If you’re part of my tribe (and you are, because you’re here reading this!), you probably know my story.
And if you know my story, then you know about Nanna. And if you know about Nanna, then you know she saved my live.
That’s why I want to honor her today, with this post, during this month of celebrating Mothers.
As you probably know, at 16, I was living on the mean streets of Baltimore amidst drugs, pimps, and violence too graphic to share here. One bitterly cold evening, I remember sitting on my corner, Monument and Federal St., steeped in urine and beer, and praying, “God, please help me.”
The answer to that prayer came in the form of my 9th grade math teacher—Mrs. Judy Francis—aka my “Nanna.”
Nanna rescued me from eating out of trashcans, sleeping in rat-infested alleys, and from the violence around me.
She loved me when I smelled like urine and cried in my sleep. She saw me as somebody with worth, with value that I didn’t have to earn, or prove, or pay for with my body. She taught me that I mattered.
She was kind, and her kindness let me experience that I was not my pain. I wasn’t what “she” said or what “he” did or didn’t do.
Nanna and I talked about everything. About faith. About trust.
One day she asked me, “Do you like yourself, Venus?” I said, “No.” She said, “You should really get to know you. You are a magnificent person.”
So I took on getting to know myself.
The thing is, I didn’t know my worth. But Nanna did. She knew my worth before I had language for worth. She saw my worth 30 years before I could see it. (#realtalk: When you really get around somebody who’s for you, they can hold space until you grow into it.)
Nanna helped me stop running. She stopped the hurt by relating to me like I mattered.
She healed me by teaching me that I was my own best thing and that I am not my bruises, even the cruel ones.
Nanna loves me.
And I slowly began to realize that if I could just see myself the way Nanna saw me, then maybe I could do something with my life.
So I began to dream … and she taught me about dreams …
Nanna: Venus, have you ever considered that your dreams are a need?
(Dumbfounded) Me: No.
Nanna: Well, if you think about it, you believed in God enough to give you the vision to want a better life than living on the streets and then providing you with the tools, resources, and people to get off the streets. Yes?
(Trying to connect the dots) Me: Well, yes.
Nanna: Then why would God give you a new vision of having your life and skills serve the world and NOT give you the tools, resources, and people to fulfill it?
(Brain grinds to a holt. Long pause.) Me: Silence.
(Chuckles) Nanna: Just think about it over the weekend and let me know what you come up with on Monday.
14 years later, I graduated from Stanford University with four degrees, including a second master’s degree and a Ph.D.
Sometimes when I am interviewed, the background assumption is that my willpower is what got me off the streets and to Black Woman Millionaire status. It wasn’t.
It was the love of others … especially Nanna’s.
Nanna took me in as her own child.
Nanna drove from Baltimore to Garden City York to see every play I was in.
She sat in the dark—without electricity—to send me money for books when I was in college.
She gave me a safe place to say all the bad things that happened to me out loud, so I didn’t have to continuously relive them, day in day out.
I’ll say it again … Nanna saved me.
There are a lot of “mothers” who never have children of their own—aunties, grandmas, teachers, same-sex couples (both genders), adoptive and foster parents who love and nurture others.
It’s all about LOVE, and the capacity for love.
Love is what makes the difference.
My life is a miracle because of love!
It’s because of Nanna’s love that I am alive, whole, and successful. She helped me see the world with new eyes.
Nanna inspires me to be for my clients who she has been for me – my champion.
We are ALL bigger than our bruises, sis.
I can never pay Nanna back. But I can make her proud.
Thank you, Nanna.
For loving me and relating to me in a way that is bigger than myself. Thank you for your honesty and your compassion.
Thank you for being the Chairman of the Frickin’ Board at Defy Impossible Inc., and in my life.
I LOVE YOU.
In honor of celebrating Mothers in the form of all those who love us like their own … who would YOU like to thank?
Please share below, so we can bear witness.
With all the love my heart can hold…