There are things you suddenly recall when a best friend dies. Memories arrest the heart with acute clarity. How we met in the freshman dorm lobby. The Sade poster above her bed that she swore was her spitting image. Her love of cowboy boots and designer watches. The year she handmade everything she we wore. Her Boston accent. The fact that she was essentially raised an only child by her single dad.
And oh how Tiffani loved him. Mr. Roberts was a part of every other conversation during our Hampton University years. Girl, are we really talking about your dad in the middle of the yard?! There are boys to be seen!
The man was clearly a #perfectparent.
When Tiff died in 2009 after a confounding illness, her only child—a daughter—was 5. Tiffani had been a single mom. Mr. Roberts, much older then and distraught beyond consolation, seemed to want to do only one thing: take that child and raise her. At the funeral, I took to the podium and caught a mournful glimpse of them. Two the hard way, I thought, all over again.
Let’s talk about family.
Family is the mold we make out of the lump of clay we’re given. Sometimes it’s a mom, dad and 2.5 kids; other times, it’s a dear grandpop and his grandbaby; a foster mom and a slew of kids; two dads and a dog…
If you’re part of a family and someone in that family loves you, give thanks. When our enslaved ancestors were carted off to the Americas, often, the first order of slave master business was to tear us apart from each other. First, the tribal family separations (so that our native tongues were rendered mute), then as chattel property, the intimate familial separations—husband from wife, mother from child, brother from sister.
The brutality of breaking up kin ranks as the psychic crime of the ages. And yet, the Black family remains. We keep getting separated—but we keep finding our way back.
What do you really see in this provocative cover? Black family perfection, or imperfection? The disruption/fracture one person can bring to a collective? Or the light a loving collective can cloak over an individual?
Many of us—including respected Black institutions such as Spelman College—ultimately concluded, painfully, that legendary comedian and philanthropist Bill Cosby is a stain on us. On our family. At press time, he stands accused of sexual assault by at least 40 women. But what of the brilliant jazz- and art-laced Cosby Show? What of the notion of brownstone-having, upper middle-class Black family aspirations? What do we do with that? Like the man himself, is The Cosby Show—and what it symbolizes—a Humpty Dumpty, too? Has the image of Black family perfection had a great fall and now cannot be put back together again?
Join us on an intellectual jaunt this issue with Daily Beast editor at large Goldie Taylor as we attempt to unpack some of these questions (p. 100). We go there. We had to.
In the name of family—since I have the cushy corner office (not!)—I get to big up a few fams of my own. My first clan, the one that cradles me still: my gorgeous, no-joke mom Billye Jeanne; my dad, the Amazing Joseph (see last month’s I, Too); and my loyal younger sis, Khadijia (the Solange to my Beyoncé—she’ll kick your ass for me).
Then there’s the family I made: my savvy and sensitive sons, ages 9 and 11—and, of course, their older sibs, my two fantastic stepkids (no idea what “step” means). My husband, Lorenzo, is our family Gibraltar. His idea of romance often includes washing laundry and clearing a sink full of dishes after a long day of work himself (which, of course, keeps me legit hot for him).
There’s my sister’s family (which is also mine), including her super in-laws; her funny hubby; my A-1 niece, 13; and Pele-impersonating nephew, 8. There’s my sister from another mom, Mechel, and my multitalented godchild, Ashleigh. There’s my 20-plus-years-deep sister circle, Oya’s Elements—we cold invented #blackgirlmagic. And because the Universe gives you what you need when you need it, there’s my “OD”—Original Daughter—Natasha, holding it down now with a family of her own. Years ago, she saved my life. #Detroit.
All my ”play“ aunts, uncles and cousins—how do you know we’re not blood? My “little sisters” and mentees—the thinky, funky, bold ones who remind me of my younger self and judge not my many imperfections as they claim to learn from me.
And last but right now most, my EBONY family. The dedicated team of diligent editors, designers, producers, assistants and execs who keep saying—in word and deed—“Kierna, keep going; we believe in you.”
We are nothing without family. I love you all.
Email me whenever … [email protected], or you can find me on Twitter/Instagram @kiernamayo!