Most folks would agree that February, although the shortest month of the year, can be counted on as the best time to experience a sense of positivity about being Black in America.
After all, it is the designated month devoted to highlighting and celebrating Black history, Black culture, and Black people in virtually every aspect of life.
Yet one February morning, about 12 years ago, as I was driving my then 4-year-old son to preschool, he surprised me, first, by asking, “Mommy, am I Black?” And then, when I promptly, (and, in my mind, proudly) answered, “Yes, Sweetheart, you, me, and Daddy are Black,” he loudly cried out, “But I don’t want to be Black” — and immediately burst into tears.
Which broke my heart.
But then I did the thing that mamas do when their little person is in obvious emotional distress. I kept my hands steady and my face neutral as I pulled into the parking lot of the preschool.
And after drying his tears and asking him a few questions, I discovered why my little guy was finding no joy in being Black.
At his private, predominantly Black preschool, they had been discussing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Ms. Rosa Parks in honor of Black History Month — with an emphasis on the degrading and inhumane treatment of Black people as they marched, sat-in, and spoke-out against social injustice. Definitely accurate, but maybe not as age-appropriate for little kids.
Quite reasonably, my son wanted no part of that Black experience. And, in his 4-year-old mind, he could see no other way to escape it than by a wholesale rejection of Blackness.
Of course, later that evening, my husband and I explained to our son that those were historical events and would never be something he had to worry about in his lifetime.
But the past was still the present to my son. And it took several reassurances, my Facebook post of the incident to get some advice from my virtual “village,” and the eventual passage of time, before we saw his Black boy joy return and our concern about his fledgling sense of identity and self-esteem to subside.
Then fast forward to 2020.
Nothing could have prepared any of us for the confluence of health, social, and economic mayhem that defined last year. And the events taking place during the summer of 2020 were particularly devastating for Black families.
Thankfully, I work for Hallmark, which recognized the need for us to try and help heal the emotional trauma Black people were experiencing as a result of those events.
And this recognition — by senior leaders and coworkers alike — was the catalyst behind the creation of a Mahogany card collection specifically planned to uplift and empower the Black community during this time.
As a leader of the Mahogany team, it meant a lot to me that Hallmark was invested in meeting this real and present need. And as a Black woman, wife, and mom, it seemed personally serendipitous to me. I felt like working on a collection created to elevate Black people that would be in stores during Black History Month was a chance to reclaim this time as a celebration and affirmation of Blackness for my now 15-year-old son.
But, on the other hand, the significance was not lost on me that there was still a need for a collection like this in the year 2020. Truth be told, I was devastated — as were so many other people who made up the diverse group of talented, compassionate, and sincere individuals devoted to making this collection come to life as authentically as possible. And it took awhile for me to envision these cards as being testaments to the beauty and power of Black voices.
Still, as our team coalesced and the work took shape, we grew clearer on our vision and purpose for this collection. Ultimately, we all came to understand and agree that Uplifted and Empowered was not just the name for these cards, it was how we wanted everyone to feel as soon as they saw them. And I do believe we accomplished that goal.
I wish I had the space and time to talk about every single card we created because each one has its own story and reason for being a part of this collection. But since I can’t do that here, hopefully, you will take the time to read the story behind the collection by one of our Hallmark writers, Courtney Taylor, and learn more about the writers/artists who created these cards.
I do feel compelled, however, to highlight two of the cards (which I’ve included toward the end) to share a few final thoughts about uplifting and empowering people.
When Valerie Stark, one of the Kansas City Mom Collective writers, asked me to be a guest contributor and talk about the Hallmark Mahogany Uplifted and Empowered collection, I’ll admit to feeling both excited for the opportunity and a little uncomfortable.
I was excited because I’m very proud of this collection, and I’m professionally and personally invested in seeing it be positively embraced by the Black community.
But I was also a little uncomfortable as I wondered how many readers of this blog would really be interested in hearing about a card collection created specifically for Black people. The question that usually (and logically) comes up is, “Can a non-Black person send these cards to a Black person?”
This was something we considered as we were thinking through the purpose of these cards. And because we know that a person doesn’t have to be Black to recognize and care about what systemic racism, social injustice, and unconscious bias have truly cost Black people, we decided to create a specific “ally” card. This is a card for people who may be of a different race, background, etc., and it empowers them to reach out and share the common language of genuine caring.
Written by Hallmark writer Melvina Young.
I believe that’s the same reason Valerie and the Kansas City Mom Collective graciously asked me to contribute this piece: to invite more people to listen, to understand, and to speak this common language of empathy and caring. And my hope is that the ally card (and there are others in the collection that allies can buy as well) and this blog will empower more people to join the conversation.
So… I started this piece with a story about the day my 4-year-old son didn’t want to be Black.
I’ll end it by showcasing the card we call “Black Excellence,” also by Melvina Young.
This card is to remind every Black person that their Blackness is not a curse, it is a blessing. It honors all of the ancestors and elders who persevered and fought long and hard and tirelessly to make a way, when there was no way, and to open doors for future generations to stride through. It represents the collective and diverse beauty, significance, and power of Black lives.
And it is a love letter to my beautiful son — who is Black, Loud, Strong, and Proud.
Dierdra (Dee) Zollar is originally from Daytona Beach, FL, but has called Kansas City home for 20 years after joining the creative community at Hallmark Cards in 2000. Before making the career change to greeting cards, she was a writing instructor at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, FL (Yay, Rattlers!) where she was actually recruited to work for Hallmark. Dee loves how her editorial role on the Mahogany team helps people connect in very real and inspiring ways. She also loves reading everything, spending time with her husband Kenneth, son Kennedy, and their large extended family, and munching on chips while watching sappy movies.