Why ‘Black Aunties’ Are More Than You Ever Thought

The author and her maternal aunt, Ellen.

The new phrase to call any Black woman of a certain age is ‘Auntie.’ From Jenifer Lewis, April Ryan to the Grande Dame Congresswoman Maxine Waters. The word auntie provides this sense familiarity, accessibility and understanding. If your aunts were anything like my maternal aunts?

Bay. Bee.

They were like a pack of lionesses!

They taught me to believe in myself, supported my endeavors and were never afraid to tell me where I could do better at. And, like any loving aunts, they told me when I was messing up. Being raised by lionesses, made me one.

My aunts gave me space to be me.

Where they hard on me? Yeah. But they also celebrated me! It was my maternal Aunt Linda that discovered how good of a reader I was. It was her and my Aunt Ellen that discovered how quick I was. It was my Aunt Stella that gave me my first job. It was my Aunt Myra that walked me home from school and helped me be comfortable with being a smart Black girl. My Aunt Valarie gave me space to appreciate how pretty I was—and never once let me say I wasn’t.

The relationship between my Aunt Linda and I was such that I used her likeness in my book, RUBY. It was her likeness (sprinkled with my maternal grandmother) to create Ethylene Gibeaux’s great-aunt of the same name.

From that foundation, I don’t use the title auntie with a light touch. In looking in my circle, in this adopted community of women, I found three more. One of them is my Aunt Lori.

My (play) Aunt Lori at my April book signing.

These women have seen me at my most frustrated, yet believed in the vision I had of being a writer. When I wrote RUBY, it was this small group of women that told everyone they knew about this book. About my talent. They talked to everyone they knew about it. They bought copies for their family members!

They rallied around me and reminded me that I had all I needed to be to successful. They pushed and encouraged. They reminded me that I can do it. And to keep doing it!

Foreground: the author; background: author’s sister

One of the coolest things I have noticed is how my own sister, Ashley, has stepped into the role of being an aunt to my two daughters. Her nieces. That same desire to be involved, to encourage and support is present within her. This nature will make her a formidable mother.

We know the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. However, the potent reality to this is for a child to be successful, they must be safe and supported. The supplemental power or extended family allows the child to be more well-rounded. To be heard, and to know there is a love which will surround them. It will push them towards the greatness the world will seek to steal from them.

My mother is one of these most incredible people I have ever known. Yet, her sisters, my aunts are just as incredible telling me to trust that in myself. Black aunties are more than a hashtag or trend. In some cases they are role models like Jenifer Lewis and April Ryan. They are cheerleaders like my aunts Mia and Dee. And they are anchors like my maternal aunts: Ellen, Myra, Valarie, Myra and Linda.

The embarrassment of riches from their love and support make me realize one thing. No one walks through this life alone…and should never feel they have to.

[authors own images]

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