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There is a saying that mothers love their sons and raise their daughters. This perspective is evident in the way that girls grow into women. For all the ceremonial culture that we lost when we were ripped from the Motherland, women still maintained a strong foundation of social and even physical rites of passage to build on.

As girls, we learn hard life lessons. In our families and in society, whether good or bad, we have clear definitions of what it means to be a woman. We follow the Mother Figure in the home. Our mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunts and the women in our community ALWAYS talk about what it means to be a woman. Keep your head up and your dress down. Books before boys. Cook a pot of rice and pick the peas properly. You got your period? Don’t be bringing no babies up in here. Keep a clean house and sweep the yard. Do well in school. Iron your clothes. Get a good job. Always have on a clean panty — you might get into an accident. Keep your weave tight and your nails fly. Get your own money. Get that man’s money. Whatever it is, every family has its own values but it’s always clear.

So, for girls, the opportunity is there to rebuild Rites of Passage, the more structured and ceremonial side of becoming a woman. And what about the boys? What ideas do you have around using a structured Rites of Passage system to teach our children how to be women and men? If you know of any resources, please also post them here.

In the News: Black is coming back! Share your ideas for the Black Woman and Child magazine relaunch at

BWAC is coming back!


CB106362Black Woman and Child is in the process of developing a pre-natal program for women who are 12 weeks or further along in their pregnancies. We need your input! Did YOU ever attend a pre-natal program? What did you think or feel about it? Did the program help to prepare you for childbirth and parenting? Did it have an impact on the kind of parent that you are today? After the program, did you have any additional contact, bonds, with the other parents who participated? Please post your comments here or send to Your feedback is greatly appreciated so thank you in advance!


Not for babies!

Not for babies!

Here we go again. Three short months after our post about the ill effects of cold medicines on infants, we are now hearing about another hazard in the good old-fashioned medicine chest: Vicks Vaporub! And this time I can’t even come with a good dose of self-righteousness. That blue jar was a staple in our house when I was growing up, right along with Limeacol, Alcalada and Dettol. Come on now, I know I’m not alone here. As a kid, all I had to do was clear my throat a little too hard, and I would find myself greased down with Vicks — chest, back and foot bottoms. Some people even smeared it under the nose — I’m sure glad my mother didn’t go THAT far. It was enough to be slathered in the stuff so much you were all but sticking to the sheets!

Luckily, by the time I had my own children, I was more in favour of eucalyptus oil mixed with shea butter — mind you, I didn’t think anything was WRONG with Vicks, I just thought it was more greasy than I like and maybe the smell would be too strong. SEVERE respiratory distress wasn’t even on my mind. As always I say, Who knew?

Still looking for those good tips and tricks for when your child has a cold. Post your wisdom — I know I sure could use it during these frigid winter months!

Have Your Say: Holiday Traditions

The holiday season is fast approaching. How does your family spend the holiday season? Does your family observe special holiday traditions that have been passed down generation after generation?

Christmas, Kwanzaa or your own tradition…?

We want to know. We are looking for families to share their holiday traditions to be included in an article for the Holiday edition of Black Woman and Child Magazine. Deadline: October 31, 2008.

Post your comments here OR email


  • Last night I had the opportunity to speak on a panel at The Scarborough Hospital (Grace Campus). The discussion was organized by the Family Advisory Council on Maternal and Infant Care. My role as a member of the Advisory Council was to speak on the valuable role that choice plays in improving outcomes in pregnancy and birth care.

    Overall, I think the presentation went very well! I was very pleased with the points that I chose to raise, as well as the audience response. The bad news is that my digital recorder failed on me (or maybe I failed on it) — so was not able to present My First Podcast (as I’d hoped). Well, maybe next time. Instead, I’ve listed some of my notes here of the main points that I put forward in my presentation. Your feedback and comments are always appreciated.

