Rise Up Singing | Part II

PENNY POWELL: What were some of their reactions to learning that a book of this sort would be born?

CECELIE BERRY: Most people thought it was a great idea. Many recognized, though, that it is extremely difficult for writers to meet their deadlines, even more so when they have children and busy careers. So I was advised to be patient.

PENNY POWELL: While each and every voice in this anthology is interesting, special and varied, is there any one story in particular that touched you in a unique or especially profound way after reading it?

CECELIE BERRY: I have read this book several times in the process of editing it and each time there is a new revelation. Different essays strike you at different times, depending on what you are going through. So if I tried to highlight a particular essay, I’d keep you all day, talking about how each one brought me to a higher understanding at a different time and in a different way.

PENNY POWELL: Did the writers have specific guidelines to follow when crafting their stories or was it a system of simply writing from the heart?

CECELIE BERRY: Initially, I followed the “writing from the heart” system, believing that a mother who writes is under such time constraints that she should speak to the issue that moves her most. Also, every mother’s story is unique, so I wasn’t worried that there would be too much overlap. But once I had 10 or 12 contributors, I began to discuss with writers more what issues they wanted to address, just to make sure that not too many people wrote about their mother, for instance. While some explorations as daughters would be appropriate, I wanted the focus of the book to be on the experience of mothering.

PENNY POWELL: Briefly tell potential readers about the meaning of each section that makes up Rise Up Singing.

CECELIE BERRY: Section I, Aria of the Matriarch, explores the spirit of female leadership in the family. In opera, the aria is sung by a female soloist, and the contributors to the section either emulate or pay tribute to the mothers and grandmothers whose courage and spirit has sustained the family in times of hardship.

Section II, Dream Song: A Mother’s Interior World, explores a mother’s inner life, her dreams and hopes for the future, her children’s and her own. It is also a tribute to the creativity of motherhood.

Section III, Torch Song for Mother and Child, plumbs the “dark side” of our experiences as mothers, the rage, disappointment and heartache.

Section IV, The Round, Rowing Gently Down the Stream, concerns how we are always changing as mothers, growing and adjusting as our children are doing the same. It is about how we take the journey together, challenging each other to reach further into the world and more deeply into our spiritual selves.

PENNY POWELL: What have some of the reactions been thus far to your book from those around you — particularly that of your sons? And your mother?

CECELIE BERRY: Generally, people’s reactions have been extremely favorable. I am grateful that people understand here that I did not attempt to pander to the lowest common denominator. The book is accessible, inspiring and informative, and, most importantly, the quality of the writing is impressive.

My sons are thrilled. They are taking copies to their principals and teachers and telling all their friends. They are the best publicity people I know.

My mother is also proud of the book, but she is from a generation where you simply did not talk about family problems publicly. At all! Ever! I think this is particularly strong in black families who felt, understandably, that the world already judged us too harshly, so why contribute to the hostility by airing dirty laundry? So this tendency to openness that I have makes her uncomfortable at


PENNY POWELL: What, in your opinion, is most common — and most different — between the 29 mothering stories told in Rise Up Singing?

CECELIE BERRY: I think that what the writers have in common is a sense of hope that the journey of motherhood will lead them to higher ground and a better future for them and their children. But what varies is the context. I think writers like Faith Ringgold, June Jordan and Maya Angelou, who became mothers in the Fifties and Sixties, see themselves more in a political and historical context. Their experience and understanding of motherhood is shaped by social movements, feminism, civil rights and integration. Baby-boom and Generation-X writers like Dawn Turner Trice, the Chicago Tribune columnist, and Bethany Allen of Africana.com, meditate more on their personal experience, with the social climate informing their experience, but not shaping it nearly as much. A generational difference and, in some ways, a sign that African-Americans are freer now to make personal choices.

PENNY POWELL: Which story in your book made you smile the most? Which one made you cry or feel a degree of sadness?

