Since the very beginnings of our Black communities, uplifting people with love has always been key to our collective resilience and survival. My earliest memories are of my mama doing for people, taking the love she expressed to her kids, husband and whoever else had been invited under her roof and walking it around our community. And my mama, like nearly everyone in my community, believed that the change you wanted to make in the world started with the work of your own heart.
I learned early that love wasn’t just for the folks who got called to the dinner table at night. Love was for anybody in our community who needed some. And it was more than just a thought or a display of emotion. Love had work to do. It had to recognize, listen, affirm, lift up and over, empower, heal and restore.
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Like a lot of us, I know the power of love from the experiences and traditions of the Black community I grew up in.
Maybe Mama took Miss Magdalene a hot plate of “something good” because Miss Mag’s back was hurt. Or she rushed Miss Molly’s clothes off the line because rain was starting to fall. Or she gave Miss Josie a ride uptown looking for fresh catfish for her Friday night fry. Or she took Mr. Joe to the doctor and advocated for him in a medical system that didn’t listen to or respect older Black men.
Love got us through, around and over. It still does. We will always make our community and the world better by being committed to active love, a love that moves, grows and reaches out. A love that “do for people.” So as I think about ways to carry love beyond my own doorstep to create meaningful community and a softer world, I think about doing for people.
There are so many people who are valuable to me, who have added something invaluable to my life—like neighbors, church members and fellow faith walkers, and the children of our community, for instance. I want them to know they matter. And I want to make a difference for them in ways that matter to them.
So I start with empathy. Knowing what I can about someone’s story, understanding something about how their life is lived as a way of getting to what they need to feel uplifted. What are people really dealing with?
For example, as the pandemic continues to have an outsized impact on our community, as so many people have lost jobs or loved ones, as we continue to grapple with the spirit-twisting trauma of racial injustice, and as we stay on the search for joy, regardless, I realize that by doing for each other, we can lift one another up. Just like we always have.
Respecting and connecting with our elders
Our elders have often created the communities we live in and made a way for us. As age takes hold, it’s a perfect time for us to give back.
- We could think about leaving a card or note with our phone number in case an elder needs something.
- We could drop by for a front porch or stoop chat if they seem down to visit.
- We might make a plate or take a treat over when we know we threw down on something soulful in the kitchen.
- Maybe offer to grab extra groceries or make a pharmacy stop when they need it.
- We could offer a ride to the doctor or even advocate for an elder if we’ve grown close enough to have their trust.
Helping out mamas and daddies
If our neighbors have young kids, we know there are times when they’re definitely stressing, especially with uncertainty about when classrooms might close or what a child’s school day will look like. So we can think about ways to lend a little help with the littles.
- Offer to take the kids on a walk so a parent can have a mental break or finish some work.
- Get the littles outside to jump a little Double Dutch or learn some old school ring games. The ancestors gave us “Miss Mary Mack” and “Shake it Miss Sally” to pass on!
- Have pizza or other fun food delivered to surprise the kids and help parents with a meal.
- We could also think about virtual options like throwing down a dance challenge over Zoom.
- Or maybe Facetiming to sing silly songs or help with homework.
Leaving no neighbor behind
No soul should have to travel alone. Loneliness hurts, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically, too.
- If we notice somebody who seems like they ain’t got nobody, we can introduce ourselves.
- We can make a habit of dropping by for a quick chat, listening and holding up our end of the conversation.
- Maybe leave a note with our phone number.
- Give some small thing, like a card or gift, that lets the person know they’re really seen and heard.
- Make a connection. We can be that somebody that someone else needs.
Connecting one to the other
Connection is the main thing. Do the skinfolk in our neighborhoods even know one another?
- We could start an introduction chain where each neighbor walks next door to say hello to another.
- Maybe we could connect the elders and children in our neighborhood through a griot or storytelling project.
- We could start a community project that honors heritage and pride—a beautification activity like growing a community garden of flowers, vegetables or even art.
- Maybe we could start a contribution box to collect money to send kids to camp, on field trips or to pay for college application fees.
- If we know somebody is hurting or struggling financially, we can start a fund, like a GoFundMe.
- And if our neighbors are too proud for that, we could leave an anonymous fund on the doorstep.
Our churches and spiritual circles are where we connect, refresh ourselves spiritually, release and restore. It’s where we can let go and let God. It’s where we can experience the divine presence, whether it’s in communal worship of the Father, convening with the ancestors or interior reflection of ourselves.
In these spaces we pray for each other, lay healing hands on one another, kneel for each other and stand for each other. We lean on each other and protect one another. We are each the constant reminder of the other’s value. Amen?
Raising them high
We can lift our spiritual kin up in prayer and let them know about it. Whether in times of victory or trial, there is empowerment in knowing you are being prayed for and over.
- We can tell them often that they are carried in our hearts and covered by God’s love.
- Or that they are the fulfillment of the ancestors’ every dream.
