Revolutionary Mothering on Mother’s Day

Crystal Belle, PhD
6 min readMay 9, 2021
From L to R: My maternal grandmother, my mom and my aunt in 1994.

“We can learn to mother ourselves…” ~Audre Lorde


The first time I realized my mother was not invincible, is the day my grandmother died. Something suddenly shifted in her Trinidadian-woman invincibility and even her innate charm and gift of gab could not hide that. I remember thinking, “who will mother my mother, now that her mother is gone?” Growing up in the 80s in Brooklyn, NY, it was normal for multiple women in the community to “mother” others. The act of mothering was a verb, an action that was not solely connected to giving birth to biological children, but for keeping an eye on other people’s kids, too. However, this “community mothering” still seemed more aligned with minors and not necessarily adults. As I wondered more about who would mother my mother, I was also 14-years old and on the other side of puberty. As my body continued to change and I became more aware of my own fertility through menstrual cycles, wider hips and lots of Judy Bloom books, I can say that is also the first time I began to imagine what it would be like to mother children of my own one day. And this was the beginning of my revolutionary mothering of myself, through the fantasies of motherhood I played out in my head based on my desire to understand the complexity of my body.

My first experiences with acts of mothering coincided with my tenure as an English teacher. Teaching, an act of love out loud and behind the scenes, taught me about patience and humility, especially when you make mistakes. More importantly, teaching was also a tricky dance between “doing your job” and practicing unconditional love for your students by accepting them for exactly who they were, not who you wished they could be. Similar to biological mothering, you do not get to choose who your students are, instead they come to you (one way or another), as if this relationship is a Divine order.

In bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (1994), the concept of “engaged pedagogy” is introduced, which is teaching and learning that is centered in mutual growth and relational trust. Practicing engaged pedagogy requires the teacher to lead with love and equity as opposed to control and hierarchy. For example, one of the ways I practiced engaged pedagogy as an English teacher was by sharing aspects of my lived experiences with my students to build trust. I also realized that sharing aspects of my life with my students made me vulnerable in the classroom, something we often ask students to do without doing it ourselves. The more my students trusted me, the better they performed in my class. The more I trusted my students, my instructional quality improved, since I was paying attention to their holistic needs.

Mothering is a similar journey of teaching and love. I remember witnessing the trust between my mother and grandmother. It was an intricate soca dance of proverbs, intimate understandings of one another’s body language and a deep desire to understand, not control one another. They had not come to this understanding easily, of course. Rather, it was through acts of mothering and being mothered, that helped them arrive in a space of mother-daughter mirroring, wrapped in the scents of their collective lived experiences. I did not know this at the age of 14, however, I understand it clearly now: My mother understood that my grandmother’s death did not signal the end of being mothered, rather, it was a continuation of my mother’s journey of mothering herself.


My daughter is 8-years old; my first born. She is the daughter of a first generation Trinidadian-American mother and a Ghanaian father. She has dark skin and beautiful locs that she wears proudly. Her confidence in herself and critical observations of the world around her, are a reflection of how I practice revolutionary mothering. When raising Black children in a world where racial discrimination is the norm, instilling confidence in who they are is important. I draw on an aspect of what scholar Cheryl E. Matias refers to as “Critical Race Parenting” (2016), “an educational praxis that can engage both parent and child in a mutual process of teaching and learning about race.” Having open discussions about race has been important for me as a mother, especially considering the constant turmoil upon Black lives. Although my daughter was born in 2013, when the first Black president, Barack Obama, was still in office, it was also less than a year after Trayvon Martin was killed and approximately two and half years before Sandra Bland’s death. To raise my daughter without a conscious understanding of race and her Black girlhood was not an option for me, as I am committed to her liberation. More importantly, revolutionary mothering is a space that centers radical love through child-rearing, physical freedom, collective resources, financial sustainability (rooted in de-centering capitalism and greed) and social justice.

Every time I look at my daughter’s Black girl joy, rooted in her understanding of radical self-love and Critical Race Parenting concepts, I am reminded of giving her the freedom to choose, to think and to explore. I understand that what I desire for my daughter, is an intersectional freedom that allows her to tap in and out of spaces and places if said space or place is not centered in her freedom.

And then there is my son. At 5-years old, he treasures deep laughter, singing loudly and turning his camera off during virtual Zoom learning when he is tired of others staring at him. I find it fascinating that my son, a sensitive and insightful child, is already concerned with how long people stare at him. In fact, after his first week back to school in-person, he came home complaining that “so-and-so is always staring at me, mommy!” I know Kindergarteners and curiosity, so I encourage my son to be open to the idea that they are simply interested in learning more about him. However, at the back of my mind, I begin to wonder: Is he already being singled out as a Black boy in school?

But then my son smiles and he is joyful again after his complaint. And in that moment, I know that what he is witnessing is a combination of 5-year old isms and Black-boy-meets-school-musings. As a revolutionary mother, it is my goal to ensure that the musings do not become telltale schooling practices committed to his oppression.

My children and I in December 2019

As I mother a Black son and Black daughter in a world where we have to constantly remind folx that yes, Black Lives Do Matter, it is my goal to ensure that I am not only focused on my own family but also, other people’s kids, similar to the various aspects of community mothering I witnessed growing up.


Revolutionary mothering is deeply tied to the idea that all women, at one point or another, learn what it means to mother ourselves. Mothering of self happens for all kinds of mothers who may come in the form of teachers, godmothers, community leaders, mentors and aunties. To mother oneself does not require you to be a biological mother, however, it consists of accepting who you are, while creating and sustaining radical self-care communities rooted in self-reflection and growth. In order to elevate the concept of revolutionary mothering, we need to embrace more expansive conceptions of motherhood that are not solely tied to biological mothering. As poet Cynthia Dewi Oka noted in her essay in the book, Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines (2016), “mothering is a primary front in the struggle against racist capitalism, not as a biological function, but as a social practice” (p.51).

Mothering as a social practice is what revolutionary mothering is all about. It is a practice of liberation, love and light. It is an intimate discussion with fear and social change due to unforgiving histories and erased testimonies. It is a raw vulnerability that encourages you to admit your mistakes while pushing against family pathologies rooted in trauma. Revolutionary mothering is in fact, the revolution.



Crystal Belle, PhD

Dr. Crystal Belle is an educator, scholar and founder of Self Love Life 101. Her first book, Start with Radical Love, is set to debut with Corwin press in 2024