My late mother, Sharon Fields, was the strongest woman I’ve ever known. Yes, she’d have moments when she’d cry, show signs of exhaustion, and reminisce over her life before motherhood, but she raised my siblings and I with, grace, effervescence, and poise at all times. This year’s annual Strength of a Woman Summit and Festival reminded me of everything my mother represented to me.
Going into Mother’s Day weekend, I knew it would be tough as it was the first one without my mom. While I originally had intentions on spending Mother’s Day cooped up in my apartment alone, being offered the opportunity to fly out for Mary J. Blige’s second annual Strength of a Woman Festival seemed like a great opportunity. Not only because it was in one of my favorite cities and it was a chance to connect with like-minded boss women, but it would be a way to honor my mom via one of her favorite artists.
When I think of Mary J. Blige and her connection to my mother, one of my first memories goes back to when I was just 11-years-old. Living with my grandmother at the time, my mother and I had just come from Target but she knew that my favorite section was always the music section. I wasn’t the kid that begged for toys or clothes, but I always wanted CDs. Usually, my mom would either say ‘No’ or make me use my own allowance, but both of our eyes lit up when we saw The Breakthrough on the shelves. We bought that, Mariah Carey’s The Emancipation of Mimi, and a few magazines for my grandmother’s coffee table, and made our way home.
Rather than just blasting the music on a speaker set for a dance party, my mother had a yoga mat to do some physical therapy exercises at home after her knee surgery, and we sat on it together and stretched. As a dancer from a young age, I always loved stretching around the house and keeping limber, but this was the first time I was able to be active with my mom while listening to Enough Cryin’ on repeat. A very small memory, but a memory nonetheless that I’ll always cherish.
I flew into Atlanta Thursday night and I knew it would be a good one because we were kicking off the festival weekend with the musical stylings of Robert Glasper and a surprise performance by Luke James. Grown and sophisticated, just like my mother, the evening was filled with beautiful Black women including a few media colleagues of mine who I was meeting in person for the first time; PR connects I’ve had for years, and the brilliant Mary J. Blige. Featuring raw, live acoustic renditions of contemporary R&B hits and soulful classics, the first night of the summit was not just for the aunties, but truly for the mothers who grew up on R&B and soul music.
Blige, in partnership with Pepsi and Live Nation Urban, hit the stage on Friday night in front of a sold-out audience at the State Farm Arena in celebration of #HipHop50, which my mother would have absolutely appreciated. My dad and I had a closer bond when it came to the hip-hop and rap genre, but that’s not to take away from the fact that my mother knew how to cut up when a good hit came on. From the jump, I could hear my mom’s screech at the top of her lungs if she had seen Jodeci come out. One thing about Sharon Fields, she loved her a fine ass R&B group.
I wished my mother and I could enjoy together. From me marking the original choreography of Ciara and Missy Elliott’s surprise performance of Lose Control and Lola Brooke busting out with Don’t Play With It to New York royalty Method Man gracing the stage with longtime collaborator and Power co-star Mary J. Blige, both shows unlocked memories of joy between my mother and I that are forever etched in my memory.
Specifically during the Lauryn Hill-headlined R&B Show, I found myself getting misty-eyed when opener Coco Jones shouted out her mother in the audience. While Jones undeniably has a heaven-sent voice, the callout to her mother was what made me emotional because there’s nothing more beautiful than a mother getting to witness her daughter become everything that she’d ever dreamed of. Unfortunately, my mother’s journey was cut short and there are some things that she’ll never be around to see, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to make her proud.
“In pretty much every way you could imagine,” the Bel-Air star shared with me about how her mother exemplifies the strength of a woman. “If we’re being specific, my mom has always gone above and beyond for her kids, her staff because she’s an entrepreneur, and for her family.”
Jones reminisced back to a time when her mother would pack school lunches for Jones and her brother even after a long day at work and coming home late from the office. “Even with our science fair projects, girl, put the mentos in the Coca Cola, shake it up, and let’s get outta here. Even now, I’ve taken those same characteristics and apply it to everything I do. Everyone that says something about me knows I go above and beyond for my craft; they know how much I work; they know my passion, and I learned it from my mom. It was the strength that she showed me to be able to balance it all and give up yourself in all these different capacities.”
Though Jones and I had only met but a few times, I felt even more connected than before as she praised her mother’s restlessness and grace for going the extra mile for her children. Earlier that day, Pretty Vee and I had a discussion at the Strength of a Woman Summit at America’s Mart in Atlanta and she praised her own mother for strength as well.
“My mom is my rock, she’s my world, I don’t know what I would do without her. I don’t play about my mom. I’ll fight someone about my mama,” Vee said passionately as we sat next to each other in a separate press room away from the commotion of the photographers. She made a note to regularly praise mothers and maternal figures in our lives because of their abilities to do so much for those they love and being “warriors” and “rocks that hold the family together.”
Vee continued, “Carried me for nine months, [so] I better give them some flowers.”
Being at the Strength of a Woman Festival was not easy for me, as I met many incredible mothers throughout the entire weekend, but it only further solidified the power that my mother possessed while she was here. Whether it was being reminded of my mom through the Purpose Ball and serving as “MUVA” for the night on her behalf to holding hands with Mara Brock Akil in a moment of vulnerability, Sharon Fields was all up and through that conference.
If you would’ve asked me if I would ever meet Akil in person, let alone cry in front of her, I would’ve expeditiously told you that you were dreaming, but I believe that everything happens for a reason. One of my fondest memories of my mom is staying up late waiting for her to come home from work after working overtime so we could watch Girlfriends together on The CW. Now, I had the chance to thank the powerhouse writer in real life for her contribution to my mother and I’s relationship.
“Hearing that, too, that a show allowed a bonfire and a moment of the connection and the bonds that come with it, you think about it while watching the images of these women on TV and yet the love of your life is sitting next to you,” Akil said as she released her grip from my hands across the table. “In reflection, look at what we did. The fact that the show was in the center of one of your beautiful memories with your mom, thank you.”
The Strength of a Woman Festival, in its entirety, was a space for healing for those who have just lost their mother – at least, after I lost mine. I was surrounded by endless love, support, happiness, and joy and I couldn’t have thought of a better way to spend my first Mother’s Day without my mom. Thank you, Mary.
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