Big Mama: A Tribute To Black Grandparents, The Glue Holding Our Families And Community Together

Grandparents and their young grandchildren relaxing at home

Big Mama: A Tribute To Black Grandparents, The Glue Holding Our Families And Community Together

“She always had hard candies.”

Published September 8, 2019

Written by Ashley Simpo

My grandmother was pretty consistent about the contents of her pocketbook. There was always an eel-skin coin purse, a small leather address book, a bank envelope full of cash and an assortment of hard candies. She drove a Ford Probe and worked the graveyard shift at Highland Hospital in Oakland. 

She stood a whole 5-feet tall, but never backed down from anything. From the ages of zero to twenty-five, my Gram was more than just my mother’s mother. She was a staple in our family structure and by all definitions, my other parent. 

Today (September 8) is Grandparents Day, a throw-away holiday that typically goes unacknowledged, but this generation is deserving of our attention and praise.

Among the 11 wealthiest countries in the world, the US ranks fairly low when it comes to elder health and wellbeing. 

For example, most elderly citizens, despite being on Medicaid skip necessary check-ups and medically required tests due to the high cost of medical care. 

Our society has a tough relationship with the concept of aging, valuing youthfulness and agelessness creates a bias against the generations which have aged past the point of general concern. But where would we even be without the parents who raised our parents?

It is near impossible to chronicle the anthology of the modern Black family without mentioning grandparents. 

They have been a major part of many of our lives for various reasons. Be it an absent parent, a working parent or a tired parent - most families wouldn’t even function without the support of a grandma or grandpa willing to take on childcare duties. 

This Grandparents Day, it seems fitting that instead of letting the day pass us by, we take a moment and pay tribute to the matriarch and patriarchs of the Black family. 

"Growing up, my grandparents were everything to me, and still are. My grandmother taught me how to read, and we continue to share a love of books." - Ymani, 26

For over 2 million people across the country, grandparents do more than just supply butterscotch candy and crisp five-dollar bills. 

They are also primary caretakers. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 61% of American families have two working parents. 23% of the children in the US live with a single parent, according to the Census Bureau's 2016 report

"Being that my mother was a teenage mother, both sets [of grandparents] heavily assisted with no qualms about it. I was completely saturated in love and being that they were all friends and attended the same church, it made the village run with consistency." - Toia, 20

This generation of families looks a lot different than it did 50 years ago, and only promises to continue to evolve. Grandparents have had a huge impact on the care of multiple generations of adults.

"My paternal grandparents took me and my sister when my parents weren't able to do so. My grandmother was a proud Geechie from SC and instilled in us the importance of working with your hands, prayer, and education." - Zakiyyah, 35

Grandparents are also our living connection to our familial histories. I'm still so thankful that I was assigned to interview the oldest living woman in my family when I was in college. 

My grandmother filled in the blanks about how our family migrated from the plantations of Virginia to the Naval Airstation in Alameda and who she was before she was "Gram.”

A pen and pad or recording device could be the difference between erasing your family heritage and preserving our community’s oral history to pass on. They don't even have to be your biological grandparents. 

Stop and talk to the stoop-dwellers of your neighborhood, ask them questions about what's changed in the world. You won't likely find these narratives on your social media timelines. 

It's these analog conversations with elders that have created a richness in our communities for generations long before technology simplified how we engage with each other. 

So, call your grandparents if they're still with us, or give some time to the elders who helped to raise you, aunts, uncles, teachers, the older neighbor who checks in on you. Remember they were once us, and we'll one day be them and let’s celebrate the love they give unconditionally and the pride and Black excellence they inspire in us all.

Photo: monkeybusinessimages


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