CECELIE BERRY: One story that stands out in the “smile” category is Evelyn Coleman’s essay “When Wild Southern Women Raise Daughters.” She talks about going out to do the “bump” at night in discos and leaving her daughters with relatives. That made me laugh because I remember doing the bump myself!

There are many touching stories in the book, with elements of sadness, but beauty and grace, too. Section III, Torch Song for Mother and Child is replete with such moments, and Tananarive Due’s story of her miscarriages, Carolyn Ferrell’s short story “Linda Devine’s Daughters” and, of course, the observations of the late June Jordan on her mother’s suicide are all unforgettable. They are sad, but they challenge us to be better mothers and women, and to appreciate all that we have. [ Continue 1 2 3 ]

Rise Up Singing

Rise Up Singing offers readers the opportunity to enter the worlds of 29 outstanding black writers. It is filled with stories from writers such as Maya Angelou, Faith Ringgold, Deborah Roberts, Alice Walker…and so many more! A story — “Slip and Fall” — by Berry is also included.

In the book’s introduction, Berry, a Harvard Law School graduate and New Jersey stay-at-home mom, says, “Rise Up Singing: Black Women Writers on Motherhood was just a bubble in my mind when I departed for the Million Mom March on Mother’s Day 2000.” She later continues: “I had, that day, found a new mission; I’d heard the voices of the brave writers here. I invite you to listen to them. They make a rousing chorus, a call that will draw from faithful readers a soulful response. All comers are welcome, but particularly those African-American mothers who feel alone.”

Some stories in Rise Up Singing will make you smile; others might make you cry. But whatever the emotion, an underlying powerful and meaningful message is within each story. Rise Up Singing shares the many realities of mothering, and writers such as Evelyn Coleman in her story “When Wild Southern Women Raise Daughters” — or Melba Newsome in “Goin’ Round the Bend” — or Martha Southgate in “Unnatural Woman” have not sugarcoated parenting truths they encountered. The honesty in this book is refreshing. (It is unfortunate that space for this column will not allow a special mention of each writer and her story title; each writer certainly deserves it!)

“The mothers writing in this anthology speak in a range of voices,” says Marian Wright Edelman in the book’s foreword. “They are joyful, stressed, grateful, ambivalent, determined, disappointed, and, in bad ways and good, overwhelmed.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Berry about Rise Up Singing. So, sit back, relax and listen to her motherhood voice rise up and sing!

PENNY POWELL: In the introduction to Rise Up Singing: Black Women Writers on Motherhood, you mention that it was at the Million Mom March on Mother’s Day 2000 where you confirmed your mission to arrange this anthology. Please share more about the process of this calling — that inner voice that prompted you to move full speed ahead with this meaningful and moving project.

CECELIE BERRY: I think that the Million Mom March affected me in several ways. First, I went alone and something about the process of doing something on my own — which I hadn’t done in years, always having children and husband in tow — strengthened my confidence. I knew that by taking the trip, I was making a statement to others and myself that I was ready to take the helm in my life. It’s funny that that same Mother’s Day I was invited to a Junior League Brunch with a well-known makeup artist and other celebrities and, though I was glad to be invited, I knew that I couldn’t find any answers there.

Also, I enjoyed being by myself on the bus, reconnecting with my inner thoughts about motherhood and the flow of my life. Reverend Suzan Cook identifies the same process in her essay “Too Blessed to be Stressed,” when she attended the Black Ministers conference at Hampton University. She asked God if she should start a new ministry and received the answer while she was traveling. I think that when mothers take these trips they are turning inward, looking for the inspiration and guidance to take the next step in their lives. They are also looking for how they should reintroduce themselves to the world as the stronger, more mature woman that motherhood has made them.

And then, (at) the mall that day, I saw thousands of women from every walk of life who had come to make a statement about gun violence in our society. I was awed by how powerful mothers can be when they are united and I knew that I wanted to see that sense of mission and commitment continue. I thought the best way to do so was to concentrate on speaking out about what I was witnessing in my own community. I also realized that there must be other mothers who have deep convictions and experiences that need to be shared. And — let’s face it — black mothers are not heard from or represented often enough in the debate on what affects our children most: the media, educational system, and violence.

