The Power in Black Love
Every year from April 11-17 we recognize Black Maternal Health Week, created, and organized by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance. Among its goals are to the “deepen the national conversation about Black maternal health in the US” and “center the voices of Black Mamas, women, families, and stakeholders.” To that end we have in the past focused on the heavy and deep systemic inequities faced by Black mothers, which has resulted in Black women being more than three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related death than their white peers.
This year we choose to move away from Black trauma and struggle and focus on Black love, an integral part of Black maternal well-being. The concept of Black love means something different to most and it has many definitions. In an interview on the history of Black love with MEFeater, Ma’Aliya’h, age 23, from Memphis, TN, described Black love as, “…the same as love in general, but it includes factors that general love doesn’t… Our background is the foundation of how we love. It’s in the way we speak, worship, congregate, even in the way we cook. Hence, the term “soul food.” Food that is prepared with effort and patience. Coming directly from our soul and from black love.”
Black Love in Relationships
Examples of strong, realistic Black couples in love have become more prevalent in the media in recent years. Real life stars Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith and Beyonce and Jay Z often make the news, and on TV viewers can watch Jazz and Doug in Grown-ish, Miranda and Ben on Grey’s Anatomy, Beth and Randall on This Is Us, and Violet and Hollywood in Queen Sugar. Each of these couples brings something special that resonates with many in real life and showcases how Black love is rooted in hope and balance. They allow those who follow their stories to see success through adversity and triumph against odds.
Ordinary Black couples share just as much love as famous or fictional ones, of course. Oprah’s OWN network featured the documentary series, ‘Black Love,’ which asks couples “What does it take to make a marriage work?” And when Essence asked ten Black couples have Black love means to them, they received a variety of moving answers.
“Black love is defying the odds. We can have the fairy tales, white picket fences and happily ever afters too. Black love is constantly finding new ways to love the same person over and over and believing in your happily ending.” -Narcisse, Baton Rouge, LA.
Black Love in Parenthood
People who raise children can have many names, mom, dad, Aunt, Uncle, Grandma, Grandpa, or even Sister and Brother. In Black communities and in Black culture so many people are raised to be especially close with members of their non-nuclear family or are raised by their non-nuclear family. On the 90s sitcom Sister, Sister, Lisa Landry and Ray Campbell showcase how two people not in a relationship and not biologically related to a child can successfully raise daughters. And Uncle Phil and Aunt Vivian from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air are perhaps the quintessential example of extended family stepping up raising a child when they let Will move across the country when his “mom got scared and said, ‘you’re movin’ with your auntie and uncle in Bel-Air.’”
The parent-child dynamic can take many forms, but at its heart is love. Dre and Rainbow on Black-ish showed this to viewers in every episode as they raised their four children to love themselves, one another, and their Black identity. As bell hooks wrote, “If we give our children sound self-love, they will be able to deal with whatever life puts before them.”
Black Love in Community
Raising children in an atmosphere of Black love can—and perhaps should—extend beyond that of nuclear family or a two-parent household.
In Pittsburgh, PA, a community-partnered study run by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is learning about child health and what makes children thrive. By working with parents, teachers, and several community organizations they hope to identify strengths and the best way to support children in the way that they need to live their best lives.
Liz Miller, UPMC Children’s Hospital’s Director of Adolescent and Young Adult Health and of Community Health, says that hope is central to the questions the study poses, “We are doing this work, centering racial equity, justice, and inclusion. We recognize that to support a child who has a strong sense of self-worth, who has a strong body, that means being surrounded by safety, opportunity for fun and happiness, clean air, clean water, healthy environments, thriving communities, thriving families. It is all nested.”
“One of the most vital ways we sustain ourselves is by building communities of resistance, places where we know we are not alone,” wrote bell hooks. Research has proven the importance of community in health children to grow emotionally, intellectually, and physically. A small, healthy community environment can model for young people what to expect—or what to demand—from the world at large. A dance troupe, a sports team, a book club, or regular neighborhood parties all serve as opportunities to build a foundation for children that will allow them later in life to approach challenges without breaking, celebrate knowledge, and succeed.
Black love, no matter the definition or context, is so incredibly important to the health of Black mothers. And as we look forward to May and our fourth annual #TalkingIsPower campaign, talk to the young people in your life about what different kinds of love they have seen and experienced and how it influences their decisions.
Temilola Adeoye graduated in May 2020 from Ithaca College with a bachelor’s degree in Public and Community Health. She works as a Digital Health Fellow for Power to Decide and is passionate about access to reproductive health for all.