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The passing down of family herstory in literal and oral terms.

Herstories, Legacy

So you want to be a matriarch

May 20, 2021

Matriarch as a job description is quite daunting. It basically means that you are the oldest female in your family line and the legacy buck starts with you. Many of us are used to being in charge in our household. We often have a loving spouse and children to love and watch out for . There is a wonderful time of life when we fall under another’s matriarchal umbrella If we are fortunate enough to have a wonderful mother then we are fully aware of the shoes we need to fill when the umbrella closes and we are now in charge of their will be rain or sunshine.

My mother (Agnes Jean Knight) was a spectacular matriarch. Agnes ruled her family with no apologies. We were her brood and she carried us along with her on her journey through immigration, education, and personal growth. Agnes educated herself from humble beginnings (rural Jamaica) to post baccalaureate work in New York City. Agnes took a chance and left her birth country for the cold of England in 1959. England in the 50’s was cold in both temperature and racial tolerance. However, Agnes expected much from life and sought success relentlessly. She believed that no goal was out of reach as long as you were willing to work hard for it. I personally believe that it was this level of work that compromised her health and led to her prolonged illness at the end of her life. Finding balance is a trait that plagues all us matriarchs in training.

As a matriarch in training, I have learned many things. I am also open to the fact that I might also be missing some “big picture” aspects of life. Some of the things I know for sure are:

  • Intention counts and informs all of your decisions.
  • Apologizing is a valuable life tool.
  • Time spent with loved ones should be coveted most of all.
  • Education allows you to unlock doors previously closed to you.
  • Graduations can be more important than weddings.
  • You can only be bored if you’re boring.
  • Sleep as much as you can.
  • Tell and document your family’s story so that every member is validated and remembered.

What I’m not to sure about is how to optimize my earth time. Let’s face it there is only so much time and how do you figure out what should be the legacy you leave. Make no mistake, what you create in your family lives on in your descendants. I live a life of privilege due to the hard work of my ancestors. I was challenged recently about what privilege means. My friend was upset because I challenged his definition of privilege. He believes that he got no breaks and everything he has earned was due to his hard work. I challenged his belief because I believe that our ancestors contribute in minor and major ways to our present situations. I believe that those same ancestors make us who we are today. In the case of people descended from slavery between 30 and forty generations contributions were directed to the success of other families. Slavery left a gaping hole in the evolution of so many families. My family have been land owners for over a hundred years and I have traced my DNA back to the African woman that survived that heinous trip across the Atlantic in the belly of a ship. I believe that all my ancestors played some part in the circumstances of my life. Therefore, what I leave to my offspring has a gravitas to it. Legacy is not a casual endeavor.

As a matriarch I hope to embody the values that were passed down to me. Hard work, honesty, diligence, empathy, and stealth have allowed me and mine to survive in an inhospitable environment. We have not only survived. We have flourished. We also lost some of our own along the way. The most powerful trait that I will hold onto and strive to pass on is the ability to love. Meeting each family member as they are rather than what I envision them to be is my life’s work. I wholeheartedly step into my role as matriarch of my family. Besides, I always wanted to wear those big church hats!


Generational wealth or what one leaves behind

October 16, 2020

The other day I was speaking to a friend about the challenges of going through the probate process of my mother’s estate. The settling of her estate involves lawyers, courts, documents, and meticulous record keeping. Now I am no slouch when it comes to documentation and filing, but even I have found the probate process daunting. There is a property involved, but strangely that is not what my mother left to me that I found valuable. I had the realization that it was not money and property that were the most important things in a family’s legacy. The things that have enhanced and added to my family’s success here been education, delayed gratification, vision, faith, tenacity, good intentions, and most importantly love.

Both my mother and father’s sides of the family hail from rural Jamaica. This is not their original ancestral home. My mother’s family hails from the horn of Africa. My father’s DNA is obscured by the European slave owners in our family tree. Nonetheless, they each inherited property form their parents. Each property was hard won through sweat equity and sacrifice.

Education is probably the most powerful legacy that has been gifted to me from my parents and handed down from my ancestors. There is more to education than books. There is also the gift of knowing how to create a semblance of safety so that a family can survive in a hostile world. Scholarly success was always emphasized in my family whether you had chores or not. Clearing land and feeding hogs did not get you out of homework completion. I know that the emphasis on academic and trade success took this family from rural Jamaica one room school houses to Harvard Business School in one generation.

The ability to delay gratification is more than the stuff of children denying themselves a marshmallow. The ability to deny oneself the bright and shiny over the authentic and substantial was embedded in our family fabric. We were not necessarily cool, but we were grounded. Being able to see the big picture is a training event. Only some can see in a global manner at an early age. This gift is indeed a great legacy keeping people out of harms way.

Vision is a miraculous gift to pass down as well. Everyone can use a true north. When you grow up in a house with expectations for you wrapped love, you drink the family kool aid. Vision without coercion allows individuals to express themselves and contribute to the family’s well being. Striving for what is not obvious isa skill worthy of any family.

Faith no matter what denomination is a great gift to give to oneself as well as pass down to one’s children. There is something very powerful about a family experiencing great life lessons as one on a recurring basis (aka as church or worship). Faith is a tool that when well honed can carry anyone through difficult times. Faith allows one to stand by a conviction or hardship with the knowledge that you are not alone. What gift could be better than that.

