During a recent interview, the host of the radio show I was a guest on asked me about the women who’d inspired me. She prefaced her question by talking about the giants upon whose shoulders we stood, listing a couple familiar names of the Civil Rights Movement and beyond. I immediately thought about a story Marian Wright Edelman used to tell when I worked at Children’s Defense Fund. It was about an elder Black woman from the Mississippi Delta who, after being lauded for being a giant with shoulders upon which other girls and women stood, “Get off my shoulders! I’m tired.”
I understand it from both sides, honestly. We live in a society, as our elders and foremothers did, where people need heroes. We want to be able to look over at someone and say, “If she did it, so can I.” Likewise, there’s a fine line between inspiration and idolatry; high regard and hero worship. This Black Women’s History Month, what does it mean to honor, see and believe in the women in our lives because they’re human, not super(human)?
And what if we gave ourselves that same leeway–to just be human, to grow when the time was right? As winter yawns, stretches her limbs and wakes from her slumber, we expect to see spring blooms and have scents of floral tickle our noses before pollen jerks out a sneeze. But spring blooms when she wants to. Seasons change when it’s time. Our call is to, as I tell staff and students all the time, “have a plan and be flexible.”
Back to the interviewer. I told her I was privileged. My heroines were my grandmother, mom and aunts. I didn’t have to look very far; I know not everyone can do that. One of the most beautiful things about these heroines, though, is they’re not giants. They’re humans. I’ve had the honor of seeing their strength, frailty, vulnerability and charm wrapped in unique packages with distinct personalities and long lasting impact. I’d have never been able to see all of that standing on their shoulders.
Give me the eye-level view every time please.