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By Tracy Chiles McGhee

We asked nine Black women leaders to reflect on lessons learned from their mothers and the influence that shaped the stand-out women they are today.

The pearls of the mother’s wit and wisdom passed down embody the extraordinary spirit, grace, and love of women whose narratives are often sidelined or overshadowed. 

Whether it was mantras ingrained in them like, “Just put one foot in front of the other”, “Closed mouths don’t get fed”, and ”Walk like you have a purpose” or merely the day-to-day actions and attitudes of their mothers, these daughters were deeply touched.

Each woman has carved out a life uniquely her own, at times having to unlearn a mother’s lesson in order to stand unapologetically in her own truth and foster her own growth and healing. 

In hearing their stories, we are also called to celebrate not only the mothers who nurtured and loved us but those women who have held us in their embrace when it became necessary to rebirth and mother ourselves along our journey.

Let us find inspiration as these powerful voices speak proudly of the sparkling gems bestowed by their mothers.

Christine Swanson, Filmmaker, TV Director, and Screenwriter

Christine Swanson

Raised by her 65-year old great aunt after her mother passed away when she was 8 years old.

Faith, hard work and care for others are the three things that exemplify my own ethos, because of her example.~ Christine Swanson



Patricia Ford, Chairperson of SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) Women, Inc.

Patricia Ford and mother, DeElla Ford

Mother emphasized that she came from a long line of independent women, encouraging her to develop her own stride as a single mother.

My mother taught me to not run from a fight. She didn’t want me starting any fights but she didn’t want me running from any either. ~ Patricia Ford


Saaret Yoseph, Multidisciplinary Storyteller

Saaret Yoseph and mother, Emebeat Askale Bekele

An immigrant and single mother, she passed down a tradition of including her mother’s first name in their children’s middle names, highlighting the importance of matrilineal connection and identity.

My mother’s persistence, resourcefulness, and commitment to preserving our identity continue to shape my journey. ~ Saaret Yoseph




Julianne Malveaux, Independent Scholar & Writer, President Emerita of Bennett College for Women

Julianne Malveaux’s mother, Proteone Marie Alexandria Malveaux

A vocal advocate for women’s rights, fearlessly confronting injustices and empowering her daughter to do the same.

My mother, a prayerful woman, knew how to speak truth to power and this fuels my relentless advocacy. ~ Julianne Malveaux



Mariah McClain, Communications Consultant Manager and Unerased: BWS Content Curator

Mariah McClain and mother, Jocqulyn Harrison

Selflessness and dedication to others paid the ultimate price of giving and helped her to understand the balance between generosity and self-care.

I’m learning to value the efficiency and productivity that she instilled in me, but also learning how to slow down and smell the roses. ~ Mariah McClain




Pamela Ferrell, Co-founder of Cornrows & Co., Pioneer in Natural Hair Field

Pamela Ferrell’s mother, Vioris N. Ferrell

Taught the importance of creativity and craftsmanship, igniting her passion for sewing and design at a young age.

From teaching me not to cuss in public to igniting my passion for design, my mother’s influence resonates in every stitch of my journey.~ Pamela Ferrell



Barbara R. Arnwine, President and Founder of the Transformative Justice Coalition

Barbara Arnwine and mother, Vera Pearl Arnwine

Instilled the power of communication and assertiveness.

She taught me a lot about social engagement and what it means to have somebody support you, love you. ~ Barbara R. Arnwine




Janis F. Kearney, Author and Founder/President of the Celebrate Maya! Project (nonprofit)

Janis F. Kearney’s mother, Ethel Virginia Curry Kearney

Emphasized self-determination, encouraging her daughter to define her own path and stand firm in her beliefs.

She told me to decide who you want to be in life and hold on to that; don’t let anybody else decide for you who and what you should be. ~ Janis F. Kearney




Nicole Austin-Hillery, President & CEO at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF)

Nicole Austin-Hillery and mother, Mary Louise Austin

Never accepted “no” as an answer, instilling determination and empowerment that propelled her towards her dreams and ambitions.

My mother’s support and refusal to accept ‘no’ empowered me to chase my dreams and stand on my own two feet. ~ Nicole Austin-Hillery

Responses were edited for brevity and clarity. 



Video interviews in their entirety launch on May 23, 2024 at 7pm, streamed on the Unerased: Black Women Speak YouTube channel.

Tracy Chiles McGhee is the author of the acclaimed novel Melting the Blues and Constituency Engagement Advisor for Unerased | Black Women Speak.