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Codie Elaine Oliver on the joys of being a Black mother

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

The cries of RowVaughn Wells were heart-wrenching. Her son Tyre Nichols, killed at the hands of Memphis police, was laid to rest last week. It's a hard thing to see and feel. And Black parents feel it deeply. Elaine Marsh (ph) has six adult children.

ELAINE MARSH: She needs that village. And I feel that we are that village.

RASCOE: We reached out to a few Black mothers who told us they need that village, too, to help them get through the challenges and celebrate the joys of parenting. Laneice McCall says she's loved seeing her two children develop into good people.

LANEICE MCCALL: Listening to them grow and watching them grow. And it has to be the most rewarding thing ever to be a mom.

RASCOE: There's a podcast about raising Black children. It's called "The Mama's Den" podcast. I asked producer Codie Elaine Oliver about her first experience of motherhood.

CODIE ELAINE OLIVER: Me wanting to be a mom and even my husband always wanting to be a dad - like, we clicked on that early on. Everything was easy with our first.

RASCOE: Really?

OLIVER: Now, granted, the second time we had twins.

RASCOE: OK.

OLIVER: But with our first, there was no sacrifice that was challenging. It was just like, this is what you got to do. I also expected the worst. So anything that went smoothly or even went slightly uncomfortably, whether, you know, we got peed on or whatever, it was like, well, at least we didn't get pooped on.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

OLIVER: You know, everything was like, it could be worse.

RASCOE: So one thing that I have really enjoyed lately with my children, who are 9, 6 and 5 - I forget sometimes - is that they have these rich conversations with each other. Like, my son will be like, well, I'm going to be driving two years before Gabrielle - his youngest sister - and now I'm not going to drive you nowhere. And she's like, what? You not going to drive me nowhere? You got to drive - you know, like, they're just going back and forth with these conversations. Is there something that gives you that sort of joy?

OLIVER: First off, I love those moments, too. Like, just listen to them sometimes say the craziest things.

RASCOE: Yes.

OLIVER: I mean, girl.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

OLIVER: Well, I love seeing them be sweet to each other. We had put them to bed. It was the weekend, so they got to sleep in the same room. And I heard, like, a bump and silence and then crying. And I run out of my room. And they're all coming into the hallway. And one of them is crying, and he's holding his head. And his twin brother is behind him. But the way that his arm is outstretched - you know, like when you want to hug a friend, but you're like, are you OK? Like, it was so cute. The older brother was the culprit. So he was a little more reserved, and he's like, are you OK?

RASCOE: (Laughter) Yes.

OLIVER: Like, what is he about to tell? Is he going to tell on me, you know? But the way that I watched them, like, be so curious to make sure he was OK was just, like, everything.

RASCOE: Oh, yeah.

OLIVER: I was so mad that they had done that. But I was like, oh, look at - y'all don't even need me. This was adorable.

RASCOE: (Laughter) Yes. The reason why we really wanted to do this is because people focus so much on the trauma and the tragedy that Black women and mothers face. And we wanted to present a fuller picture. Like, was that one of your thoughts behind starting "The Mama's Den" podcast?

OLIVER: Yeah, absolutely. With "The Mama's Den" in particular, I love to share that, like these are women that I admire and love and knew them all individually - Ashley Chea, Melanie Fiona and Felicia La Tour. And I was like, you guys, I want to hear you talk all the time about motherhood. I started it because I think that sisterhood is important within motherhood. And same for, you know, fathers, as well. It takes a village. It takes a village to help. It takes a village to make sure you're not feeling alone or isolated in this journey. And that's across the board. And also to laugh and to celebrate.

RASCOE: What do you think about the idea of like, obviously, you know, it's not unique that mothers would need, like, some sisterhood, some guidance. But is there something unique about, like, the Black American experience that the sisterhood is a bit different? Do you feel that way?

OLIVER: Yeah, absolutely. Plainly put, our children and us as Black adults are being hunted, are being criminalized. And we don't want to talk about that all the time. But what we do want is to recognize that in one another, that when we're talking about, what school does your child go to, and how's their experience? - that experience is different at a predominantly white school than it is at another school. You kind of don't have to have the hardest part of the conversations in any way other than to say, like, how are you doing? And how are you addressing this? And what did you say to your kid about that? There's a comfort in us having those conversations amongst each other.

RASCOE: So is there something that you want, like, the world to know about Black mothers that you feel like is lost in some of the conversations?

OLIVER: I think anybody who understands the parenthood journey knows that there is joy and know that there's challenges - right? - that we all need to be nicer to the mama (ph) whose kids are screaming at the grocery store or on the airplanes or whatever, like, but that the Black motherhood journey does come with that added anxiety and fear of what it means for our children to simply be brown. I want the world to understand that we are carrying that weight every day through the smiles, through the highs and lows of regular parenthood and that grace and kindness and allyship helps.

RASCOE: That's Codie Elaine Oliver. She is a film and TV producer and podcaster. Thank you so much for joining us.

OLIVER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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