PENNY POWELL: How did you manage to get such great writers all together in one book?

CECELIE BERRY: Rise Up Singing was born from the March, but when it came to finding the people, I started from scratch. I knew that diversity would be important, geographic diversity was key. I wanted the book to be national in scope. I also wanted individual contributors to have had experience in different careers. Faith Ringgold is an artist as well as a writer, AJ Verdelle had her own data and statistical analysis company, Maxine Clair was in medicine and I am a lawyer. As a freelance writer and a “culture vulture” I am always reading periodicals and newspapers and I knew I wanted different kinds of writers: radio, television, print journalism, fiction writers and poets to be included. I wanted to give the reader a broad array of the talent that exists in the African-American community and how these mothers use their training and life experiences as they raise their children. [Continue 2 3 ]

Motherhood Poems for Every Mom

Mothers are speaking up, speaking out, making changes, and writing about it. From corporate mavens to homeschooling housewives, moms are taking pen to paper in a movement to speak honestly about the daily grind and rigors of motherhood.

Today bookstore shelves are lined with narratives, books of poetry, anthologies and in-depth scholarly looks at mothering and motherhood; all of which attempt to reach honest conclusions about what it really means to be a mom in modern day America.

What is fueling the ignition of this new genre called “Mother Lit”? Mothers are finding that the constant realities of motherhood are far different than the perceived notions and idealistic concepts that mainstream media and institutions would have them believe. So, moms are fighting back with two of the most effective tools of resistance — quill and scroll.

As the wave of “Mother Lit” swells, though, it is hard not to notice how overwhelmingly middle class and white this particular genre of writing is. But if you look closely, you’ll find that mothers of color are also writing their stories and telling the truths about what motherhood and mothering means to them.


Charisse Carney-Nunes, a freelance writer and lawyer, recently penned a book of poetry entitled Songs of a Sistermom: Motherhood Poems in which she lyrically shares the stories about her daunting life as a new mom while paying tribute to the sistermoms who helped her along the way. A former Poet Laureate at Lincoln University, Nunes says, “writing this book of poems was like having another child.”


Composing poetry since the third grade and intermittently since graduating from Harvard Law School, Nunes began more active and focused writing after the birth of her daughter in 1999. “When I became a mother I had this little baby that was completely dependent on me and this brought me to a writing renaissance,” says Nunes.


Through all of the dirty diapers, temper tantrums and eventual “terrible twos” Nunes still managed to squeeze in time to write an entire book of poetry. One of the main themes in Songs of A Sistermoms is the understanding that although being a new mom may bring undeniably trying times, rearing black children is still one of the most critical tasks reserved for black mothers.


Nunes’ book, flowing through four chapters, starting with the Prelude To The Dance and ending with The Ninth Symphony, conjures elements of love and admiration and aptly illustrates the subtle nuances of breastfeeding as well as the stark realities of combing “nappy” hair.


These poems, with a distinct African-American flavor, bring to light the varied feelings and emotions of being a new black mother and resolve these feelings with an authentic take on mothering, the same mothering that black mothers across the board experience.


For more information on Charisse Carney-Nunes and Songs Of A Sistermom, visit www.brandnuwords.com.


Copyright 2004, Jennifer James

Motivational Reading

As I speak to different groups I hear what makes a difference in people’s lives–how one conversation, one sentence, one meeting, one phone call, one radio program can put an idea in someone’s head that sticks there and won’t leave until action is taken and things become different.

There is great power in one single day. We do not always know which day it will be. Last night at a speech I was delivering, a woman named Susan said that a few years back, her boss told her to do some writing for the business. After having gotten “D”s all through college in writing, this request caused her to fear for her job,. Instead of letting her fear and feelings of inadequacy win, she took action and signed up for a nonfiction writing class at her community college. After only the first meeting of the class she went back to work and wrote a case study for her employer that ended up running in the Harvard Business Review. Today Susan is a sought-after freelance business writer.