Along with faith, tenacity or steadfastness is a legacy worth passing on. Standing for a principle or a pursuit that may work out favorably is something that must be taught. Successful individuals learn that anything worth having involves hard work and dedication. What better place to witness the struggle than within your own family. Seeing the real life applications of hands on work authentically proves that hard work is its own reward.

Good intentions embody so many character traits that are positive attributes to pass down. Projects and ventures don’t always work out, but if the intention is steeped in positive, loving, and affirming ideas, the endeavors will always have positive side benefits. For example if a family’s intention is to starts a restaurant to showcase their cuisine and supply gainful employment for several people and their family. If said restaurant closes for whatever reason then if it closes there will be some collateral bonuses. For example the children may witness the process of building a dream and be inspired. Many relationships may be started leading to a more successful venture. Or ultimately, this may be time well spent for everyone in the family.

Lastly, love is the most important thing to pass down. Love makes all of the other legacies that I have discussed become life affirming and illuminated with warmth. The ability to love is something to be taught and passed down and around. A well loved human being is the finest legacy that a family can produce. If you don’t believe me just observe the damage that unloved humans can wreak on others and this planet. Forget Aunt Harriet’s pearls, love is what you want to leave behind.


Reinvent your legacy

September 4, 2020

All Baby no bathwater

I was speaking to a dear friend of mine the other day about a recent realization I had about myself. Let me preface this story with the statement, “I am not a hoarder”. I just have a lot of stuff. A lifetime of teaching, multiple hobbies, a book/magazine addiction, and a mad streak of sentimentality means that I will never live the spare elegant look that I see in some homes. I will forever live with piles of books, art supplies, pillows, and more fabric than can be sewn in this lifetime. I digress. I was sharing with my friend that I have shipped 2 -20′ containers of goods across an ocean to my new island home. Yet, I am still obsessing about the 6 items that I cannot find after a year of living in Jamaica.

It occurred to me that I was not acknowledging the safe arrival and deposition of thousands of other objects that made it to this destination. This led me to the thought that if I truly needed these items ; I should stop wasting creative time looking for them . I should just replace these items. DUH!!! I wasted so much creative energy searching through boxes incessantly. So, that is what I finally did. I replaced the things that worked for me. There’s this place called Amazon and they will bring you stuff you need. And, quite a few things you don’t need.

Which brings me to the discussion of legacy. What behaviors and rituals do you have in your life today that serve you? What practices allow you to be better and draw closer to the people and vocations that you love? Here’s a novel idea; Let’s embrace all of those things and let go of all the rest. So how this works is you observe everything that is working for you in your life and drop everything else that doesn’t. Easier said than done you say, so here is my example: My family was not overly demonstrative when I was growing up. We were not touchy feely, say I love you’s before you leave the house kind of people. I’m not sure why because I knew how loved I was and it felt weird that we were not more handsy. So, I decided when I had kids that I would do the uncomfortable and be the I love you spouting parent. No kid would escape my hugs or boisterous encouragement. Well you can imagine what happened… You guessed it. I ended up with three huggy feely, smoochy, talk about your feelings kids. I changed my family legacy. It was and is amazing.

You can change your family legacy, also. Maybe, you might need to eliminate boozy Thanksgivings, so that friends and relatives will still be talking to each other at Christmas. Maybe, you might throw a family reunion, so that your kids become close to their distant cousins. Or maybe, you might nightly read bedtime stories, so that your kids think that bedtime stories are the only way you put children to bed.

It’s amazing to think we have all of that power. We can create a wonderful legacy. We can pull that beautiful baby out of the water, wrap them in a warm fluffy towel, and throw all that unnecessary bath water away.


Are YOU a Keeper?

August 18, 2020

Years ago I read a story to my class about a young boy who was especially close to his grandmother. He loved to sit by her while she told family stories. The story concluded with the grandmother revealing to her grandson that he was there family’s keeper. While reading that story I realized that I was my family’s keeper and had been for a very long time.

A family keeper is usually a person in the family who:

-Keeps up with all the activities of their inner and outer family circles.

-Archives and maintains important family documents and artifacts (such as apparel, medals, pictures

, jewelry, etc…).

-Creates opportunities for family get togethers and reunions.

Every generation has one if your family is fortunate. Keepers pass down the collective history and help maintain a family’s story. Keepers do not necessarily have to do all these things. They may specialize in one area. While you may have an aunt or an uncle that keeps up with all of these things, most likely there will be a collection of relatives interested in the areas of family preservation that appeals to them. For instance I love to scrapbook family occasions, trace our family tree, maintain the family seat, and travel to visit extended family. I notice that my daughter has no interest in keeping up with family items or document, but she is in constant communication with all the elderly members of our extended family.

There is room for everyone at the keeper table. As a matter of fact, the more people involved in keeping the family history, the better the chance of that history surviving. Wars, family emergencies, job relocation, and tragedy can interrupt the family history at any time. Having many Keepers who communicate with each other is your best bet to insure the survival of your family’s story.

Please see the following links to articles on this sight about why keeping a family history is important.