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Reflecting on Juneteenth

As we commemorated Juneteenth, which marks the day when the news of the emancipation finally reached the slaves in Galveston, Texas, in 1865, I reflected on what Black Lives Matter means to me.

I would like to introduce you to Jessie Fore, my mother, who was in her teens when this photo was taken. Jessie was born in New Jersey during the Great Depression. Her mother, who did not complete elementary school, worked as domestic help and did laundry for others in the evening. Her father eventually found work as a railcar porter.

A photo of Jessie Fore.

When her parents separated, Jessie left high school and went south to help relatives pick cotton on land they did not own. Jessie eventually returned to New Jersey where she worked as domestic help.

A devout Catholic, she attended Christ the King Church, a Jersey City parish for African Americans, whenever she could. If she attended other Catholic churches, she had to sit in the back of the church and receive communion separately from white parishioners.

Jessie went on to get married in the church on her lunch break. No flowing gown and veil for my mother. She wore her Sunday suit to marry and have her photo taken, then removed it to return to work. No honeymoon. She and my father lived in the Currie’s Woods housing development, which was known as “the projects.” There, she hosted afterschool and summer programs for children in the projects. She gave birth to four children. One child died during childbirth. Jessie died in childbirth with her last child –me. Leaving behind three motherless children and a bereaved spouse, she received a Mass of Christian burial and was interred.

There is nothing illustrious in Jessie’s story. It is so mundane that it reads like the lives of so many Black women of her era. At each juncture of her life, institutionalized racism snipped away opportunities and traded youthful hopefulness for racial disparities in housing, education, employment, and healthcare. On her shoulders, she struggled to balance the load of her own difficulties with those of generations of people before her who endured slavery on tobacco and cotton plantations, Jim Crow repression, poverty, and exclusion.

By the time I was 5, I learned to respond to adult questions about my mother with “My mother died in childbirth with me.” People would ask incredulously, “Here? In the U.S. In a hospital?” At the time, I did not know that Black women of all classes have a disproportionately high rate of maternal mortality. I had not formally learned about the socioeconomic factors that lead to poorer health outcomes for women of color and their children. I had not studied statistics of Black poverty rates and environmental injustice. Yet, since conception, I have carried Jessie’s burden and that of many generations before her.

What would Jessie say if she were alive today to witness the disparities and injustices still occurring? Would she rub her eyes in disbelief, thinking that she has stepped back in time? Would she be angered to know about the disproportionate number of Black and Latinx incarcerated people who leave behind broken homes and communities? Would she celebrate the fact that more white people were speaking out against racial and social injustice than ever before? I have no idea.

I would like to think that my mother’s faith would be buoyed by changes that have occurred in my lifetime. This would be something we could both share. Yet, part of me wonders how long Black people will have to wait for our liberation from the shackles of inequality. Will there ever be a modern-day General Order No. 3 that proclaims an end to the toll of institutionalized racism? Like those enslaved people in Texas in 1865, Jessie, and all Black people have waited too long for their freedom.

We are still waiting.

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Kay Hassan

Kay Hassan is a Providence Associate and a Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College alumna (2005). She resides in Texas with her spouse. This summer, she will be a first-year medical student at Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara, Mexico.

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12 Comments

  1. Debbie Dillow on June 26, 2020 at 7:04 am

    Kay, this is a powerful article and I am grateful to read the story of your mother. I am grateful for the voices of so many who still cry out for justice in a country that has robbed so many of it, Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, Latinx and anyone who does not have white skin. It is sad because we all bleed the same color. We are all born in the image of our Provident God. I pray for equality, complete equality, for all every day.

  2. PAULA DAMIANO, SP on June 26, 2020 at 9:27 am

    Thank you for this personal story. Your mothers’ spirit certainly lives on.

  3. S. Denise Wilkinson on June 26, 2020 at 9:33 am

    Stories compel one to learn or at least to be curious. What a wonderful life story of your mother and you and all people of color. Thanks so much, Kay.

  4. Marsha Speth, SP on June 26, 2020 at 9:37 am

    Thank you, Kay, for sharing the story of your mother which mirrors so many others. Yes, the wait has been way too long!

  5. Paula Modaff, SP on June 26, 2020 at 9:42 am

    Thank you, Kay, for sharing your good mother’s story. Finally, after hundreds of years of intolerable suffering, more of us are beginning to “get” it. Praying with you for justice for all people of color and for compassionate activities on the part of those of us who are “white.”

  6. Donna Butler on June 26, 2020 at 11:02 am

    Kay, thank you for this life story. I believe story telling can be a life changer if we are willing to listen. I loved your final question. I am sure your mother is so proud of who you are and who you are becoming. Congratulations on all your achievements and blessings on your upcoming studies.

  7. Sabrina S Falls on June 26, 2020 at 6:07 pm

    Thank you for your heartfelt sharing, Kay. Your mother is so beautiful, and you have honored her by showing that her life, far from being mundane, was truly sacred and shines on through you!

    • Shelton Alice, PA on July 9, 2020 at 9:00 pm

      Thank you for your vulnerability in sharing, Kay. I walk alongside you in the waiting and the hoping for a different and better world.

  8. Sister Barbara Ann Bluntzer on June 28, 2020 at 10:35 am

    I am so privileged…..having spent time with you in preparation for your becoming a Providence Associate, time in which I learned so much about you and your personal goals and achievements, your background and your hopes for the future. This shared story of your mother is so touching. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  9. S. Rita Clare Gerardot on June 28, 2020 at 3:41 pm

    Kay, thanks for sharing this story of your mother’s courage. I’m sure she has been a source of strength and courage for you. Thank God for our wonderful mothers who taught by example how to live a good life.

    S. Rita Clare

  10. Mary Pat Dailey Cross on July 1, 2020 at 9:04 am

    Dear Kay,
    Your personal reflection touched my heart, inspires and continues to reveal that the system is not working.
    Our World is no longer able to claim that they are unaware and remaining silent is not an option for a peaceful future. Your Mother’s strength and courage lives on in you! Many thanks!

  11. Eileen Horan on July 1, 2020 at 10:17 am

    Dear Kay,
    Thank you for sharing your mother’s story. I hope that we, as Providence Associates can honor her memory by working to make the world a better and more equitable place for all people. God bless you in your studies and hope to see you in person at the Woods someday.
    Eileen Horan, PA

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