There is an ancient African proverb that says: “It takes a village to raise a child.” I love this proverb because it teaches us that “no man, woman, child or family is an island.” We all coexist amongst the community and our extended family. In today’s society, raising children can be a difficult challenge. There are dangers lurking everywhere designed to rob our children of the safety and security that I had growing up as a child in a very tight knit community.
Historically, African Americans have been known to provide practical support to one another. This tradition started well before my generation and is still practiced today. In fact, my grandmother and her sisters had the opportunity to attend college way back in the 1920’s because my great grandmother made up in her mind that she wanted her four daughters to attend college. In a time when Black women were not even completing high school, my great grandmother used her village to send her daughters to Howard University.
In my own experience, when I selected a college 1200 miles away from home, my Mother used her village to not only to help me to get a full paid scholarship and work study, but also to look out for me and feed me. Consequently, I depended on my village to look after my daughter and son when they were away at school 1,000 miles away.
When I think about my own village, it consists of not only biological relatives, but the friends and colleagues of both of my parents, including neighbors and those in the faith community. While growing up there were many women in the church who could discipline me at any given moment when I was out of line. My mother trusted them that they had my best interest at heart. There were many times we brought additional children home from church with us for dinner. I can also remember going to visit other families especially my mother’s closest friends. My mother’s friends were like family to us. My dad even though he was not really involved in the church, had his own community which was centered around the historical “Greenwood” neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma which was rebuilt following the race riots in 1921. I remember going on picnics or to my father’s friends home and they were also considered family.
In the African American community, family roles are more fluid. The village can be biologically related such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and the broader community in general such as the faith community. According to McCreary and Dancy, Black families have a history of also including fictive kin, people with no biological or legal tie to the family who are nevertheless considered members of the family.
“Fictive” kin amongst African American families are typically an important part of what makes up the “village”. How many relatives do you have who really are not related to you? How many aunties do you have who are not related to your mother or father? How many “play mamas” do you claim? How many children call you auntie or uncle and are not the children of your brother or sister? What do you call your Mother’s best friend? How many women in your church do you call Mom or Mother?
The term “play mama” or “other mother” is common in the African American community. My daughter has used the terms “work mama” or “school mama” to describe women who have poured into her life. She even refers to the mothers of some of her closest friends as Mom. Many of them I may never meet, but I appreciate the love and concern they expressed towards my daughter.
The Bible encourages us to support one another. Philippians 2:4 teaches us: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Consider Hebrews 13:16 which reminds us: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” As we continue in the month of February to celebrate “Black History Month”, let us not forget the gift of the “village”. Who is in your village?
Janice R Love, Author
First Lady, Mom, Stepmom and Divorce Ministry Coach