Recently, we have been hearing the statement, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Many of us agree when we hear the statement. Has any effort been made to create the attitude necessary for such a community? With all the talk about the village, I believe many of us who talk about what it takes to raise a child have forgotten how the healthy village actually functioned. With our children running wild and out of control and mothers of 2-year-old boys saying “I can’t do anything with this child.” That was never if ever said in the village because there always were a couple of chiefs/Big Mamas in the village depending on how large the village was. If this chief did not live in the home, she was in the village and everyone knew who she was and where to find her. Our 12-year-old boys and girls are out carrying out atrocious criminal acts just to become members of gangs was unheard of in a real healthy village.

Doing those days very few children grew up and missed the opportunity of having been spoken to at one time or another by a Big Mama. I was fortunate enough to have been raised in the neighborhood/village where my grandmother was the chief. She was 4’5” tall and weighed 110 lbs., and she was actually called Big Mama. She acquired that name by saying what she meant and meaning what she said. She spent little time repeating herself. Her given name was Lizzie Davis; however, no one ever called her by that name. Big Mama is who she was to everyone in the village — old and young, black and white.

My Big Mama smoked a pipe and I just loved to smell the strong aroma of the pipe. From time to time she would get busy and leave the pipe and would call on one of her 30 grands to bring her pipe. When I was one of the 30 present, I always wanted to get the pipe for her so that I could pick it up and smell the strong aroma of Sir Walter Raleigh tobacco. I know she must have slept, but I cannot recall ever seeing her sleep. I cannot recall ever seeing her in bed clothes. This Big Mama was always up trying to survey the goings-on in the home and the neighborhood. Her lookout point was on the porch to watch the going and coming of everyone in the village, not just the children but mothers and fathers. Most Big Mamas were also very early risers.

During those days, children had learned shortcuts and cut-throughs to get to places where they were not supposed to be.

Big Mamas knew those short cuts as well, and no child was surprised to hear a clearing of the throat or “Boy/Gal, where are you going. Does your momma know that you are out here?”

The truth would always come out for fear of lying to the chief and momma being told about it.

Nobody, absolutely nobody, wanted his or her momma to be told that Little Hardy had lied to Aunt Dooby.

With Big Mamas in the villages we had no need to call the police to our children who were out of control. We had no need to for overcrowded temporary Youth Detention Centers. When Big Mama, the community chief, could not handle the children they were sent off to a Reform School for good. No child wanted to be threatened with that possibility. We had heard horror stories about Reform Schools. Once the child was labeled as incorrigible, he was taken out of the village. I can remember only one young man who was almost removed. His name was Bennie. His mom had died and he was left to be raised by his grandparents. He was an emotionally-troubled child because he held the terrible memory of him and his brother playing with a gun and the gun accidentally went off killing the brother. He received no counseling. He was 5 years old at the time and the brother was 6. Bennie grew up carrying the weight of that deed with no help mentally. He loved playing hard and laughing loudly with the other boys in the community as if he were over compensating. That fact was always hovering over the heads of the other boys who played rough with him as well.

Is there a road back to getting chiefs back in our villages?

Much building has to be addressed for it to function properly again.

Members of the village must work hard at loving each other. Members must work hard at trusting each other. Members must work hard at supporting each other. Members must work hard to serve each other. Everyone in the village must work hard to be an empowering force for each other because everyone in the community has something to offer.

Building a strong community is worth putting forth the effort, isn’t it?

Willie Mae Samuel is a playwright and a director in Rome. She is the founder and director of the African American Connection of the Performing Arts Inc.

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