In legislative bodies there is something called a privileged motion. A privileged motion is a motion that’s recognized over ordinary business because it concerns a matter of great importance or urgency. This week I want to put aside the regular business of this column for a point of personal privilege.
The reason for the request is a matter of urgency. This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and the subject I want to address would be important to me anytime, but it’s particularly germane because of the calendar.
The pace and superficiality of modern American life leave little time or space for introspection. One of the advantages of age is you escape that dynamic and acquire the luxury of time that affords you the opportunity to reflect on matters of importance that in the rush of youth you never gave sufficient consideration.
My mother transitioned 35 years ago and was at peace because her boys were grown, functioning adults. She had done all she could or was supposed to do; the rest was on us. There are life lessons you learn by some kind of formal instruction, and then there are lessons you learn by example that are more imprinted than taught. Or, as the old folks would say, I can show you better than I can tell you.
In my public life I’ve always known who I was, I’ve always been clear about what I believed and why I believed it, and I’ve always acted with the confidence (some would say arrogance) that comes from that certainty. I could always explain the what and why of what I believed, but like fish take water for granted, I always took confidence for granted because it always there. How I’ve done what I’ve done has always been a function of confidence, and confidence was a function of my mother.
As the Jim Crow barriers fell in the late fifties and early sixties, public spaces previously closed became open to black Americans, but we were not really welcomed. My mother didn’t wait for an invitation or the approval of white people, she invaded these spaces, often with her boys and some of their friends in tow. She never really talked about it, she just did it. My mother was fearless, there was never any trepidation, never any instructions of how we needed to behave. She behaved like we not only had a right to be there, but we belonged there. Without being disrespectful, my mother treated white help like they were the help.
One of the crippling handicaps of the racism that’s infected our DNA is its robbed us of our confidence when we encounter white America. By regularly taking me into spaces that were outside of the usual comfort zone for us at the time, she taught me by example that because you’re outnumbered does not mean you’re outgunned. Because of my mother, I’ve never doubted my right or my ability to impose my will on whatever environment I’m in, no matter how white. Without my awareness or understanding, she was preparing me for the life I would choose or that would choose me.
I’ve been blessed with lifelong friends, and like all old men we spend time talking about when we were boys. The conversation usually focuses on how the boys we were fathered the men we became. In conversations over the last couple of years, some friends have talked about my mother’s influence, not just on me and my brother, but them as well. As one of my oldest friends will invariably say, “Miss Jones always had a plan for you.” I’ve often said that I’ve been successful in spite of America, but it’s finally clear to me it’s also very much because of my mother.
I’m dedicating this column to my grandchildren Alexandra, Damon, Adam, Autumn and Kennedy and to the great grandmother they didn’t get to meet. Though I didn’t always understand and we regularly disagreed, I’ve been blessed to be my mother’s son. Momma, didn’t really get to say it before you left, but thank you! Happy Mother’s Day!
Mike Jones is a former senior staffer in St. Louis city and county government and current member of the Missouri State Board of Education and The St. Louis American editorial board. In 2016, he was awarded Best Serious Columnist for all of the state’s large weeklies by the Missouri Press Association.