    • What solidified my interest in Family-Centered Care (FCC) is what I call my two-track prenatal experience
    • RELATIONSHIP WITH PHYSICIAN: My physician and I had a good relationship prior to my pregnancy
    • She was open and kept me informed on all matters, illnesses, checkups, etc.
    • Bonus: We also had a shared cultural background so she understood my issues and perspective, jokes i.e. “I’m wearing my Sunday baggie.”
    • My pregnancy changed the Code of Conduct, script, choreography of visits
    • I lacked an understanding of this new “prenatal culture” — i.e., concept of “trying to get pregnant” and question of “are you keeping it?”
    • Suddenly I was not qualified to participate in my own care
    • Even shared cultural background wasn’t enough to bridge the gap (the culture of prenatal care trumped our previous relationship)
    • Handouts were not culturally relevant
    • Ongoing issues around diet, midwifery, homebirth, birthplan, sick vs. healthy attitude, etc.
    • My husband and I would joke about what government secrets were lurking in my med file (information not shared, results of tests not forthcoming)
    • Increased tension; not enough information provided to make informed choices and doctor seemed offended by my questions
    • Issue of control of my care at a time when I was “losing” control of my bodily function — control of any kind was very important to me
    • Parted ways with physician over issue of HIV Test (physician made bad judgement call when I refused an HIV Test that I believed was optional)
    • MIDWIVES: I transitioned my care into that of midwives
    • I was treated with respect
    • I was allowed and encouraged to participate in my care
    • Weighed self, tested own urine and reported results to midwives — medical file always open on the desk, I could see and comment on the comments
    • Debated pros and cons of all tests, final choice always mine
    • Birth plan was encouraged, discussed and respected
    • I didn’t always get my own way but discussion helped me to understand why not
    • My culture was respected
    • BLACK WOMAN AND CHILD: At that time, I felt that mothers of any cultural difference or having any difference in perspective could not get fair treatment or choice in a physician-run hospital system
    • As a result, I began publishing a magazine to promote and validate the cultural perspectives of Black women around the world
    • I held fast to the ideology that “smart,” healthy, empowered women gave birth at home with midwives and only “sick,” scared women gave birth in hospitals with physicians
    • home birth = choice and hospital births = challenges
    • Working with the magazine, I had an opportunity to speak to many different kinds of women
    • Learned that some women were having healthy, safe, empowered and successful births in hospitals too — what made the difference was the level of involvement or choice
    • I learned that it doesn’t have to be polar opposites
    • Home birth is not for everyone but having choice can empower birth outcomes for families even in a hospital
    • NEW VIEWS: Hospitals like TSH are promoting that they are open to Family-Centered Care
    • Women and their families can benefit from having options, benefits also roll over to staff and overall view of hospital
    • Example: a birth plan helps to address issues and opens dialogue between pregnant mothers and caregivers
    • A birthplan also takes pressure off staff: the hospital is note solely responsible for successful birth outcomes
    • Example: Cultural ideals can be good ideas that staff can learn and pass on to other patients
    • Culture doesn’t happen in a vacuum
    • We all want to belong; not check our culture at the hospital door
    • In childbirth, we may be at our most vulnerable but mothers are not monsters — we can actually be reasonable
    • Example: I like to eat barley porridge right after giving birth. I don’t expect to get that in the hospital cafeteria BUT is the hospital open to having a family member bring some for me? Let’s work together.
    • When a mother is relaxed, happy and confident, we get better outcomes, better births, less snapping at nurses and bad attitudes
    • The input of relatives is validated, helps mother, speeds healing
    • The birth experience, whether hospital or home, set the tone for future attitudes about childbearing and child-raising
    • I am on Baby Number Four, so I know that there’s some truth to this

    Nicole Osbourne James

So I heard on the news that cold medicines are being recalled because they aren’t good for infants and young children. I’ll tell you who already knew that: my great-grandmother (and she didn’t have to hear about it on CNN). I remember all of those down-home remedies that many of us scorned when we were younger: herbs, honey, soup, ginger, garlic, massage with “Chinese Oil,” you name it. Now these same remedies are the ones that mainstream culture is promoting! Wow.

I’m curious: what do you do for your children when they have colds? Or what tricks have you learned in your family to treal an illness? I’m curious…and so are our BWAC readers. Please leave your comments and take our poll.

This is a public service information request. In the Winter 2009 edition of Black Woman and Child magazine (November 2009), we are working on a piece about blended families. Meaning, he has a child from a previous relationship, maybe you have a child as well. And now that you are together, maybe you have more children together. How is it working for you? Are you able to balance the needs of the children, previous partners, grandparents, society and, if you’re lucky, yourselves? Are you happy? Do you have any advice for others in a similar situation? Is there anything that you wish you could do differently? Please share. Your comments could go a long way in supporting one of our readers — and, if you are interested, you could even be one of our featured families for the article. Let us know where you live; our goal is always to go global as much as possible. If you don’t want to use your real name, just don’t.

To find out more about BWAC, visit

Greetings everyone: We would to inform those interested in learning Swahili (East African) language for children from JK – Grade 8. This program is facilitated through the Toronto District School Board along with the Keyan Ontario Association.  The program cost only $20 per student and runs from September to June, it includes instruction and materials. If you are interested, please email or call Paul or Nicole at 416-689-2922. The registration date is Saturday September 27th from 9:30am – 12 noon. We need at least 20 students to register so let us know your interest as soon as possible.

Swahili Lessons

Where: Dr. Marion Hilliard Sr Public School

Proposed Time: 9:30am – 12noon

Cost: $20 (covers full year of program from September to June)

So I just watched Will Smith’s new movie “Hancock” two nights ago. I don’t mind telling you that it was somebody else’s bootleg copy and I’m glad I didn’t spend any money. Maybe somebody else might have really enjoyed this power-packed, action flick but somebody with my racial-sensitivity issues and my sometimes out-of-control “What’s the real message here?” angst…well, maybe I should explain.

shining example of a Black superhero

Hancock: shining example of a Black superhero

First of all, Hancock is a superhero, a Black superhero. Great! Someone our children can relate to, right? Sure, if you don’t mind the ragged, unwashed, alcohol-guzzling, profanity-laced, irrational, out-of-control dysfunctionality of the character.