That one day that she decided to go to class was the day she set her professional life on a new course, even though she did not know it at the time. Our willingness to believe that we can figure out how to do whatever it is we need to, to get the result we want, is a powerful part of living a full life and providing ourselves with unexpected adventures as we walk our life’s path.

To add more power to your life every day, consider the following:

Put Attention on Pumping Up Your Belief in Yourself

I see over and over that the people who enjoy huge success and do what other people only dream of are the people who truly and deeply believe in themselves. J.K. Rawlings, who wrote the Harry Potter books that have been on the bestseller lists for more weeks than any other books ever, believed she was a writer even though she had never had one scrap of writing published. What are some beliefs that might be interfering with you moving forward? Do you have an idea that you can want something but not have it? You might think you are creative but believe you could never make a living as an artist, or want to have your own business but think that you could never get it off the ground. Take some time to pump up your belief in yourself, and watch your whole life expand.

Say Yes to Any Opportunity Coming From the Right Direction

Be open to all the possibilities that come your way. Opportunities lead to other opportunities. You never know where a “yes” will take you. A “yes” to a luncheon invitation could lead to new client or job offer, a “yes” to a party could lead to a new relationship; a “yes” to help a friend clean out her closets could lead to a whole closet full of clothes for you. Right now, ask yourself–where do you need to answer “yes”?

Employ the Power of Exploration

Make it a weekly practice to do something new, something even unusual, simply for the freshness and uniqueness of it. Have you ever been to your neighborhood library? Have you eaten at the Ethiopian restaurant that just opened, rollerbladed around a lake, or kayaked on the Bay? If not, get to it! New experiences polish our perspective, offer us new frames of reference and metaphors for living, provide fun and can even make a significant contribution to our future.

Make a list of the things you have never done that you would like to do. On your list put artistic activities, like throwing ceramics and making a necklace. Put mental activities on your list, like going to a lecture on astronomy or playing chess. Put physical activities on your list, like indoor rock climbing or taking a Pilates class; and put some things on the list that will feed your spiritual self, like going to a different congregation or taking a meditation class. Every week, pick an activity and do it. Your world will get bigger, your mind will be broader, and your soul will be fuller.

Stop Tolerating It

Ask yourself what you are tolerating. It might be a stressful relationship, a disorganized office, or a bed with a broken spring. There is something in your life that you are tolerating–something that is draining your energy, decreasing your self esteem, maybe even interfering with getting a good night’s sleep. Pay attention to what you are tolerating, make a list and begin to eliminate one item after another. This will free up your time, improve your clarity and increase your sense of well-being.

I am sure that as you have read this article, you have begun to see how you can add tremendous power to your life in just one day. Even if you are not sure if something you do will result in a significant push in the right direction, I encourage you to do it anyway and watch what happens. Action makes the difference–take powerful action now.

Caterina Rando, MA, MCC, is author of “Learn to Power Think,” a keynote speaker, success coach and trainer. She helps people invigorate their professional and personal lives and create the results they want. To find out about her book and other resources, visit www.caterinar.com. Caterina can be reached at 800-966-3603 or by email at cpr@caterinar.com.

The Purpose Driven Life

“The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren is a powerful book to begin the new year. It is a 40-day spiritual journey for uncovering God’s true purpose for our lives. “Whenever God wanted to prepare someone for his purposes,” says Warren in the book’s introduction, “he took 40 days.” Warren provides these related examples:

“Noah’s life was transformed by 40 days of rain.
Moses was transformed by 40 days on Mount Sinai.
The spies were transformed by 40 days in the Promised Land.
David was transformed by Goliath’s 40-day challenge.
Elijah was transformed when God gave him 40 days of strength from a single meal.
The entire city of Nineveh was transformed when God gave the people 40 days to change.
Jesus was empowered by 40 days in the wilderness.
The disciples were transformed by 40 days with Jesus after his resurrection.”

