Women’s History Month is always an introspective time for me. I think about all the ways that women have been, and continue to be, visionary shapers of their communities. And I think about how I have been prepared to be the visionary leader that I am today by the example set by the women who have gone before me. I stand in that truth without backing away from the light it creates.
I didn’t have much choice in the kind of woman I would become. I come from a long line of strong, Black women from a hilly village called Moriah on the small Caribbean island of Tobago. My grandmother Esther, whom everyone called “Mother,” gave birth to nine children, including five daughters. Vanessa, Mother Esther’s middle daughter, is my mother.
All my life, I have been transfixed by the resilience and resourcefulness of these six women. As a child, I remember marveling every time my mother turned a nearly empty pantry and refrigerator into a deliciously healthy family dinner.
All my life, I have been humbled by their courage. I watched their journeys of immigration and sacrifice, rebuilding their lives from scratch in North America. I remember attending night classes with my mother at Howard University. She didn’t allow the lack of a babysitter to keep her from earning a master’s degree to provide a solid life for us.
All my life, I have been taught how to love by watching their service to others. To follow the example of the women in my family means I must also be a strong, spiritual, and loving leader with a servant’s heart.
Mother Esther was a force. My mother tells countless stories about how my grandmother brought women in the village together to problem solve when someone was sick or in need; and how she assigned her daughters to visit and care for elderly and widowed women in the village. She turned her front yard into the hangout spot on the weekends to keep the youth in the village safe, stringing lights and baking coconut buns for them to enjoy in within the sanctuary of her space. I grew up with the understanding that the wellbeing of young people is vital to the future of a community. Mother Esther’s commitment to children and youth struck a chord in me to also create spaces that ensure their safety and opportunities to thrive.
Mother Esther cast a vision for her village and her family in her little home at the top of the hill in Moriah, and she let nothing stand in her way to achieve it. Likewise, my mother and my aunts Wilcenia, Vandalyn, Eunice, and Joan added to that vision for our family through their diligence and sacrifice. All of them saw the needs of others and served them, even in the midst of their own struggles.
When I look into the faces of the four generations that have come from my grandmother’s womb, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for her vision and her constant prayers. I am sure of my purpose to write the next chapter of the vision for my family and for all children in the place I now call home – these United States of America. I founded The Moriah Group to honor my grandmother’s vision for her village and her family. And each day, I pray I’m doing everything with the tools I have been given to continue her legacy in ways that make her proud.
Author: Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt, EdD