Resources and reporting for mothers and others who think about social change.
get active
about mmo
mmo blog

Being Family Magazine

The journey of my testimony

By Rochelle Valsaint

I grew up in New Orleans, a mid-seventies child, the middle daughter of a truck driver father and a factory worker turned beauty salon owner mother. My life was and still is full of family. My memory is filled with large and small family gatherings every weekend starting on Thursday and not ending until Sunday. Last weekend was Auntie Stephanie and the children (she had 6). This week it’s Cousin Lou and Nikki. And interweaved constantly was Ms. Barbara, Aunt Joanie and in later years Cricket (Ms. Joyce), my mother’s best friends.

It was this constant family environment and loving care that allowed me to thrive as a child and set the foundation for my life as an adult. I have fond memories and pictures of me as the nursery school queen at five years old; the spelling bee at the New Orleans Lakefront Arena as a result of being one of the top spellers in my school. I remember in the fourth grade running through the halls of Etienne de Bore Elementary School because my friend, Ada, had her period for the first time and in our desperation to find her help, my friends and I were running through the halls yelling, “she’s bleeding, she’s bleeding.” We got in trouble because it was recess and we weren’t supposed to be in the building. But, we were also lovingly comforted by my first grade teacher, Mrs. Frazier, who reassured us that Ada would be OK. And then, there was the time that my third grade boyfriend, Norbert, gave me ring as we walked home from school. My younger sister, Akia, still teases me because she says she saw him pick it up from the ground and give it to me. And she still laughs when I say that she’s lying. He bought that ring for me, that’s why I treasured it. There were also some not so fond memories. Like, the near fatal car accident that my mother had that prevented her from being at my sixth grade graduation and many other events because she was afraid to drive. But, they are tempered by my uncle Tommy stepping in to do a trial run of my public transit bus route to my new Junior High School; and, the thrill of doing it by myself on that first day of school.

That first day of Junior High School marked a milestone in my life. After that, my memories are less of my parents and extended family community and are more about new friends and new life choices, I guess, as a result of adolescence.

And, although my parents and family seemed to have faded to the back until I graduated college, they were always the constant. Because I knew from where I came and I always had home to go back to, I had a covering that allowed me to explore life knowing that I had a safety net. I had the confidence to proudly tell my high school boyfriend that if he couldn’t love me unless we had sex, he needed to find someone else. I didn’t think he would do it. But, he did. I had the boldness to apply to one of the most prestigious universities in the country in spite of Mr. Applebee’s (my English teacher) discouragement because certainly I couldn’t get into Notre Dame because he hadn’t gotten in when he applied so many years before. I guess he thought a Black girl from a New Orleans public school couldn’t possibly get in if a private school educated White boy couldn’t. But, I digress.

I had almost an arrogance about coming back from academic probation my sophomore year of college. I had obviously messed up and knew that I had to buckle down to stay the course of achieving my Notre Dame education. My academic counselor said my performance was an “enigma,” usually students tanked their freshman year and started to even out their sophomore year. I had done just the opposite. When she said it I had no idea what “enigma” meant; but, since then I have come to embrace the word that means “something hard to explain.”

“Something hard to explain” continued to define my life in and after college. The confidence and security net were hard to see as I navigated social and academic pressures. There seem to be a fog surrounding my life because I didn’t have family in my daily life. Those calls home on Thanksgiving and Mardi Gras were almost unbearable. But, somehow I created my own little family in the cold, grey winters of the Midwest on one of the most beautiful campuses in the world. And, once I had the security of family again, I once again thrived.

After graduation, I tapped back into my own family, by then including two nieces and a nephew from my older sister, things just didn’t feel right. And a short four years later the world wind of marriage and motherhood all came at once (I was six months pregnant with my daughter before our wedding). Suddenly I had a need to create the same loving and nurturing environment for my children that I had as a child; the same environment that had allowed me to flourish; the same safety net it had provided me.

And, while creating that sense of loving community for my children, I realized that I had a need to create that same community for myself. I now know that creating a community for my children is also creating a support network for my self. Sharing with your friends and family allows you to have a place to go when your husband gets on your nerves, when your children seemed to have turned into little monsters, when you’re not sure how to balance your personal ambitions with that of your responsibility as a mother and wife.

After Gabbi was born, we decided that I would stay home. But, after a short while, I realized that I had ambition to be more than a mother. I wanted to leave my mark on the world. I wanted to work toward something that would touch many lives. So, began the search for work to compliment my life and my personal mission of strengthening, celebrating and supporting Black families.

I tried my hand at marketing consulting to small businesses, but I realized that I wanted to do something that spoke to me as Gabbi and Jonathan’s mom, Fritz’s wife, Barbara and Johnny’s daughter, as Staci and Akia’s sister, as Tonya, Shanda, Tanya, Tish, Brenda, and Felicia and my Circle of Sisters’ friend, as Kailyn, Jarrid, Alacia’s and baby girl #4’s aunt (she’s on the way in December), as well as daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, cousin and the host of other titles that I wear within my large family.

I found that work in what I consider to be a divine series of events that have lead me to be the Founder/Editor in Chief of Being Family Magazine, the premiere African American parenting magazine. And, who better for the job than me, the woman whose whole being is rooted in family?

And so, I work toward the Spring 2006 launch, I finally get to share my testimony with my generation as we nurture the next generation. And, with any luck all those years in the making of me will help to make many more strong, beautiful African American families and the stories that come out of them.

mmo : september 2005

Rochelle Valsaint now lives in Atlanta. Her New Orleans family members are safe. For more information about the launch of Being Family Magazine and to get on the mailing list, please visit www.beingfamilymagazine.com
Reuse of content for publication or compensation by permission only.
© 2003-2008 The Mothers Movement Online.


The Mothers Movement Online