“ONE TWO, buckle my shoe, THREE FOUR, open the door, FIVE SIX, pick up sticks, SEVEN EIGHT, lay them straight, NINE TEN, big fat hen!” The bubble-gum pink double-dutch ropes high-fived the ground with delight as the neighborhood girls sang their jump-roping songs. My mom’s next door neighbors, Janice and Judy, were the prettiest girls in the neighborhood. Their caramel-colored skin seemed to glow in the light and their hair swept against their backs as they jumped. Jumping along with Janice and Judy was Rosemary, who lived directly underneath my mom. These three girls were as sweet as pie around their parents but when it came to the game of Double Dutch, they morphed into hardcore bullies. As my mom approached the girls, she was so excited that she had finally learned how to jump rope. When she had made her way over to them, they stood over her with confidence. “Can I jump rope next?” squeaked my mom. “Well, since you are black like dirt, I don’t think so,” Janice replied with conviction. As a little girl, she was darker than the rest of her friends and darkness in the Black community has never been viewed as beautiful. Janice, Judy, and Rosemary used that to torture my mom. A young and insecure Jenine sat on the rugged steps of her house and said nothing in return. She was use to this kind of ridicule about her complexion. Since the girls felt as though they were completely superior to my mom, they disregarded her feelings and skipped off with joy. When my grandmother arrived only to find her daughter shedding tear after tear, she asked “What’s the matter baby?” “I’m black as dirt” she said, her voice muffled behind her tears. My grandmother began to pour her words of wisdom into my mother’s heart like honey being poured from a honeycomb. My mom snuggled into my grandmother’s arms and listened. “You know what they say baby, the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice, it’s a proven fact you know?” At that moment, without exchanging words, my mom and my grandmother locked eyes and agreed that her dark skin tone made her unique and beautiful.
My mom’s stories, especially the ones revolving around her childhood, give me a better insight to what makes her the woman she is today. Since my complexion is darker than my mom, I benefit from stories like this one. My mom began telling me these stories at a very young age, so when problems arose, I would be well equipped to conquer them. After the incident with Janice, Judy, and Rosemary, my mom made a pact with her mom to never let anyone else tell her who she was. She has honored that pact and has instilled those same principles in me. My mom’s stories allow me to learn from them without having to go through them myself. Although we look different on the surface, our personalities are quite similar and we have gone through some of the same situations. Whether I want to admit it or not, my mom was a teenager once and she knows what kinds of issues and concerns I have. It is 2014 and I am still getting the same comments about my complexion, but because of my mom’s story and my grandmother’s wise words: the phrase “the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice,” I am able to receive harsh words with a smile. My mom’s stories always seem to conclude with a line sounding something like, “Be yourself”, “You are the only you there is, so embrace it”, “Have confidence in yourself”, or something as simple as “Posses your own pen, and everything else will fall into place”.
These lessons are now engraved into who I am, just as they are engraved in the many generations before me. My mom and I share numerous differences and similarities, but our peace in who we are binds us together. This bond is one I plan to share with my children, and I hope the lessons continue to pass down for generations to come.