They called her the “doctor of the projects.” Martha, of Hartford, Connecticut, was a mother of six and a domestic for a white-owned hotel downtown. She did not have two letters behind her name nor did she get her learning from a college classroom. Yet, for the people of her neighborhood – the Charter Oak Terrace Housing Projects – she was a medicine woman. In her home, it was not a stethoscope nor monitor – but the sounds of soul from the record player that returned their beating hearts to the fore of their consciousness. By way of dancing, they bent their knees, stretched their knees, and raised their arms as high as the ceiling above. On another given day, a child – whose only kin appeared to be the streets was her only kin – could lay her head on one of Ms. Martha’s pillows. There were many young mouths to feed and stomachs to nourish, yet somehow there was always just enough for another. Martha and the other mothers of her community worked cures.
Like Ms. Martha, HIV-positive Jamaican women activists use communal motherhood to care for themselves communities using mentorship, affective bonds, and psychosocial care to combat the isolation and stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. Asserting that “Mi nuh sick,”/“I’m not sick,” young mothers speak back against the perceptions that pathologies them while disrupting rigid practices of HIV/AIDS and humanitarian aid that sensationalize women’s suffering and illness.
Amid systematic anti-Blackness, systemic poverty, institutional neglect, health inequities, reproductive coercion and state divestment, Black mothers made ways of being for Black people – ways out of no way.
This panel seeks to explore how Black women in the Americas mother their communities even as, in places like Charter Oak and Kingston, fire abounds around them. It treats the ways in which Black motherhood makes new worlds for themselves and Black people in scorched rooms and in pandemic-inflected realities. Panelists will discuss concepts such as – the tradition of othermothering, their development of home as a site of resistance, the politics and ethics of care labor, their grassroots practices, strategic mobilizations, and community institution building, as well as their capacity to mother themselves and one another.