“won’t you celebrate with me”: Kateema Lee on women who raise women up

hands holding her up, hands holding me up, hands holding us up.

When I was growing up, my mother had what I fondly call today a kitchen beauty shop. She would often have remarkable discussions with women as she would press and curl, wash and set, or cut and style their hair. Women would talk about the mistreatment they suffered at work and at home, they would share their talents and ideas, and they would support each other. Most days, after coffee, Watergate cake and advice, the women left with a smile.  In my mother’s kitchen, black women had a safe place to speak, a space not afforded to them in other places.

Having listened to those conversations, I learned so much about the resilience of women and why it was important for them to have a forum or an outlet to share ideas, anxieties and fears, and to talk about experiences with people who understood or at the very least empathized with their daily struggle of being both “non-white and woman” in a society that celebrated the mythical norm.  As an adult, I think about the many voices I heard as a child, and I am aware that despite advances, the need to create, to maintain, and to support forums for women’s issues continues. That is why I appreciate reading and enjoy contributing to feminist literary outlets: because in many ways, they remind me of the kitchen conversations I grew up listening to.

One of my favorite quotes, words that inform my aesthetic in many ways, is a quote from Audre Lorde:  “I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.” As a poet, daughter, and feminist, I celebrate and write for women, past and present, who created safe spaces and through silent strength, perseverance, and encouragement made it possible for women like myself to speak and to have the freedom to write about feminism, about poetry, and about my voice.

In my poem “Our Hands,” inspired by one of my poet heroes, Lucille Clifton’s poem, “won’t you celebrate with me,” I celebrate the strength of women who continue, despite their own personal struggles, to raise women up. I celebrate women like my grandmother who exuded pride, strength, and beauty in their church hats on Sunday mornings in spite of the sexism and racism they endured on a daily basis. And finally, I celebrate women like my mother who aren’t mentioned as pioneers of feminism but were and continue to be contributors nonetheless. “Won’t you celebrate with me!”

Kateema Lee, “Our Hands,” Pg. 16

So to Speak Summer 2011 Online Issue featuring poetry and art

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4 thoughts on ““won’t you celebrate with me”: Kateema Lee on women who raise women up”

  1. Kateema, I love the celebration of the unsung women you honor in your poem and essay! That is where most of us learn to understand this movement at its most basic level. It’s not from Betty Frieden, but instead a mother who refused to attend a church where she could not sit with her husband, an aunt who refused to eat the turkey neck on Thanksgiving because my grandmother reserved all the edible pieces for the men and children. I do, and will indeed, celebrate with you!

  2. Here at So to Speak, we also appreciate your contribution to feminist literary efforts. Thank you for your honesty and encouraging words for women supporting women. Through all the crap in the world, it is extremely important to create spaces of support and love. I, too, absolutely will celebrate with you!

    Sheila

  3. Thank you, Paul and Shelia! So to Speak is a wonderful journal, and the summer online issue is amazing (such wonderful artists/writers!). I applaud your efforts!

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