FACTS: I’m black. I’m married to a black man. We’re raising black daughters. We’re both Christians. We’re both active in our church. We live in white surburbia.
These truths drew me to Jasmine Holmes’ book, Mother to Son. For a while, I have been thinking about the above-mentioned facts and what they mean for me. And how they impact my parenting. I was curious to hear what another black, Christian mom had to say.
From the very beginning, Jasmine’s letters resonated deeply within my core. Sure, some of the things she talked about will hold more weight with mothers of black sons than they do with me as a mom of black girls. For example, how at an early age, her son will be seen as bigger, older, more of a threat because he is a black boy. At 6 months, (almost) 7 and 8.5, my girls are still seen as adorable, cute, beautiful. There may come a time when they are seen as overly sexual or angry when they are just being themselves. I can’t say that I’ve ever had a white person use either description for me. But then again, TD1 is also a lot thicker than I ever was at her age. She’s also closer to her dad’s chocolate complexion. Her experience will be different than mines. And she very well may be seen as a threat in her white suburban neighborhood that she has lived in her entire life. So when Jasmine tells her son, “You are defined by the God of the universe who purposefully gave you that beautiful brown skin for his glory. No matter how the world might perceive you, hold your head high knowing that you are matchlessly loved by your Father in heaven,” yeah, that passage is for my daughters too.
Jasmine’s letters to her son come from her own experiences as a black Christian, and as a woman. She’s honest about the lessons she’s learned, the hurts she’s endured, and the times she’s gotten it wrong. But in each letter, she directs her son back to God, pointing him to the scriptures he should turn to for every point she makes. In this, she is giving her son the freedom to scripture-check her and not relying on the old “Because I said so” that is often too easy to do as parents. In her last interlude, Jasmine writes, “we certainly hope it leads you to prize the Word of God above all else and to use it as your standard for what to believe instead of taking the easy way out and following in our footsteps. Or Pappy’s.” I, too, want the same thing for my girls.
Jasmine started her book talking about race and the truths that we have to teach our kids about being black in America. And every sentence was heart-wrenching. Unfortunately, for a lot of black parents out there, we share the same fears. She shared truths about the fact that God made us black and the hope that lies in that truth. Her letters continued on to address faith, politics, social justice, and relationships. In each area, she shared how being black adds another level of complexity to that. In every action and inaction, people are watching you as a black person first, even Christians. It’s a truth and weight I’ve felt before. T-Daddy has felt before. And it’s one that we don’t know how to prepare our daughters for. In Jasmine’s letters to her sons, I find solidarity and hope. Solidarity that we are not alone. Hope that God has the answers.
I don’t know how old Jasmine’s son will be when he finally reads these letters. My guess is that she wrote these with an older, maybe adult son in mind. As she got to some of the trickier subjects of politics, social justice, and even theological differences, I found myself reading some of the paragraphs several times to really grasp what she was saying. Part of this was due to my own unfamiliarity with some of the issues she talked about, and some of it was due to the language she used. Jasmine is very open that these letters are simply the musings of a pregnant mom to her firstborn son. She doesn’t pretend to have the answers. She just wants to instill grace and hope in her son that he’s the child of a Father who does. Still, I imagine one day passing this book on to my daughters to help them navigate the road where their faith and race intersect. And much like Jasmine’s son, they will need to be older to fully understand and appreciate the words on these pages.
Perhaps, my most favorite thing about Jasmine’s book is the title. It’s not lost on me that as she wrote this book, she was pregnant with her second son, Langston, named after the great author and poet, Langston Hughes. There’s even an ode to him in the book. The title, Mother to Son, is also the title of my favorite poem by Langston. As a kid, I memorized and recited this poem so many times. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s worth a read:
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
Jasmine’s letters to her son contain the thoughts, worries, fears, and hopes of most black moms I know, even the non-Christians ones. They may not drive their sons and daughters back to God’s Word, but they, along with me as a Christian mom, want our children to know “You are black. And it is good.” We want them to be advocates for themselves and not to feel limited by the color of their skin when it comes to their faith, politics, or life. Additionally, as black Christians, we want to reconcile our faith with our race. It’s not always easy when those that look like you don’t believe what you do, and those that believe what you do don’t look like you. Jasmine’s book gives us hope that in the center where these two cross, stands Jesus. Jasmine’s book is for us.
Mother to Son is available now on Amazon.