I will tell you a story about a woman; a very special woman. It is important that I tell you because her story must be told. For she is the foundation; one of the feminine roots of my family tree. Her story, like others, is a mirror of past, present, and future seedlings of Black American soils. Soils, toiled and labored, by visionary foremothers (and forefathers) of a peculiar people.
I will tell you about a woman of Beauty and Grace. A woman, who understood the true definition of communal upbringing. Her Spirit of generosity and care. It is one that waters the pillars of Black America’s foundation: family, community, faith, responsibility, and the determination to succeed-even in the most difficult and oppressive of times. For she was a woman of faith; believing that better days would come for her children, grandchildren, and future seeds birthed from her womb. Who, on her last words, whispered life’s continuation, in her sons and daughters. And, that through her children, their children, and their children’s children, her legacy and Spirit would not only continue to live on; but to thrive and shine in those seeds, working to preserve her legacy. That somehow, her Spirit would blow her way back to the fruits of her seeds. That her teachings would be the water, forever nourishing the tree-with her smile radiating the sunshine of life!
Let me tell you of my matrilineal, Great-Grandmother, Essie Mae Metcalf-Howell. Her smile, her love, and her devotion to love. . .itself. For it is she, who gave me my voice-musical and oratorical. The anniversary of my Grandparents James and Katie Howell (through one of the elder women present) confirmed this. It was mentioned again, with Grandpa during a winter break home. And then, having Grandpa’s Baby Sister, Jeanne L. Johnson, re-iterate the photo being of my Great-Grandmother, Essie Mae Metcalf-Howell, summed up the claiming of her name.
Sitting around family conversations, meetings, and gatherings, I heard the stories of her goodness. Of her care for humanity. Her very name and presence silkened out of the mouths of Grandpa, Mom, and Aunt Jeanne. Those stories of her willing to share with community. Narratives of her feeding those, who were less fortunate. People she did not know. Nevertheless. . . people. Those precious Souls, who were spared from hunger’s wrath, during the Great Depression because she blessed others with her abundant blessings. Even greater significance was the instilling of those values to her children.
As a little girl, her smile never passed my eye. Those summers of going to Michigan, with my brother and sister-numerous trips of journeying to Lake Michigan. Walking on the beach, swinging on the swings, and allowing our feet to be lavished with fluid memories of the lake’s embrace. In the house of Muskegon Heights, Michigan, near Consumer Powers, where Grandpa worked, her picture was one of many, which hung in the family living room. I remember every part of the house, perfectly. And, I remember-her.
Years later, and I hear sonnets of her breath to my existence. In prior times, it had been revealed that Great Grandma-Essie Mae Metcalf-Howell had a beautiful, singing voice. One of the numerous, female guardians of music in Black American cultural gardens.
I can only imagine the texture of her Voice; as I was not there to hear it. It must have been inviting, enriching, warm, and versatile in timber and color. So aesthetically pleasing to the ear, that a White American woman took note of this Negro American woman, with such a talent. Most likely a music teacher, who offered to give her private lessons. During that time. In that era of America’s her/history.
I can only envision the texture of her voice when she spoke. Her voice having the power to bring comfort to the disheartened. It’s majestic prowess to silence fears, hostilities, and chaos. A voice so soothing, jeweled, and Universal in richness, that it personified the glory of a Godly woman. A talented woman, and other Black American foremothers as she; who would allow their talents and dreams to manifest in their children, their children’s children, and the children of their grandchildren.
Through this story of my ancestor, Essie Mae Metcalf-Howell, I came to learn the power of a woman’s matrilineal line. That I had come from generations of audacious, talented, creative, glorious, and resilient women. From my own Mother, my Grandmother Katie Howell, my Grandmother Clark (patrilineal line), and countless women before them, I had truly been blessed with a powerful gene pool. A powerful herstory. And one, that has protected me in my travels and journey in Egypt. Afterall, I do come from a lineage of traveling women. Other Black American Maidens have such energy, I am sure.
Yet, I have told you a story about a woman. A virtuous woman, indeed. That woman is my great grandmother. And, she is reflected in me. During lunch with an Armenians of Cairo, I showed them a picture of she. And after seeing her delicate image, they sighed, in unison to agree; that the dark-chocolate woman in the photo, was indeed, a mother image of thee.
I am one of the seeds of Essie Mae Metcalf-Howell. She gave me her timber, her words, her rhythm, her depth. I became a singer. I became an orator. I became a poet. . .a writer. . .a creative artist. I entered into the world of Spoken Word (another Black American art form). Our talents do not just come from anywhere. Somewhere in our her/historical mapping, somewhere in our lineage, are those who planted the seeds. For me, it was my great-grandmother, whose dreams would live in her children, and their children’s seeds. And in the continuation of her legacy, her timber, her sound, I will move to carry her words, using them for healing and blessings of my own family, and for the world. To prolong, and enrich, the lives of family members, and future children to come.
And, so, Essie Mae Metcalf-Howell, I dedicate my writings to you. My songs and vocal abilities to you. For, it is you, who gave me my sound. It is you, who gave me. . .my voice.