Thank you for taking the time to read this narrative.
I simply want to celebrate a Black woman today. I want to acknowledge her and have her value to the universe recognized and amplified. At times, we underestimate the significance of a Black woman, of her love, her forgiveness, her integrity, her resilience, her intelligence, her versatility, and most important, her value. We’ve lost far too many Black women for so many reasons. My fear is that we, in our community, may have already disconnected from them emotionally long before they leave this world. This happens when we don’t persist in our honoring of Black women, in our protection of Black women, of our promotion of Black women, and our ostensible appreciation of Black women. I fear we take for granted just how much the world renders Black women invisible and expendable and how that should be a call for all of us who claim to love Black women to celebrate them, to laud them, to literally give them their flowers while they are still here to physically receive them.
One of these Black women is Derita Ethenia Graves. Derita is a 51-year old mother of two and grandmother of five. A mother in her early twenties, Derita put off college to raise her two children while working in multiple professional contexts, including college and university systems as a financial aid advisor and business officer, an information technology consultant and programmer within a state judicial system. I should also mention that, in each of these positions, Derita had been awarded and institutionally recognized for her diligence, her professionalism and work ethic, and her skills. In addition, Derita has served as a certified birth doula and licensed daycare operator.
While I can go on about Derita’s professional skills and decorum and her hustle mentality that has always helped her land on her feet while keeping food on the table for her children and grandchildren, what I’ve come to adore about Derita is the durability of her positive attitude and disposition. I don’t have an unrealistic feel-good story about Derita; indeed, there have been some challenging times and bad days for her. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic had led to a reduction-in-force for Derita in her last position. Though she was hired for a comparable position within weeks, the start date would continue to get pushed back for another month since the time of this writing.
No, it had not been all roses and lilies for Derita in the years since I’ve befriended her. However, what Derita maintained throughout all of the ups and downs, the mountaintops and the valleys, was her belief in a better tomorrow, a belief that things would get better, the belief that all things happen for the good of those who love God. Derita has an internal joy that was constantly activated. She could channel it when she needed to smile amidst the pain or use it to help someone else struggle to see a brighter tomorrow. Derita, when it seemed like the world was against her, still believed in herself and her ability to become better, to become more, to exhibit the overwhelming goodness and Godliness that courses through her veins, fueling that beautiful smile that is matched only by her love for her family.
Granted, Derita ain’t ‘holier than thou’; she’s a mighty good utilizer of gratuitous expletive- laden phrases and has not always lived a saintly existence. Yet, I’ve found people like Derita to have the most authenticity, to be the most genuine. Similar to David in the Holy Bible, Derita moves in ways that hadn’t always been pleasing to God, but like David, Derita upholds her two- way communication with God, ever-seeking the best possible path to get closer to God without attempting to be a purist or perfectionist. Derita is a woman after God’s own heart because she never stops believing, she has never stopped chasing what God has for her, she’s never stopped believing that she is to become more, that her purpose has yet to be fulfilled. Her faith has carried her through places that would have stalled or ended the journeys of many, many others. During some of the toughest periods of Derita’s life, she vowed to get physically and mentally stronger, to attain more financial wisdom, to take calculated risks, to build up her professional network, and utilize her current skill set to build a brand that would help others. She’s never stopped wanting more for herself...she’s never stopped seeking to become the person God wants her to be.
With that, she mustered the courage to end a physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive relationship, fulfilled a lifelong dream of learning to ride a motorcycle, became proficient at firearm training and self-defense, improved her blood pressure and cardiovascular abilities, became an ardent powerlifter with a goal of deadlifting 315lbs by 2021, and most recently, created two LLCs for her certified birthing doula training company. This last idea she was able to leverage into two critical panel discussions with Kentucky state officials with the possibility of providing online her doula training curriculum to mothers and mothers/doulas-to-be across the country, while addressing the alarming pregnancy and birthing complications faced disproportionately by Black women. I’d be remiss not to mention that Derita was executing all of this while caring for her grandchildren full-time while her daughter completed nursing school with a Bachelor’s degree. These days, as her daughter readies for commencement exercises and her son finalizes his plans to become a certified personal trainer (with his own gym), Derita still finds time to support them all by sitting with her grandchildren and supporting her nieces and nephews by baking them assorted pastries and goodies and answering their calls when they need to talk. Even during the pandemic, Derita masks up and totes boxes of cookies to her loved ones...because she loves them.
Gifted with a sharp wit and a shrewd analytical mind and an amazing knack for scientific and prose writing, Derita made the difficult decision to borrow from her retirement funds to pay tuition and complete her undergraduate studies and earn her Bachelor’s degree. At 51 and a grandmother of five, during perhaps the toughest time in our history, Derita decided to rightfully invest in herself and finish what she had started decades earlier. I kidded her in saying that she was trying to steal the shine from her daughter who is graduating in the same semester. However, if you know Derita, you understand just how proud she is of her two children, their accomplishments, and those of her young grandchildren.
Derita, in this year, at this time, with all the circumstances, and lack of certainty and guarantees, while awaiting the first day of work, has enrolled in courses and will complete her Bachelor’s degree this December. With this, she continued to instill pride in herself by obtaining the very item she had emphasized to her children (and now, her grandchildren) for almost three decades. She enrolled and will get her degree because she believes in becoming more, in doing more. In addition, Derita has also written the curriculum to begin her online doula training. She’s earned her CPR certification and has goals of becoming a firearms instructor and FFL dealer. Of all these pending and future goals, to me, her greatest flex was the video of herself she sent to her family through group text of her dancing and singing 90s R&B, after yet another difficult email indicating that she hadn’t been offered a job (you see, Derita never stopped looking for something better, even with already being hired for a position with a much later start dated).
Undeterred and persistent in her pursuit of joy, against the odds, this narrative does not showcase just how special of a Black woman Derita is. Rather, Black women are special within human history and existence...and Derita is but one of them. Derita’s experience is not entirely unique or uncommon. In fact, Black womanhood has multiple common threads, good and bad, all of which are in located in Derita’s story. I share her story today because I want Derita to know that she is loved, that she is valued, that she is irreplaceable, that she is worthy, that she is chosen, that she has purpose, that she is incredible, that she is magnanimous, that she is the epitome of every Black woman that has ever existed and that will ever exist, that she is an heir to the throne of God.
With this, I encourage us to extend our gratitude for the gift of her presence in our lives. Throughout it all, she has continued to persevere and love and believe and dream and plan and sing and write and seek joy through faith. She has provided a perennial roadmap for existence for her Black granddaughters. She’s changed lives by making her own an example for all of us.
I say this about her, but also to her, while she’s still here, pursuing the best version of herself through the Grace of our God. Derita, we celebrate your triumphs, your challenges, your highs and your lows today. We give what we can to you today because you give all you can to each of us, in your own way, every single day.
We love you and we thank you for just being you. We refuse to take for granted your existence and continued significance in our lives. We are honored that you are such an important part of who we are. We may never approximate the infinite love that God has for you; we will attempt, however, to get close by telling your story— while you’re here—so that you may receive love and acknowledgment from as many people as possible. Even in-between jobs, we say ‘job well done’! (Please understand how witty and humorous Derita and thus, her appreciation of that pun).
Celebrate the special Black women in your life by giving.
Their days are never promised, but they should always, always be cherished.
Derita Ethenia Graves, we love and cherish you. Every. Single. Day.
- Destinie Graves
- DeShana Collett