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Nicole Avant Shares Lessons From Her Mother, Jacqueline: ‘She Never Let Me Leave the House Without the Knowledge of My History’

Nicole and Jacqueline Avant
Courtesy of Nicole Avant/AP

My mother raised me to believe that the soul is everlasting. She simply did not believe that you could kill someone’s spirit. The physical body may go away, but the spirit — the Divine essence within us that makes us who we are — is something that is always here. Since the tragic passing of my mother’s body, I feel her presence alive in different forms. I feel her when I share stories about her with our loved ones, I feel her as I read through her old letters, and admire her beautiful collections of art, books and Japanese lacquer.

Lately, I have felt her most when I reflect on her teachings.

This is my first Black History Month without her, and I am reminded that if there is one thing my mother never let me leave the house without, it was the knowledge of my history.

James Baldwin said, “History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.”

My mother lived these words. She and my father raised me to always acknowledge the past in the present because, for me, the present moment could not be possible without the sacrifices of those who came before me. We observed Black History every single day. We didn’t wait for the month of February or a school holiday to give us permission.

My parents didn’t raise me to look up to fictional superheroes, but instead to acknowledge and revere the heroes of our people. Black culture is rich with superheroes — people who lived, and fought and worked for freedoms they knew they would never see in their lifetimes. Freedoms they knew that only future generations would have a chance to realize.

My mother taught me that love meant respect, and she challenged me to respect the labor of my ancestors by being like them. She wanted me to have not only their moral courage, but also their unwavering grit, inexhaustible gratitude and unimaginable grace.

Grit is how you get from where you are to where you want to be. It is the determination that keeps you moving in the direction of your dreams, and it is how my father got from North Carolina to Beverly Hills.

Gratitude is the healing balm of life.

I was raised to know that a “thank you” is the easiest way to send a blessing to your neighbor, and on my hardest and weariest days, it is how I have held on to the blessings in my life. Gratitude is also the energy that connects us to our liberation. My mother made sure I had gratitude for our history — the good, the bad, the joy, the pain and the heartache.

There have been moments in my life when I have wanted to give up, but never did because I could always hear my mother saying, “What if Ida B. Wells would have given up?

“Or Frederick Douglass? Or Ruby Bridges?

“Or Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner?

“What if Dr. King had given up? Where would you be?”

Because of her, I always keep going.

Because of her, I know that my actions, like a pebble in a stream, have the potential to create a ripple in my community.

Gratitude reveals our gifts to us, so that they may fuel us on our journey.

And then there’s grace. Grace is how we overcome even the most devastating things in life. It is the highest energy within us. It connects us to forgiveness, mercy, patience and humility. It connects us to the divine. I feel the grace of my mother every day — her elegance, her generosity, the way she made people feel seen, and warmed all who knew her with her light.

She is my teacher. She is my superhero.

She is my mother. She is my history. She is me.

Nicole Avant is an activist and the former U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas. Her mother, Jacqueline, is remembered for her work as a philanthropist and for her impact as a matriarch in the Black community. Wife to music mogul Clarence Avant, Jacqueline was killed in December. She was 81.

(Pictured above Jacqueline Avant with daughter Nicole in 1973.)

Throughout the month of February, Variety will publish essays from prominent Black artists, artisans and entertainment figures celebrating the impact of Black entertainment and entertainers on the world at large.

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Jacqueline Avant, on left, Nicole Avant and Clarence Avant attend the 11th Annual AAFCA Awards at the Taglyan Complex on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Mark Von Holden /Invision/AP) Mark Von Holden/Invision/AP