Marrow: The Memory in Our Bones

My mother is almost 80 years old.

She still remembers her brothers.

One dear child she held in her arms. She remembered his face. A beautiful child. He died at three weeks, and though she doesn’t remember why, I suspect it may have been the holes in the shack in which they all lived, an unintended invitation to the elements and creeping things, the lack of sterilization in the cooking yard and the lack of food, or the breastmilk that refused to flow due to my grandmother’s stress. There are some men who are so hard that even watching their woman give birth is not enough to evoke gentleness or the taking on of “woman’s work”.

The other brother came before her, lived a few months, died. I wish I knew his circumstance, a story of his coos and sighs and smiles, but my mother wasn’t there, and there are no memories of hers to pass on as my inheritance. Just that he was. He existed and was loved and died.

My grandmother bore four daughters who lived and two sons who died.

Something about the environment broke the baby boys in a way that kept them from surviving. I believe it was poverty—I can only say this from what I feel in my bones; the testimony of the marrow of inherited memory.

Yet there is something lasting in these babies taken by death. These treasured children are a part of history as they are remembered. Their lives are sacred and we speak their existence to honor their belovedness. They are in my marrow.

In the same way, we carry the memories of so many whose names and mother tongues were drowned in the Atlantic. Of course we mimic the dances in the holler and the children darting between the sugar cane stalks. Of course we feel the greens that our great-great grandmother grew, like a phantom touch tickling our palms. Our marrow is made of their survival.

Consumerism tells us that one, in order to be significant, must be famous. But in the deep knowing that comes from our Creator, we remember that our existence is proof enough of our value. The anonymous ancestors propel us to life as much as the names we know. We are not our ancestors—only because we wouldn’t be here if they weren’t here first.

But there are those made ancestors much too soon. There are the dead that should be living; if we know their names, we speak them. Tyre Nichols is a name I have spoken often this week, because I had to yet again tell my children that an unarmed Black man was beaten to death by police officers, not because he posed any threat, but because this is the environment of violence deemed acceptable for Black people—yes, even violence perpetrated by Black officers—who encounter law enforcement. 

There are women who will die because they are Black and gave birth in the United States, where their symptoms and pain are routinely minimized and neglected.

There are children who will die because their neighborhoods are fabricated with lead paint, lead pipes, iron bars, and apathy.

We will not sleep, emotionally anesthetized to their premature and wrongful deaths; we are awake to our God-given value. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Our survival in this hostile environment is an indictment and a triumph. Each one of us is something of a Lucille Clifton poem.1

Erasure has been a potent tool of oppression. Black History Month, in the face of cowardly legislation and the insistent zombie-like ignorance of racists, is an act of faith and celebration. Remembrance is resistance. We will remember our living and our dead. We will not comply. We will speak, dance, write, sing, build, theorize, imagine, and rehearse the fire shut up in our bones; the truth that we are sacred; the testimony of our marrow.

This essay was originally published in February 2023 at the author’s Substack, When and Where I Enter.


  1. For more information about Lucille Clifton, visit THIS LINK. And be sure to read her poem, “Won’t You Celebrate with Me”.

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Sharifa is the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, born and raised in New York, and currently living in Dallas, TX. She graduated from Columbia University in New York with a Bachelor in African American Studies before earning a master in theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. Sharifa is a conglomeration of intersections: Bronx wisdom and prep-school code-switching; smoke shop Now-and-Laters and church peppermints; hip-hop and hymns. Sharifa aspires to use writing as a vehicle that moves readers to intersect with the sacred and the honest. She co-authored Only Light Can Do That: 60 Days of MLK Devotions for Kids, contributed to the books Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, & Marginalized Women of the Bible and Rally: Communal Prayers for Lovers of Jesus and Justice, and is writing her first book. Sharifa is wife to a Renaissance man, and mother to two lively boys.

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