LaTonya Yvette Grazia
Credit: Makeda Sandford

I grew up in a version of New York City where community was sewn into everything. As a kid, everyone knew me. Everyone knew my family. Everyone knew when I got in trouble and anyone could come and tell me what I was doing wrong. If we needed money, someone had it. If we needed food, someone had it. That culture of community has sort of been overlooked with mass waves of gentrification.

People like to say that New York is dead but it is very much alive… because it is clinging to the culture of community. Mutual aid, which has been the cornerstone of Black communities for decades, is now front and center as forms of existing within a community. Neighbors have been forced to speak to one another, young people who were seriously isolating made it a point to call their elders. Community has been allowed to shine in this particular storm because New Yorkers are fighting big corporations and money-wielding tenants for space that should rightfully be shared.

My hardest New York day came when my children’s school was closed down. It was a mild Sunday in March and my kids and I were playground-hopping. I had washed the laundry and had gotten their things together like I always do on Sundays. I got an alert from the news that NYC had shut its public schools. I remember hunching over in the playground because my stomach immediately started to ache as my kids kept playing. I was instantly physically ill. It was confusing. It was traumatic. The entire week just vanished. Time stopped.

You have to understand how imperative public school is to poor and working class families in New York City. It’s not just school. Closing down was the instant erasure of what we knew as community, education and routine. Every morning, for three months, I watched conferences from the mayor and governor, hoping for more clarity about this sort of invisible illness that was killing just about everyone. Everyone was dying. The kids, the news, our home – that is all we had. I can’t imagine families who are struggling with housing insecurity. I was a kid of that kind of living, I know how hard it is.

It’s important to acknowledge what it means to exist with fear. I know Black mothers who are deeply struggling with work, racism, raising kids and having them feel unsafe in this current climate. Despite these issues always existing, the profound weight of it all feels unique for our generation in particular, largely due to complexities with COVID, deep segregation within public education, greater divides in economic disparities and the death of beloved Black heroes.

I am good at making routine and sticking to it for the betterment of our household. Once remote school kicked in, I developed a plan for us to walk outside every morning before class, as if we were walking to school. We still had down time and certain music and candles that helped switch the classroom back into our home. I am thankful that I was able to make a routine as it helped my children cope with what was happening.

I’ve been thinking a lot about one of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s quotes on mothering. It’s how I have always striven to handle the balance between working and being a young mother. “When I started law school, my daughter Jane was 14 months,” says Ginsburg. “I attribute my success in law school largely to Jane. I went to class about 8:30, and I came home at 4 o’ clock. That was children’s hour. It was a total break in my day. And children’s hour continued until Jane went to sleep. Then I was happy to go back to the books. So, I felt each part of my life gave me respite from the other…Having Jane gave me a better sense of what life is.”

When I’m feeling low, I make playlists… and share them with my readers and family. I also am a huge communicator and have friends, a partner, an ex and extended family that I speak with constantly.

I am also resting and trying to build stamina for the election… and what unrest may unfold after it. I’m also busy writing my newsletters, content for my site, and my second book which is to be published by Dial Press. It’s a tall order but I am thankful I have something to do, somewhere to be and people who count on me to be as well as I can be right now.

You leave your house and you are reminded of how alive the city is. That’s likely why I am not too worried about the winter. Young people, our elders, babies, pastors, activists… everyone is just sort of in this constant exchange of life.

Follow LaTonya @latonyayvette. Read her book Woman Of Color here. 

Deep Dive Into Other Stories From Downtown New Yorkers here