We invite you to hear from our amazing SoCal Chapter Leader, Valencia Foster. Her perspective as a woman of color and mother of an LGBTQ+ child is priceless to us at Free Mom Hugs. We hope you will receive a deeper understanding that can only come from a personal story full of truth and heart. – Katrina
As Black Americans, we have a running joke about being given the shortest month on the calendar to celebrate our achievements. However, the designation of February was not given to us but chosen by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a Black author, historian, graduate of the University of Chicago and Harvard University Doctor of Philosophy. The Genesis of Black History Month was born out of his desire to highlight the achievements and contributions of “Negros”. Dr. Carter G Woodson had the second week in February established as Negro History Week in 1926, the birth week of President Abraham Lincoln and the escaped slave, abolitionist/activist, Fredrick Douglas. The idea was first conceived in 1915 to educate Black people and others on our accomplishments and contributions to America.
According to the Library of Congress, “In 1976 the commemoration of black history in the United States was expanded to Black History Month, also known as African American History Month. President Gerald R. Ford issued the first Message on the Observance of Black History Month that year.” Subsequently, most succeeding presidents made proclamations for the celebration and education of Black History Month.
Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I witnessed the pride born out of the struggle of the civil rights movement. My childhood was full of expectation, promise and positivity despite the assassinations of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medger Evers. I saw the celebration of Black culture and the embrace of our identity in all its forms. “Black is Beautiful” was not just a slogan but an affirmation of all that was great, noteworthy and beautiful about Black people and our culture. Black Power rang out with conviction. We were learning to love who we were in our own skins. We loved our skin, our hair, our bodies, our talent, our brilliance and each other. I marveled at the big bouncy “naturals” we later called “afros”, symbolic of self-acceptance and sometimes rebellion. James Brown’s song “I’m Black and I’m Proud” became an anthem that still brings me joy when I hear it today. Black History Month taught us about achievements and contributions in all areas of life. We learned about our heroes. We learned that we have an incredible legacy. I was glad that schools all over America were teaching all children about us and our rich history.
I have not taken lightly the honor, privilege and responsibility of raising two young Black men in America. My sons are twenty and twenty-two years old. I hope my husband, Rodney, our family and I have promoted self-love and pride in their blackness to our sons. I loved volunteering at our multicultural elementary school seeing all the kids, the innocents, loving what they were learning about our culture. Hearing our stories, eating our food, respecting our struggle. However, we are not naïve to the fact that there are haters who do not want us to succeed. How do we protect our children from the haters? I believe it starts with building their self-esteem and affirming them and helping them self-advocate.
They need to see people who look like them thrive. They need allies!
It is the same for our LGBTQIA+ children. We have to figure out ways to promote self-love and self-advocacy. This was never more apparent when our son “came out.” Or family struggled with institutional forms of oppression aimed at the LGBTQIA+ community. Now, the oppression and bigotry came from our own community. Too often being gay is treated as a sin or illness in the black community. We wanted our gay son to feel the same sense of pride and dignity about being a gay/black man. We also endeavored to change the minds of those in our community who continued to harbor anti-gay sentiments. Now is the time for us to demand the rights of all. This moment is a precious time for an army of allies and advocates to demand equal rights for all human beings. I want both of my sons, gay and straight, to have the same rights and opportunities.
The Black experience and fight for civil rights is the model and the example for the fight for all human rights.
As a mother of a gay Black man, I see the parallels of the Black community’s and the LGBTQIA community’s fight for equal rights, understanding, recognition, opportunity and access. As a Mama Bear, it is the same fight. We fight for their lives.
We love for their lives. We love them without conditions. We affirm them. We hug them!
I had no idea that when I donated to Sara and Laura Beth’s first Free Mom Hugs Tour in 2017, that I would be on the front lines 2 years later hugging and affirming LGBTQIA+ folks of all colors, shapes and ages. But I made that step to do something for the community that I was good at…hugging. I just wanted to do something. Hugging was an easy first step. I found myself organizing huggers for LA Pride 2019. In a short period of time, I became the Chapter Leader for Southern California. I was now an active ally. Allyship binds us for a greater purpose as human beings. We all need love and affirmation like we need air and water. WE ALL MUST HAVE THE SAME RIGHTS. Period! The voices and cries of the marginalized, brutalized and disenfranchised must be heard.
In SoCal, we use the hashtag #Pride365 because we know we must lift up the LGBTQIA+ community every day. And we must acknowledge “Black is Beautiful”, every day. Dedicating one month to learn about and celebrate a people is not enough. But we will take it even if it is the shortest month. In the meantime, #BlackisBeautifulEveryDay!
To find out more about Free Mom Hugs, or to join a Chapter in your state, just go to our website: Freemomhugs.org.