And, considering that he seems to be the only one of his “kind,” you can almost understand him. He’s lonely. He’s confused. He’s isolated. All that stuff. He inadvertently finds a kind of mentor — a PR man named Ray whose life Hancock saves. But for some reason, Hancock seems to be “drawn” to the man’s wife Mary: your typical tall, blond, slim white woman whose wiles have been making men go crazy on (and off) the big screen for longer than I have been alive!

Take, for example, the slick way that the writers managed to elevate these white women to sainthood. Mary is actually Ray’s second wife, and his son’s stepmother. As the story goes, Ray’s first wife died — giving birth to their son. Pretty good way to get rid of her, I had to grudgingly admit. There is no more saintlier way to die. And that saves the writers all the problems of divorce, alimony, child-support and the bitter legal battles that can make the average woman look considerably less than sweet. Mary (I don’t think that name is a coincidence!) swept Ray off his feet when he was the confused single-father of a brand new infant (how touching), trying to figure out diapers at the supermarket (we all know how hard THAT can be — I think any non-movie dad would be insulted at this point). And the rest, as they say, is history. Mary and Ray fell in love and Mary generously raised the son who was not her biological child — the only mother he ever knew! She’s no scheming homewrecker, instead she’s Ray’s saviour.

After one excrutiating scene after another where this “tension” between Hancock and Mary is played out, finally we are let into the mystery: Mary has the same powers as Hancock! A cruel trick of amnesia has separated the two: she is his powerful alter-ego and wife!

Unfortunately, when the two are together, they are like Kryptonite to one another: causing them both to weaken and lose their powers. So Hancock is safer and better off living his life separately and leaving her to continue to live her own.

The picture-perfect suburban family

The picture-perfect suburban family

My frustration with the film was not really built around the fact that this white woman is the center of all power, beauty and desirability in the film — come on now, I get that on a daily basis just from your everyday shampoo commercial! What concerned me is that the film continued to portray this loving, happy, functional white family with angelic mother, devoted dad and spunky son. Hancock had no such situation. Even when all the drama had passed with Ray finding out about his wife’s hidden superpowers (total deceit!) and matrimonial link to Hancock (umm…that had to be a shocker!), at the end of the movie, they were still able to pull it together (magically?) and come through as a stronger, still functional family. Hancock, of course, was the lone ranger, cast out on his own — and pretty damn happy about it all the same.

And you wonder why it is so hard for Black actresses to find quality roles. Whether lead character or sidekick, the Black man almost never has a quality life-partner, wife, girlfriend, whatever. Anyone remember Hitch? Would it have been so crazy to have Will Smith fall in love with a Black woman instead of the usual “pseudo-mixed-maybe-Latina” symbol? Anyone see “The Game Plan” starring The Rock and Morris Chestnut? Morris was all good playing the functional family man. The only problem is that his family was never once shown on screen. I just experienced the disappointment of Jennifer Holiday’s nothing-role in the Sex In the City movie. Maybe SHE could have played Hancock’s wife; turned that poor sucker around.

Well, at least I can take comfort in the fact that the real Will Smith is married to a real strong Black sistah and not selling out in that regard (thank you Ms. Jada Pinkett). But, with as much influence and bang for the buck that he has in Hollywood (or maybe I’m making a big assumption here), I just think that he could do a lot more to help portray images of functional Black families in movies. And that’s my rant of the day. What’s yours?

Watching TV this afternoon, I really paid attention to that new commercial from Gardasil. “What would you do to protect yourself?” The main thing being to get a PAP test and get vaccinated against cervical cancer. Good advice I suppose. I have heard commercials being played ceaselessly on our local urban radio station (I haven’t heard so many on non-urban stations) encouraging young girls to get themselves vaccinated to protect against cervical cancer. I thought this might be a good place to discuss some of the other risk factors of cervical cancer that we can encourage our daughters and young women in our community to AVOID — instead of seeing vaccination as the be-all and end-all of our cervical health. We have more control than we think:

Risk factors for cervical cancer include:

  • becoming sexually active at a young age
    Young women are more susceptible to HPV infection since the cells of the cervix are undergoing rapid change at puberty.
  • having many sexual partners
    Women who have many partners or who have sex with partners who have had many partners, have a greater chance of getting HPV.
  • HIV infection
    The immune system of a woman infected with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) is less able to fight both the human papillomavirus and early cancers.
  • having a weakened immune system
    Immunocompromised women with chronic fatigue syndrome, women who have had organ transplants and women who are taking steroids are less able to fight HPV infection.
  • smoking
    Smoking appears to be a cofactor with HPV in causing dysplasia, which may progress to cervical cancer.

Let’s talk about these things too. Gardasil may not be talking about them (why discuss risk factors when you only have a few minutes to promote your product) but we can talk about them in our own families and communities. Any thoughts?