10 Things Our Mothers Taught Us About Survival

Our mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers, and aunties ain't raise no fools.



Two very simple words that my mother probably learned from her mother that have shaped my world. They've taught me not to touch things that might burn me, they've protected me from wandering places that didn't serve me, and they've helped me to draw boundaries with people who could hurt me.

These are only a few of the wise words my mother has imparted in me as I've evolved from her baby girl to a grown-ass woman—crumbs of advice that I now know were survival tactics. And as we endure the side effects of a global pandemic, GirlTrek's #DaughtersOf campaign wants us to know that it's these gentle (and sometimes stern) words that will allow us to survive, thrive, and rise like a phoenix above the ashes when this ends.

Courtesy of Taylor Honore

Executive produced by Shantrelle Lewis, #DaughtersOf wants Black women who are descendants of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to reconnect with both our matriarchal heritage and the self-care tips and tactics that they used to endure hard times, which our mothers and grandmothers later passed down to us. Shantrelle told xoNecole, "Although my grandmother wasn't a well-off woman, she was a hard-working woman and she always made sure to impress upon me the importance of having something for yourself. This advice clearly was also instilled in my mama."

She continued, "She always made sure we had what we needed to take care of ourselves, whether it was something we wanted or just in case of emergencies. To this day, when I'm home in New Orleans, when I'm leaving out the house my mama asks me whether or not I need any money. I laugh just thinking about it because I'm grown! But that's her way of taking care of me and making sure I'm always good no matter what."

To celebrate Mother's Day, #DaughtersOf will host a live sacred, special conversation with Angela Davis and Nikki Giovanni Friday, May 8th at 7 p.m. EST on Facebook Live, but until then, we sat down with 10 women featured in the campaign to discuss the most powerful life lessons they learned from their mother-figures about survival and, let me tell you sis, our mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and aunties ain't raise no fools.

Here's what we learned:

“God bless a child that's got her own."

Rog Walker

Wise words from: Grandma

How has this advice impacted the way you move through the world?

"In general, I always had this notion that my joy and success was interrelated with making sure that I was always able to take care of myself. It also allowed me to take risks in my career because ultimately I knew that if I fell, my parents would be there to catch me. More specifically, I think I put off getting married and having children until after I was able to pursue my dreams and to create a little something of my own for myself. I started buying property right out of college and even though I've worked for non-profits for most of my career, I've always had extra streams of income cause 'God bless that child who's got her own!'" - Shantrelle Lewis, Director and Executive Producer of Daughters Of Campaign

"Protect your energy."

Rog Walker

Wise words from: Mom

How has this advice impacted the way you move through the world?

"My mother taught and still teaches me about discernment––to be mindful of the folks I keep close and to protect my energy. I have learned a lot over the years after being hurt or feeling exposed by people I thought were my friends. I learned to tighten my circle of friends. And that has meant that as I grow and expand particularly with my work, that my circle gets smaller and tighter. I'm certain that this has saved me lots of headache and hardship. [These words have] allowed me to let go of energy that doesn't feel good and center my self-care." - Latham Thomas, Maternal Health Expert

"It takes a village."

Rog Walker

Wise words from: Aunt Peggy

How has this advice impacted the way you move through the world?

"I was raised by my aunt, Peggy. What I learned from her is that we can stand in the gap for our sisters, aunts, cousins. Even if you don't have a primary caregiver, there's a village of people in our community to rally for us. My aunt Peggy made space for me in her home. She cared for me when her sister couldn't. That's the lesson I hold dear with me. That's the fundamental principle of GirlTrek. We are a village, tribe, we are our sisters' keepers. We are stronger together. We require each other. She rallied for me and I rally for other Black women. Survival is a group sport." - Vanessa Garrison, GirlTrek Co-Founder & Chief Operating Officer

"Go hard in the paint for love. Never justify what satisfies your soul."

Rog Walker

Wise words from: Mom

How has this advice impacted the way you move through the world?

"Meditation happens in the small moments––washing rice, braiding hair, sweeping floors. Every moment that we are at peace is a blessing and a reason to rejoice. My home was filled with abundant love, daily forgiveness and a righteous, wait-at-the-bus-stop-type hustle. I'm grateful for the soft-spoken giants who raised me. My mom is 79 years old and stunning. So beautiful. A few years ago she got remarried. It was a bold move and it taught me something that I will take to the grave: Go hard in the paint for love. Never justify what satisfies your soul." - T. Morgan Dixon, GirlTrek Co-founder and CEO

"I'm grateful for the soft-spoken giants who raised me. My mom is 79 years old and stunning. So beautiful. A few years ago she got remarried. It was a bold move and it taught me something that I will take to the grave: Go hard in the paint for love. Never justify what satisfies your soul."

