Venice Williams is the director of Alice’s Garden and The Body & Soul Healing Arts Center. A lay minister, teacher, healer, and facilitator who works to improve the lives of young people, formerly incarcerated people and others in the central city, Williams writes that she will pray for the new president for the sake of his mother.
During the presidential campaign of 2016, as I awakened to headlines, tweets, images of the many unconventional, and often, unacceptable, language and behavior choices of the now president-elect of the United States of America, I would be as startled, and maybe, disappointed as many Americans. Each time, as I tried to make sense of the source of his opinions, my thoughts always, and eventually, landed at one question: Who is his mother? Who carried this human being in her womb? Who counted all of his fingers and toes once he wiggled his way into this world? Who changed his diapers, wiped his nose, and nursed his cuts and scrapes? Who is the woman who, most likely, taught him how to tie his shoes, the right way to brush his teeth, how to properly make his bed? What mama rocked him back to sleep when he was awakened by nightmares, or baked his favorite cookies? Whose heart fluttered when he would send a smile her way?
Did she kneel with him at night, by the side of his bed, and teach him how to pray to their God? Did she scold him, upon his returning home from school, with a note from the teacher, explaining what her son had done that day? Did she say to him, “Donnie, you cannot treat the other kids that way?” Did his mother read to him, and he to her? Did they share much laughter? A lot of love? How often did she just reach out, take him in her arms, and hold him? Steal a kiss from him as he grew older? Who is his mother?
I wanted to deeply dislike this man. His harsh ideologies and planned actions, laced with animosity and indifference towards so many people I love, and organizations I support, are reason enough to loath and detest the man who has been elected to the office of president of the United States. Yet, my thoughts kept coming back to his mother. I wanted to know about the woman who raised, nurtured, disciplined, encouraged, helped to mold this man.
Mary McLeod (Trump) arrived on the soil of this nation as an immigrant, 17 years old, a fisherman’s daughter from Tong, a small, remote village in Scotland. She came to this country in November 1929 as a “domestic,” seeking employment, a new beginning, clothed in self-respect, and ready to work. President-elect Donald Trump’s mother made her way to America in the same manner as President Barack Obama’s father. Miss Mary longed for the identical life opportunities as present-day Mexican, Sudanese, Syrian, Burmese immigrants. To be welcomed and to be safe. To find work and be part of a community. To nurture a family and build a home. To be happy. To not be forgotten. To be respected and treated fairly.
After having met Fred Trump, marrying him, and being the woman by his side as he built his fortune, Mary McLeod Trump gave both considerable time and money to causes that touched her heart. She, especially, was an advocate for charities that impacted children and adults with cerebral palsy, and nurtured education and wellness for intellectually disabled adults. As I recall the video footage of the president-elect mocking Serge Kovaleski, the New York Times reporter who has arthrogryposis, a condition causing joint contracture in his right arm and hand, I do not have to wonder what his mother would have said to him. You can hear her, also. Shame on you, Donald.
Almost daily, I awaken to news of stray bullets hitting the innocent, life-threatening carjackings, senseless violence against women and children, abuse of power and positions of service in this, my city. In these, my Milwaukee neighborhoods. As I listen to the horrific details of crimes and abuse that bring me to tears, and stir anger and frustration within me, the same question arises for each of them, too; those who behave in ways that are simply unacceptable: Who is his (or her) mother?
Did she kneel with him at night, by the side of his bed, and teach him how to pray to their God? Did she scold him, once he got home from school, after, yet, another call from his teacher? Did she say to him, “You cannot treat anyone that way!” Did his mother read to him, and he to her? Did they share much laughter? A lot of love? How often did she just reach out, take him in her arms, and hold him? Steal a kiss from him as he grew older? Who is his mother?
I cannot hate our incoming president, even as he has already chosen to use his newly elected position as a “bully pulpit.” I cannot hate him and pray for him at the same time. And, pray for him, I must.
I cannot hate the people in this city who break my heart with each pulling of the trigger, every stripping of someone else’s dignity. I cannot hate them and pray for them at the same time. Pray for them, I must.
I am connected to them by the power of their own mothers’ wombs yoked with mine. Always, at all times, I am Mother.
Each of them. All of them. Every one of us had or have mothers who wanted us to live happy, safe, fulfilled lives. Even if they were not the ones who could show us the way, a mother, deeply, wants her children to make life-giving choices for themselves, and others. She wants her child to be a good person. When we fail at that, at being the better man, or favorable woman, our own mother hoped we might one day be, the village steps in, holds us accountable, and guides us to a better way.
At least, it should.
If we are going to give Donald Trump the power to polarize us, then let the point of polarization be our love for and allegiance to one another, and all of humanity, and not a hatred and disgust of him. Let our devotion to the well being of our families and our neighborhoods strengthen the work we are already doing. We will, collectively, hold this incoming administration, under a new president, accountable for what is needed in our schools, responsible for all that is necessary to create more family-sustaining jobs, liable for the changes required to cleanse judicial systems, local and nationwide, of corruption, answerable to the resources we will request to strengthen our neighborhoods. I hope we would have done that no matter who was elected. Right? We have never needed ignorance or apathy to fuel our sense of justice for our people.
I do not know if Mr. Trump has forgotten some of the values his mother surely taught him. I have no problem reminding him of her immigrant beginnings, and thus his, and how those Scottish roots connect him to every African, Mexican, Middle Eastern, European human being, entering this country, who has the same dreams for their lives, and their children, as his mother had for hers and his. Mary McLeod Trump expects nothing less from this Mother.