After reflecting upon these Biblical examples, it’s clear why Warren has designed this book to be read in 40 days. He also encourages this one-chapter-a-day process to give ourselves time to reflect on the information in each chapter. He explains: “One reason most books don’t transform us is that we are so eager to read the next chapter, we don’t pause and take the time to seriously consider what we have just read. We rush to the next truth without reflecting on what we have learned.”

The first seven chapters of “The Purpose Driven Life” are based on the question: “What On Earth Am I Here For?” Next, Warren guides readers through God’s five main purposes for our lives:
“Purpose #1: You Were Planned for God’s Pleasure.
Purpose #2: You Were Formed for God’s Family.
Purpose #3: You Were Created To Become Like Christ.
Purpose #4: You Were Shaped for Serving God.
Purpose #5: You Were Made for a Mission.”

“The Purpose Driven Life” is sure to add great purpose to your life. Time reading it will be time well spent!

May God bless you as you embark upon your 40-day journey! ::Mommy Too! Magazine::

Copyright 2003, Penny Powell

Penny Powell, Senior Editor, is an energetic and creative home schooling mother to 7-year-old Caleb, son of her and husband, Collin. She is also a freelance writer whose work has been published in newspapers, magazines and on the Internet. Powell has authored several online parenting columns, including “Dear Penny” and “Penny Powell on Parenting.” Her most recent column about stay-at-home parenting, Momma’s Home, can be found on CelebratingChildren.com along with her stay-at-home mom journal.

Healing From Sexual Abuse

Robin D. Stone has always been a hard worker. Swiftly climbing the ranks of journalistic excellence and reaching several career pinnacles such as being an editor at the New York Times, Boston Globe, Family Circle magazine and Essence, Stone easily set herself up to reach untold heights as a journalist. Always a quick-thinker, creative, and poised, Stone knew what it took to ensure the makings of an accomplished journalist – incessant working, humility to the point of self-deprecation and a strict unwillingness to acknowledge her own accomplishments no matter how great in the eyes of others. Though to Stone these principles were the ultimate formula for her success, she would later learn that they were a classic recipe for a breakdown.

In 1998 at an Essence magazine staff retreat, Stone, then the deputy editor, confronted for the first time — quite by accident — the reasons why she unwaveringly worked so hard and thought so little of herself. Spurred by a coaching exercise facilitated by a motivational speaker, Stone realized her life had been brimming with the pain and horrors of living and coping as a childhood sexual abuse survivor. The never-ending work and her own self-effacement — she would later realize –, were her ways of coping and attempting to lead a normal life; in essence purposely leaving little time to feel and to think.

A talented and intelligent child, Stone was always enthusiastic about learning and the arts. “I loved writing and dancing and singing in the school chorus,” Stone writes. Little did she know the joy she had for life would be suffocated by five minutes of incestuous groping and fondling by her uncle in the back room of a family home. She was nine-years-old then and her life, like so many others, would never be the same after that harrowing moment. It would take her a quarter of a century to reclaim the life she once enjoyed before being violated by a sexual predator.

Three years after her revelation at the Essence retreat and many sessions of therapy, Stone felt she had come to a comfortable healing place in her life. It was then that she wrote a piece for Essence about sexual abuse. “In August 2001, I wrote an article in Essence and shared my story,” says Stone. “The response to that article was so overwhelming. I was inundated with emails and letters from victims. I also received letters from parents and mothers who were struggling with the issue.”

According to recent surveys by adults, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men report that they were sexually abused as a child. This is especially telling in the black community because although black children are sexually abused at the same rate as whites, it is often kept silent and tucked neatly within the family. The secrets of childhood sexual abuse, in turn, get recycled generation after generation resulting in a cadre of lies that makes for an easily manipulated environment for sexual predators. In fact, according to No Secrets, No Lies, family members and acquaintances account for 93 percent of the sexual assaults against people under age eighteen.

