What Keeps Me Standing: The Wisdom of Black Grandmothers

In the midst of both a pandemic and an anti-racist social justice movement in our country,

I find myself, as a white person, a mother, grandmother, and now a caregiver, searching for the wisdom of black grandmothers.

I believe black women may be the most resilient people in the world

and that their strength gives hope to the whole human race.

Collected wisdom from 1,000 black grandmothers

Collected wisdom from 1,000 black grandmothers

What Keeps Me Standing seems to me to be an ideal title as so many of us, for many different reasons, face hardship.

The book consists of letters to future generations based on 1,000 contributions from black grandmothers.

Here, for example, are the words of Catherine J. Brent, talking about her faith:

The task ahead of you is never as great as the power behind you. God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called. Our Father will not forsake you. No one is too lost to be found, too low to be lifted. You’ve got to remember who you are and who you belong to. Your love must know no barrier, and you must embrace the type of courage that cannot be shaken, a faith strong enough for the darkness, a strength sufficient for any task, and grace to meet life’s challenges. By this guiding light I have lived and now pass the light on to you.

Two other sources of inspiration are sustaining me right now.

The first is a podcast, from a favorite source: OnBeing.

Poet Marilyn Nelson, Wikipedia photo.

Poet Marilyn Nelson, Wikipedia photo.

African-American poet Marilyn Nelson, told OnBeing interviewer Krista Tippett about a really difficult period of her life

when she had a young baby, a teaching job, an unhappy marriage, a mother with Alzheimers,

and the stress of a tenure review in a white male dominated English department.

“I kept thinking of my great-great-grandmothers.”

I kept thinking if they could live through what they lived through, I can live through a tenure decision! 

A third source called Real Black Grandmothers, is the product of a wonderful scholar, Dr. LaShawnda Pittman.

What a treasure trove of stories, research, blog posts, and resources.

I encourage every grandmother to explore it.

Black resilience and white fragility may well be linked to each other.

To become less fragile white grandmothers can learn from and honor the resilience and faith

that brought black grandmother’s through the hardest of times, past and present.

As I dig deep for resilience, I am grateful for the stories of my black women friends

as well as the documentary works of art that contain them.

What keeps you standing?

Shirley Showalter

13 Comments

  1. Laurie Buchanan on August 5, 2020 at 12:35 pm

    Shirley — The words you shared of Catherine J. Brent, are timely and lifted me. Thank you.

    “The task ahead of you is never as great as the power behind you. God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called. Our Father will not forsake you. No one is too lost to be found, too low to be lifted. You’ve got to remember who you are and who you belong to. Your love must know no barrier, and you must embrace the type of courage that cannot be shaken, a faith strong enough for the darkness, a strength sufficient for any task, and grace to meet life’s challenges. By this guiding light I have lived and now pass the light on to you.”

    • Shirley Showalter on August 5, 2020 at 1:28 pm

      Laurie, so glad these wonderful words spoke to you also. Blessings.

  2. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on August 5, 2020 at 1:48 pm

    Shirley, you and I have been on the same page with our blog posts this time. I love the quote about the task ahead never being as great as the power behind. That thought is so encouraging when faced with the seemingly insurmountable!

    • Shirley Showalter on August 6, 2020 at 4:00 pm

      Thank you, Elfrieda. I really enjoyed your post also.

  3. Marian Beaman on August 5, 2020 at 3:47 pm

    Shirley, I know you are writing a book about grandparent-ing and this could be part of your research. It is so timely.
    I look for wisdom wherever I can find it and have always admired the strength of grandmothers, no matter what the race, who step in and parent their children’s children for whatever reason.

    I latched on to the description of yourself as caregiver. While I was increasingly immersed in memoir, my sisters and I became caregivers to mother, aunt, and finally brother. I can’t begin to tell you all the doctor’s and dentist’s offices I visited, attorney appointments. and all the minutiae of illness and end of life detail. Celebrations too! A lot of it became blog posts intended as an encouragement to others. I do agree with you that black women are the most resilient in the world, notable in our culture. As you so wisely quoted, “The task ahead of you is never as great as the power behind you.”
    Take comfort in that truth.

    • Shirley Showalter on August 5, 2020 at 7:51 pm

      You have traveled the road of caregiver with grace and dignity, Marian. You know the truth of the words in this post.

      And yes, this subject is one I hope we can address in our book. I find the book about black grandmothers’ letters to their children and grandchildren the kind of book to read before I go to sleep. It inspires me and gives me strength.

  4. June on August 5, 2020 at 6:09 pm

    ‘Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffed.’ Psalms 1:1
    I read a book by Watchman Nee. He reminded me, in the beginning of his book that, ‘Christianity does not begin with walking, it begins with sitting.’
    And that we must first learn to sit before we can stand. I often think about the chapters in this book.

  5. Shirley Showalter on August 5, 2020 at 7:58 pm

    Very interesting comment, June. I never thought of how the postures of this verse relate to the actions. And to the title of the book What Keeps Me Standing. I take the title to mean what allows me to go on even in the midst of great pain.

  6. Melodie M Davis on August 6, 2020 at 7:48 am

    This spurs me again to try and reconnect with my freshman roommate at EMC, 1971. We were assigned to each other as unknowns: she was (and still is, I think) from New Jersey and had NEVER even set foot on EMC campus, didn’t know a soul, and she was beautifully black. I think she read about EMC in Campus Crusade magazine or similiar. She played piano marvelously (by ear, I think) and we were friends that year, but when we both graduated, didn’t keep in touch after a Christmas card or two. My fault. She became a teacher and I think she is in social work now. One of my goals is to reconnect (Paula Brown, do you hear me?) and get together if possible when the pandemic subsides. I think she is a mother, and may be a grandmother as well.

    • Shirley Showalter on August 6, 2020 at 1:08 pm

      So glad this post prompted you to renew a friendship, Melodie. The two of you would have many bits of wisdom to share with each other after so many years. I hope Paula has had a good life and that you do indeed find each other. Each friendship is a gift.

  7. Judy Sargent on August 6, 2020 at 2:07 pm

    “…and now a caregiver…” – what did I miss?

    • Shirley Showalter on August 6, 2020 at 4:01 pm

      Our daughter and her family are living with us. She is not well.

      • Sargent J E on August 6, 2020 at 4:04 pm

        I am very sorry to hear that. She is blessed to have your home as a sanctuary. Praying for courage, strength, wisdom, peace, and grace for all! ❤️🙏🏻

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