I have been in awe of few people, and feared even less. Aside from my Aunt Linda, the only other women under 5’6″ that I have feared are my grandmother, my mother, and State Senator Maria Chappelle Nadal. I adored State Senator the moment I saw her on television before her now undoubtable afro. I respected her because that same power she housed was the same power I had grown up with and around. That roar, that passion, that element of being nonfuckwitable? Oh, yes. I was familiar with.
Oh, I was familiar with and had that same iron-pushed will bestowed upon me since birth. One portion of that nexus of necessary, saged power that fuels black women. She is definitely a shero.
After the sweeping tragedies in Ferguson, Riverview and the Shaw neighborhoods in 2014, when all we could do was fight, cry and organize, the only tethering force in the local politics arena was, State Senator Maria Chapelle-Nadal and Alderman Antonio French.
There was a palatable sense of being alone that was perhaps best identified after the first lynching after Emancipation: free, and trapped.
The realization that your life, those you love are tethered to the will of unstable man and the laws made. The horrible realization that those laws may not protect you, when they are easily used to snare you.
I had met her in passing, during the pig roast in Ferguson, right across the street from the Ferguson Police Department. She wore white, sandals, and her afro and shades were impeccable. She had this presence about her, reminiscent of the what you see in matriarchs. You had to know what you came for to come to her, she was unavailable to foolishness.
I shook her hand as my husband introduced us, and she gave me this warm smile. I wasn’t intimated, not like most people would count being intimated. I didn’t shrink away from her, but I studied her. There was this energy about her that I knew. Hear me now. That I knew.
There was this energy about her I noticed, even in that causal setting, that made me want to know and be wherever she was. This Naomi like presence, this Deborah power, that made me respect her just because she was there. Because she was there.
For so many, local and long distance, #Ferguson was a lucrative and a source of exploitation. “Somewhere people went” to say that they went, and they got their pictures, and cursed out the police, became part of a hashtag, and flood timelines for a day or so.
Even the other legislative membership blew through like so frequent St. Louis thunderstorms, one of the anchoring people I saw, was State Senator Chappelle-Nadal. Whom I called Mother Maria.
There was no Stenger, no Slay, No Dooley, no Dotson, no Belmar, no Chief Tom…
It was us. It was the most isolating, impairing feeling ever…
It will take more than a Facebook comment to make me walk away from her. It will take more than some folk chattering and muttering about said comment to make me forget the woman that called Gov. Nixon a coward (because that’s what he was), stood in stead for a community that was dual exploited on the floor of a state legislature, the woman that sat on West Florissant and was tear gassed because the sitting protestors she was with ‘wouldn’t disperse.’
This is the same woman that I saw on a consistent basis, listen and do, and give and speak when no one else would. Or would be bothered.
We have all said something we wish we would take back because of its interpretation, but not the passion behind it (as my grandmother would say, “Wishing don’t make it so.”). I have seen other people lash out with worse on social media, especially in matters of race and politics. Sometimes our words give people the key to our Ivory Tower, they allow other people to check us. But…that doesn’t make me walk away from Mother Maria.
In the tradition of leadership before her, like Rosa Parks, Barbara Jordan, Harriet Tubman, Mary Cady Shadd, Mary Church Terrell, and Ida B. Wells Barnett, she has put herself in her constituency, been included when it was or easier to be removed–trading right for easy. Much like Ezekiel, she has sat where we sat. That fact cannot be lost or erased.
Her presence lifted, her voice reminded and her actions among the people whom counted on her gave hope to the strength offered as we press towards justice, peace and recognition that indeed Black Lives Matter.
Thank you, Maria. Thank you.