Life is hard. It can be extra hard for a Black girl who will one day become a Black woman. What do you tell her about this thing called life and how to navigate the twists and turns? What pearls, what gems, what lessons will help her along the way? Here are 10 powerful quotes by powerful Black women whose lives and accomplishments have been able to light a path for the rest of us. Teach Black girls about these Black women (and others of course), teach them these quotes, and the lessons within them.
“I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all.” —Zora Neale Hurston
Teach her that Black is beautiful. Her Black is beautiful. Period. Full stop. Exclamation point. No commas. No maybes. No ifs. No buts. Her Black, her beautiful is something to be celebrated and never ashamed of. Teach her that being a Black woman does not have to be accompanied with a ‘woe is me’ soundtrack or the idea that being Black and tragic are synonymous. It should not be treated as an albatross around her neck, something that she should want to shake off. It is an opportunity for her to be awesome, to rock out, to climb new heights, and make new discoveries about herself and the world around her. Teach her that she can defy the world’s expectations of the tragically colored; she can prove them wrong.
“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” —Audre Lorde
Teach her that Blackness is not just one thing. It’s not this way or that way because there’s not just one right way to be a Black woman. There are a million ways to be a Black woman and no one can tell her that she’s doing it wrong. And if they do? Teach her how to tell them, “Tough, deal with it.” Tell her that she doesn’t have to conform or contort herself into society’s views or fantasies of Black women. Teach her that only she can define who she is—her Blackness, her womanhood, and everything in between. Teach her the power in defining these things for herself. Encourage her to stand in them. Be proud of them. Nurture them. Love them. Share them with the world.
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” —Harriet Tubman
Teach her to dream. To dream big. To dream far. To dream wide. Tell her that she has the right, the permission to dream the life she wants for herself and then she can go have that life. She is entitled to it as much as anyone else. Tell her that she has the power within her to change the world—in the small quiet ways, and the large showy ones. This world belongs to her just as much as anyone else. Teach her that while there are powerful systems and structures that will try to hold her down and back, it doesn’t mean she can’t dream. Or shouldn’t dream, shouldn’t try, or won’t succeed. She can. She must never stop dreaming or working towards her dreams.
“Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.” —Toni Morrison
Teach her about love. Not just romantic love, but all love. What it looks like and what it does not. How it should make her feel. That it should bring her joy and not pain. Teach her that yes, she is deserving of love: great love, true love, unconditional love, beautiful and fulfilling love. Teach her that, like the words of the great Isley Brothers, “at her best, she is love.” Teach her to first love herself because there is value and power in self-love, and how it then flows into loving others.
“Service is the rent we pay to be living. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time.” —Marian Wright Edelman
Teach her the importance of looking beyond herself, her needs, and her interests so that she can see other people and help those in the best way she can. Teach her that being of service doesn’t make her weak or a punk or a pushover, but that she can be kind, giving, and helpful without being trampled on and without being taken advantage of. Teach her that to whom much is given, much is expected. Even if it doesn’t seem like she has a lot, there is someone in this world with less; someone in this world who needs help, a hand, a smile, a kind word, or a good deed. Teach her that she can be of service to others without compromising herself or relinquishing her dreams.
“Self-esteem means knowing you are the dream.” —Oprah Winfrey
Teach her that she, a free Black girl, is the dream of her ancestors. Teach her that she is valuable, precious. Teach her that she has worth and she should know it and make sure the world knows it too. Every time she steps outside her door. Teach her to hold her head up high and to look everyone in the eye. That she doesn’t need to bend or bow down or subject herself to anyone. Teach her to make good decisions that demonstrate she understands her value. She doesn’t have to sell herself short, or give a piece (or her entire self) up to anyone, especially if they are undeserving. Teach her to be proud of herself, her history, her ancestors, and her own story—all of it.
“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” —Lena Horne
Teach her that struggle, disappointments, and setbacks are a way of life. For everybody. Not just Black women. But what is she going to do with these upsets? How will she carry the pain and the burdens? Because they will come, and it’s how she carries them that matters. Even more, it’s what she chooses to carry vs. what she chooses to leave behind so she can keep moving that makes all of the difference. Teach her that she doesn’t have to carry every load, every burden, every mistake with her at all times, for the entire journey. She has permission to shake it off. To evolve. To grow. To drop some bags and keep moving towards a joy-filled life.
“Black women have always been friends. I mean, if you didn’t have each other you had nothing.” —Toni Morrison
Contrary to what reality television shows portray, Black women can and do get along. Teach her that Black women are the original girlfriends. Teach her the importance of having a crew—some homegirls of girlfriends who will have your back, but will also tell you when you done messed up. Homegirls who will lift you up and hold you down when necessary. Friends that you can laugh and cry with, have wild adventures with, tell your secrets to, and just go through this thing called life with. Friends who will always want her to do her best and encourage her to do better.
“I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal. I cannot be comprehended except by my permission. I mean…I…can fly like a bird in the sky.” —Nikki Giovanni
Teach her how to ego trip. Shoot, teach her to recite Ego Trippin’. Teach her that she has a right and a reason to shimmy, shake, and shine. At all times. Teach her to never be ashamed of herself, her accomplishments, and her success. Teach her about her history, her ancestors, her folk, so she understands why she should ego trip. Teach her the greatness that was in the women who came before her can be found in her as well. She should always show that greatness to the world. Teach her that she is a light and should shine bright, and never dim or diminish for anybody. She should never play small, or like she is not enough. She is more than enough. So, ego trip girl, ego trip at all times and don’t trip if people trip about it.
“Only the Black woman can say, ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.’” —Anna Julia Cooper
Teach her about her power. Make sure she knows she doesn’t have to carry the entire Black race on her back. Make sure she knows she has that power to say ‘when and where I enter’ and that people will follow. Teach her that she is a leader, that Black women have always been leaders and the backbone of our families, our communities, and on the frontlines of the battles for social justice. Teach her that Black women have always been the organizers, the planners, the brainstormers, the fearless freedom fighters, and the spark that got the movement started. Teach her that the torch has been passed along to her and she has the power within her to lead and to change the world.
Diana Veiga is a Spelman woman, a DC resident, and a freelance writer. Of course, she’s also on Twitter.