Women Are the Leaders of the Family by Makayla Walker

     My name is Makayla Walker. I was born in Oakland, California, in 1994. Both my mother and my father were 19 years old at the time. I grew up in nearby Richmond for a while as that is where my parents were from. I am full black on both of my parent’s sides and half creole on my mother’s. The most of what I know about my family comes from my mother’s side. My great-grandmother was a leader in the community center of North Richmond. My great grandfather was the  city’s first black building inspector. They had six kids and raised them at time when Richmond was more affluent, compared to now, when it is riddled with poverty.

I do not know much about my father’s side of the family. Neither does he. Being from down south where his family came, here he is very separated except for immediate family. Being that we are black also makes it harder because neither side has much information at all about my great-great grandparents. I know that the majority of my father’s family is from Alabama; my mother’s family is from California and Oklahoma.

I feel bad that I do not know much, but I do have a lot of stories. My great-grandmother and grandfather are the stars of many of those stories. Lucy Brown and Charles Brown were their names. They were married over 27 years and died a few months apart. The main stories in the family are that Lucy was strong and that is where all the women on my mother’s side get their strength. She was active in the community and made sure everything that was done was communal. I feel that most of my stories are missing and I do not know who I am.

During spring break I am going home to get more information from my family as both sides were not so forthcoming with information. I also hope that the Ancestry website will help me learn about my family’s lives before they actually came to California.

* * *

I have learned so much about my family. The Ancestry DNA test told me that I am  21 percent Cameroon, 17 percent Nigerian and also 17 percent Irish. The results, including the link to Ireland, didn’t surprise me very much. My grandmother said that my great-grandmother’s father was a slave master who had raped my great-grandmother’s mother. Confusing right? This was during the time black people had no rights and so that is where the Irish comes from. It was interesting to find out that my mother knows of some family that we have in Nigeria.

My mother’s side of the family hailed from Louisiana and Oklahoma; my father’s side from Alabama. Both sets of my grandparents were born and raised in Richmond. At the time, North Richmond was at a high point. It was a time of positivity and communalism for black people. My great-grandfather Charles Brown, on my mother’s side, built a house in North Richmond and stayed with my great-grandmother Lucy. They had six kids—three boys and three girls. There was my grandmother Debra, her two sisters Barbara and Pauline, and the boys Charles, Dave and Robert. The Browns were well known as Lucy was a head of neighborhood house, and Charles was the first black building inspector in Richmond. The way my grandmother describes it, Richmond is nothing like what it was, a place where everyone knew everyone and would help each other.

I haven’t learned a lot about my father’s family, because dad does not know either. My dad says that his father left him at a young age and his mother remarried. So, from age of 16, my dad was raised by his grandparents. I feel that my dad has many missing stories from his lineage, but he knows a lot about my great-grandfather. He moved to California from Louisiana and settled in Richmond with his wife. They had one boy, my uncle T, and three girls, my grandmother Teresa, my aunty Sharine and Auntie Jean. My grandmother Teresa also tells me about old North Richmond when she was younger and how guns and drugs weren’t big in the community as they are now.

My mother’s side has the most untold stories. Her side of the family became disconnected in a different way. When my great-grandparents died, they left their house to all their children. My grandmother Debra moved in with my mom, aunt and uncle. They stayed for several years until all my aunts and uncles voted against my grandmother staying in the house and kicked her out. The house was sold, and the money split. Things haven’t been the same since.

It is the women in my family that keep the feud going even after all these years. My mother tells me we all get it from my great-grandmother Lucy. She had what they call the Brown Woman Temper, and we all have it, even me. My mom also told me about how grandma Lucy would always help anyone in need. She threw a rent party for a lady who could not pay her rent and everyone came and supported and raised money for her rent.

My mother’s family she grew up Catholic. We switched to Southern Baptist when I was born in 1994. That is how it is on my father’s side as well. We believe that God rose from the dead and died for our sins. On each side of my family women are the leaders of the family and give direction. They are the voice as was my great grandmother.

My mother and father named me Makayla Iyanna Walker. Makayla means in Gods image and Iyanna is a Hebrew name meaning life and woman. My last name most likely came from America’s past, when slaves took their slave master’s names.

This exploration has taught me so much, but I still need to know more. Asking questions has only gotten me so far, but it is a start. I feel like I will go deeper into Ancestry’s research services to find out some of our missing stories and the missing members in our family whom I don’t even know exist. I was most surprised by the lack of information my father had but after hearing his story it made sense. My mother’s stories gave perspective on why most of her family is divided and we rarely all gather and see each other. I feel like I got a real version of my two sides of my family now that I am older. I feel that our assignment in this class has connected me to everyone because we are all learning. Not just about ourselves, but our families and what our history is. It has been a really great experience, but it is far from over.

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