as he said in his three-year-old voice. As we started the tour in Black History Month, I felt the weight and presence of a soul force anchoring me in the power of the moment. We turned and heard the North Carolina A&T choir sing in the Obama White House and I even wept, just a bit, for those ancestral souls.
Let’s honor them by improving our bodies in ways that they were never able to improve, to even fully possess, their own.
Eisa Nefertari Ulen is the current Co-President of the Brooklyn Chapter of Mocha Moms, Inc. and is author of the novel Crystelle Mourning. She lives with her husband and son in Brooklyn. www.EisaUlen.com