As children grow into adults, the overwhelming majority reveal telling signs of child sexual trauma especially if the abuse had been dismissed by family or not taken seriously. “Some haven’t acknowledged it with others. Some have been dismissed. Some have been ignored,” says Stone. “That could make a person crazy when this happens within the family.”

Some of the more prevalent signs of childhood sexual abuse as noted by Stone are rebellion or challenging authority, hyperactivity, regressive activity such as thumb-sucking or bed-wetting, sleep disorders such as nightmares or trouble falling asleep, passivity and early use of drugs among many others. Stone implores parents to be proactive with their children. “Parents need to listen with their ears and their eyes because children may not have the language to explain,” she says. “Parents are easy to dismiss behavior problems as defiance and promiscuity. Parents need to watch for these things and if you see a shift in behavior, listen to them.”

Parents have the unique responsibility, unlike any other, to protect their children from sexual abuse. That means parents who have been abused themselves must work diligently to prevent their own children from being sexually abused. “They have to acknowledge the history of sexual abuse and take action in some way,” Stone says. “Parents need to talk with their kids about this. Stay alert, have a plan and remain calm, supportive and believe them.”

Although girls account for most of childhood sexual abuse instances, one of the main misconceptions is that boys — when they are raped by women — do not suffer from sexual abuse trauma. “One thing that really struck me was that 1 in 6 men report child sexual abuse,” Stone recounts. “Women commit twenty percent of abuse of boys and five percent of abuse on girls. Often boys don’t see abuse as abuse. They see it as getting over on some woman.”

Stone has dedicated an entire chapter to the sexual abuse of boys and its residual effect on men. Tackling gender specific issues such as dispelling the idea that sex abuse means a boy is gay and the fact that boys should be better able to protect themselves from predators, Stone delves into the ways sexual abuse of boys coupled with society’s expectations of them can create a culture of black men who “fear intimacy with others and themselves.”

Robin D. Stone, though a survivor herself, is helping thousands of victims to cope with life’s many uncertainties through No Secrets, No Lies. As a much needed tool in black communities, Stone uses the latest research and statistics as well as moving testimonies from sexual abuse victims to drive her point of prevention home in the book. Though it took Stone twenty-five years to move past her own abuse readers will know instantly that she has indeed overcome the trauma of being abused as a child. “It’s important for survivors to reconcile their abusers by forgiveness or confronting them,” Stone says. ”Faith and forgiveness is something that people should explore.” Moving words spoken by a true survivor who is whole again.

Book of Etiquette for Black Children

When Dr. Debra Henry, author of Best Behavior: A Celebration of Good Manners for Our African-American Children, served at her six-year-old son’s school’s book fair she couldn’t believe what she saw. “Many of his associates were surly and rude,” she says. All I heard was ‘Give me.’ and ‘I want.’ And I didn’t hear a please or thank you in three hours.”

After witnessing such behavior in her son’s peers – of all races – Dr. Henry became charged with the idea of creating a tool for African-American children to help them better learn good behavior and etiquette. Using a children’s book with rhyming verse and stellar photographs, Dr. Henry, a practicing physician with a specialty in psychiatry, tackles such topics as how and why to say you’re sorry, why children should strive for excellence and the proper way to treat and address adults.

In a time when many children are not taught the proper rules of behavior especially as social mores change, Best Behavior is an excellent tool for children to see others like themselves engaged in good behavior with not only their peers, but with adults as well.

“Our children pay attention to us,” says Dr. Debra Henry who is also the proprietor of Black Society Pages, a lifestyle website for African-Americans. “We need to be a model of stability and decorum so our children can model our behavior.”

In print since late summer, Dr. Henry is optimistic about the excitement she’s heard about the Best Behavior from parents and how parents are spreading the news about the book primarily through word of mouth. She says Best Behavior 2 is in the works. Drawing on the success of Best Behavior, she promises that the content will “stay light and fun.”

For more information about Best Behavior visit the Black Society Pages website at www.blacksocietypages.com

Black Mom. Mothers, African American Mothers