"Life is not easy but the struggles we endure make us wiser and stronger.”

Rog Walker

Wise words from: Mom

How has this advice impacted the way you move through the world?

"When I was younger, my backdrop for her words were my experiences at school for being one of the only black girls in my classes––Of being teased, isolated, often misunderstood, and labeled as something that I was not. My mom fought many of my battles, she advocated on my behalf with grace and persistence against systems and people who made it clear through their actions of othering that I did not belong, or at least, so they thought. Those were her words to help me through.

"Now that I am older, the words land differently. I didn't really have it hard growing up; not in the way that she did––hunger during childhood, immigration challenges, and working her way through school while raising me on her own. She provided protection from the realities that she knew and taught me the valuable lesson of what justice, advocacy, and valuing the humanity of others through her protection looks and feels like. It is through these love lessons that I have gained strength and wisdom and not through struggle." - Aletha Maybank, MD, MPHChief, Health Equity Officer at the American Medical Association

"There ain't no use in standing around complaining 'cause ain't nobody coming to save you."

Rog Walker

Wise Words From: Grandma and Mama

How has this advice impacted the way you move through the world?

"These words were often hard to hear, yet they made me a problem-solver, resilient, and self-reliant. I pride myself on being a strategic thinker. Anytime I'm in a difficult situation, before asking for help, I seek out solutions. I hate appearing helpless and needy. While this advice has mostly worked in my favor, it has also led me to feel ashamed when I have needed help. I'm slowly leaning into the truth that 'everybody needs somebody sometimes.'" - Rev. Dr. Theresa S. Thames, Associate Dean of Religious Life and the Chapel at Princeton University

"Make sure you marry a man with money."

Rog Walker

Wise words from: Mom

How has this advice impacted the way you move through the world?

"The world is full of contradictions––my mother is no exception. Whether good or bad, that moment has stuck with me because I could tell that it was important to her that I really hear and absorb what she was saying. What I actually internalized was that I should never depend on a man for financial security. To this day, I still struggle to depend on others. What it took to survive in my mother's generation is different than what it has taken to survive in my own. I cringe at the survival tactics I've had to pass on to my own daughter and I look forward to the day that she can put them down. I dream of the day that Black women get to get on with living––instead of just surviving." - Maryam Pugh, Entrepreneur & Owner of Philadelphia Printworks

"What it took to survive in my mother's generation is different then what it has taken to survive in my own. I cringe at the survival tactics I've had to pass on to my own daughter and I look forward to the day that she can put them down. I dream of the day that Black women get to get on with living––instead of just surviving."

"My mother taught me the power in loving abundantly and giving without expecting anything in return."

Rog Walker

Wise words from: Mom

How has this advice impacted the way you move through the world?

"My mother has always been my living example. I was taught the power of radical love from my mother. My mom never sat me down and said this is what you need to do, but I watched and learned from her actions. This is how I live my life––understanding that expelling love in various non-transactional ways aligns my spirit with the universe. The reward is the serendipitous nature of my life. Sometimes, I just think about what I want or need and in some miraculous way there it is." - Adama Delphine Fawundu, Visual Artist

"Honey, just keep on living."

Rog Walker

Wise words from: Mom

How has this advice impacted the way you move through the world?

"Every time I've expressed shock or disappointment about something, I can hear my mother saying, 'Honey, just keep on living.' I think what she means by that is, none of what I'm going through is new. She has been here longer and seen more and is still surviving, so all I need to do is just live through it like she did instead of being shook or stuck by whatever it is. It can come off as dismissive, but it's helped me remain calm and brave, and rooted in the fact that my ancestors have overcome much more." - Erica Sewell, Creative Talent Leader

 "Goals are accomplished in the sowing, not the reaping. What, where, and how you plant will dictate what your harvest yields, so lovingly deposit daily."

Rog Walker

Wise words from: Mom

How has this advice impacted the way you move through the world?

"This advice has shaped the way I show up in this world. It's what I use to align my purpose with my actions. It's the reason why I've chosen to live a life in service to others. It's helped me to help millions of women live richer lives. This advice showed me that I could do good work, help good people, and still make good money––that these three are not competing theories but can complement each other to maximize my reach and expand my service." - Tiffany Aliche, Founder, The Budgetnista

Check out the full trailer for GirlTrek's Daughters Of below, or click here.

Featured image by Rog Walker.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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