- Or that we are manifesting joy for them.
This might sound simple but being there is everything. Whether it’s being there to celebrate a new baby, a graduation or a homegoing, or whether it’s being there for a coffee chat or being there for that 3 A.M. call, we can give our folks in faith our presence.
Practicing faith together
Pray together. Sing together. Help keep each other strong. This is what we already do. There’s something sacred and powerful in bonding with our brothers, sisters and others around faith built by our history, collective experience and culture. Faith doesn’t just comfort us—it empowers us and ensures our survival.
- We can share, honor and glorify what holds us down in our faith and spiritual practices, together.
- Love each other more deeply within the power of the Spirit and the force of our ancestral heritage.
- Honor the ancestors who built our houses of faith and left us traditions of praise, resilience and hope.
- Lift each other up in love and hold each other up when we’re struggling, without judgment.
- And respect how we each do our walk, from Amen to Ashe.
There are so many ways to show love to our faith folk.
- Make sure our people can get to services or practice when it’s safe to gather or are set up with what they need to attend virtually when gatherings happen that way.
- Call regularly to check up on people, especially when we know somebody is down, sick, lonely or missing the power of connection.
- Visit our sick in nursing homes and rehabilitation homes, carrying worship with us, or visit virtually to share prayer.
- Gather around the bereaved and take care of homes and children when a loved one has passed.
- Hold a new baby for an overwhelmed new mother or hold the hand of an elder when a caretaker needs a minute.
- Invite our people to dinner or run over a plate of what’s good.
- Run errands, drop off groceries or just sit and listen to someone who needs to be heard.
- Share any inspiration, light or joy that we’ve found to sustain us, whether scripture, mantra, meme or testimony from the goodness of our own lives.
- We can be there to catch before somebody falls.
In my growing up place, the adults in my community nurtured all of us children, showing us how to go right when we wanted to go left, backing up our home-training and telling our parents on us if the other things didn’t work. They praised our academic successes. They held our hands when we were hurt by something. And they explained that the way we were treated did not reflect who we were and what we deserved.
We can provide that same level of communal guidance, love and protection for the kids in our neighborhoods, especially as they face a world that often can’t see them for who they are, doesn’t value them as children or give them the privileges of childhood, and doesn’t love them the way they deserve.
Encouraging the littles
When our children tell us what they want to be, let’s believe them and talk in real terms about what it will take to make those dreams come true. Like if a child says “I want to be an astronaut” we can:
- Talk about science in school, college, NASA and aeronautical programs.
- Put stories of Mae Jemison, Jessica Watkins and Ronald McNair in front of them.
- With their parents’ permission, take them to the planetarium or arrange a field trip for the neighborhood children.
Not every child wants to be an astronaut, of course. They may want to be a writer or a mailman or a teacher or a singer. We could do the same, whatever a child’s dream might be.
We can connect our children to those of us who do those jobs, let them see what our jobs are like and how we do them. The important thing is that we can model success and even struggle for our kids, giving them a real picture of what they can do to be who they want to be. We can help build opportunity structures. We can show them the path to possibility.
Being the example
As important, we can model compassion, honesty, respect, empathy, mutuality and taking care of one another in our community.
- Show them what active love is by teaching them how to do for people as a part of everyday life.
- We can connect them to our traditions of community uplift and service by helping them volunteer to help others, like our elders or the unhoused.
- Teach them our community philosophy of giving back and never forgetting where we came from by giving their talents to building up our neighborhoods.
- Give them the history of Black self-help organizations for justice, like the NAACP and Urban League and Black Greek organizations where Black excellence and service are how we do.
- We can show our children the strength in being good human beings who care for other human beings.
Empowered children are children who can drive the future anywhere.
- We can empower our children to love themselves and every bit of their Blackness.
- Show how Blackness is made of joy, strength, positivity and possibility by taking them to Black-owned bookstores, the library or virtual cultural events or museums.
- Help our kids overcome the negative narratives that are all around them by teaching them how to recognize and challenge racial stereotypes in news, social media and everyday life.
- Remind them of the real Black people in their lives they love and respect. That is who real Black people are. Encourage them to hold on to that truth.
- Embolden them to write their own stories centered on pride for who they are, whose they are, where they come from and where they know they can go.
- Give them constant reminders like books, toys, art projects and games about our history and culture, posters of our change agents, framed quotes from famous Black people and ordinary heroes, like them, too.
- Gas them up when they win and when they fall down, too.
How we do for people and the words we use are all part of an active love that uplifts, empowers, affirms and connects us as a community. A community that can move forward, no matter what, in joy, hope and resilience.
Join us, sis!
Long cultivated and newly created, the all-new Mahogany Writing Community is an online sister circle founded in 2021. In this virtual space we use our real voices to share joys, sorrows, lessons learned, and to lift each other up. We gather around our digital kitchen table to talk that talk and have our say. And we’re inviting you pull up a seat and share in our community of Black sisterhood.