On Finding My Path in the New Black Womanhood

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By the time my mother was 25, she had a full-time job, a home, and two-year-old son. She had been engaged to my father since they were 19 or 20 years old. She had done almost everything that good Black Girls from well-to-do families were supposed to do in the 70s and 80s. She had gone to college, in which she was member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. She was a student teacher at a public school because she wanted to make a difference in the lives of children.

I will be 25 years old in July. While I have accomplished some major life milestones in my fledgling adulthood, I am not the kind of woman my mother was when she was my age. Yes, I graduated from college. But I still live in her home. I got a full-time job after graduation, but quit last summer to work part-time and focus more on my writing. When I see small children, my uterus and ovaries seize up, alerting me, “We’re not ready! We are not ready!”

From the time I was a little girl through when I graduated high school, I knew exactly how my twenties would unfold. I would attend one of the nation’s top universities. I would double major in theatre and creative writing while with minors in gender studies and film. Simultaneously, I would perform on Russell Simmon’s Def Poetry Jam and be cast to star in my first feature-length film. I would graduate from college with honors in the midst of becoming Hollywood’s new “It Girl”. At 22, I would marry the love of my life in an extravagant ceremony broadcast on E! TV. At 25, I would have my first million and my first child. And by the time I entered my thirties, I would be a multi-millionaire, entrepreneur, writer, and media mogul.

(Why yes, I did have quite the active imagination throughout my childhood.)

My mother worries about me. She fears that my dreams of making a living as a writer and artist mean that I will not have financial security. She tells me she appreciates how creative and intelligent I am, but that maybe I should be more practical. I should do something that will provide me with health benefits and a retirement plan.

When I tell her about wanting to apply to an MFA program or living abroad for a year, she always asks, “Why? How will you pay for that?” She warns me about going into debt. Or about how difficult it can be to live in a foreign place, where I have no family or support system.

She reminds me how different we are. I am a dreamer, an artist. I am more of an idealist. She is a pragmatist. But she also reminds me that she once had dreams too, that she once wanted big things. She tells me that our lives do not always unfold the way we expect them to.

I have come to accept that I am not my mother. I have also accepted that I cannot wait for my mother to approve of my life choices. Sometimes, I feel guilty for wanting the things I want. I know my mother did not get to live the kind of life she dreamed up for herself. I wonder if this makes me selfish or naïve. I wonder what I will tell my children, if I ever have them. Will I encourage them to follow their dreams, even if I know how difficult it will be or how far away it may take them? Or will I want them to do what is secure, what will keep them safe and close to me?

I remind myself that 2014 does not look like 1984. I remind myself that I am not wrong for valuing traveling and art over money. I remind myself that I still have a little time to worry about health benefits and retirement plans. I remind myself that with the rising costs of higher education and the stagnation of economic growth, I am fortunate to live at home. It does not mean that I am a failure.

Last weekend, I sat in a room of fellow Black Women in their mid-to-late 20s for a brunch and wellness workshop. As we all shared snippets of our lives and our experiences, a common theme emerged: none of us were exactly where we wanted or thought we’d be at this time in our lives.

It was wonderful to hear these women share their stories, stories that sounded a lot like mine. Many of them still lived at home. Many weren’t making the money they expected to after having graduated from college. Or weren’t doing the kind of work they wanted to be doing. All of us in that room were at a crossroads: Young enough to still believe in our dreams and desires; old enough to grasp how difficult pursuing them can be in the midst of adulthood’s competing realities.

I realize now that I am part of a tribe of Black Women who are creating a new Black Womanhood. We are artists and scientists and scholars and entrepreneurs. We are mothers and sisters and cousins. We are still daughters who hope to make our mothers and foremothers proud. We still hope to uphold the legacy they built. But we want to do it in our way. We want to do it without the pressure of having to be “good” or “secure.” We do not want to sacrifice our happiness and our wholeness to serve a womanhood that does not serve us.

Photo Credit: IStockPhoto

Michelle Denise Jackson is a writer, performer, and storyteller from Southern California. She has performed her work in Southern California, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and Washington, D.C. For more information, you may visit her website at www.michelledenisejackson.com.

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