Updated: Sep 11, 2020
Badass Lotus Flower Libra Forde is my first installment of my "Four Badass Black Women" series. Coming next are Jewels Pedersen, Jackie Capers-Brown, and Raina Casey. You can reach Libra here: https://www.facebook.com/librabetall or https://www.instagram.com/be.tall/.
Libra Forde’s mom named her Libra because her pregnancy brought balance to her life. At 6 feet, five inches, Libra continues that balance in her own life.
Born in Harlem, New York, Libra is single mom to three daughters. After living in Hawaii for many years, she decided to move to Oregon to finish her daughters’ education. Now in her sixth year here, Libra said she ended up living in rural Damascas without knowing much about the area...or that they would end up being the only Black family for miles around them. In spite of the lack of diversity, she loves living there, because it gives her daughters the freedom to move.
After working in Vermont many years ago, she has never moved to another city.
“The more I move, the more I realize I love rural living."
She lived overseas playing pro basketball for several years, but she came back to the United States because it wasn’t feeding her soul any more.
When she worked with special needs kids in Vermont, she found her calling to advocate for and support young people. Now she is the chief operations officer for Self-Enhancement, Inc, and the chair of the North Clackamas School District.
Self-Enhancement Inc. is a multi-service organization, dedicated to guiding underserved youth to realize their full potential. Working with schools, families, and partner community organizations, SEI provides support, guidance, and opportunities to achieve personal and academic success, bringing hope to young people and enhancing the quality of community life. Working with a case management approach, the organization stays in kids’ lives until they are 25. During COVID-19, they are busier than ever, with open food pantries and beefed-up food options. They are operating virtually and have not stopped serving their families.
Libra first learned about race when she was around five or six. Her parents were both activists; her father was an actor and her mom was the first Black model for Bob Mackie. Her grandfather was one of the first Black tank drivers in the army, and they were sent to do the difficult job of pulling out bodies from the concentration camps. Libra’s life was built around stories of “firsts,” and her parents told her this was what they expected from her and nothing less.
She loved living in the brown state of Hawaii...it was the first time in Libra’s life that being Black was not the issue and her right to exist was not challenged. When she settled into Hawaii, she called her family and said, “I’m never coming back.”
She’s glad that her daughters grew up in a place where they could appreciate their brownness, immersed in beaches, blue sky, and joy. When she moved back to the mainland, she realized she had not talked to her daughters about race. Fortunately, they are sustained by the foundational love they got in Hawaii. Libra calls Hawaii her “heart’s place.”
Libra does profound, insightful Facebook Lives on a regular basis. I asked her about a recent one she did when she talked about Oregon’s physical beauty underlain by its ugly history. She shared a story of vacationing in Coos Bay with her kids, and activist friends shared that there had been a racist incident not far from where was vacationing.
The problem she sees in Oregon’s rural areas is that Oregon had laws that upheld discrimination, but some white people don’t seem to realize that these laws don’t exist anymore. As a result of the racism, Black people don’t want to go to these places.
“We have to stop upholding these outdated laws,” she says. “You need to uphold Black voices in rural areas.”
Black folks come through these areas all the time; they need to respect all people.
In response to the recent #BlackLivesMatter protests, Libra started an activist movement in Clackamas County that could be done in cars for people who didn’t feel comfortable protesting during COVID-19. The first event for the Death of Racism had great support—at least 96 cars showed up. The event was particularly powerful for Libra because they gathered on a stretch of highway where her daughter had been chased. Counter-protesters showed up, of course, but she loved the opportunity to go against such a group in a way that was positive and peaceful.
When I asked her how she is feeling about the state of the country, she responded that she’s a romantic and an optimist, probably to a fault.
“I think this is an incredible opportunity for a lot of people,” she said. “There’s a lot of folks who are listening. There’s a lot of folks who really want to see change. My theory in this entire time is that there’s always an army that is fighting against something that is just not right for us. And that army, it grows over time and gets smaller. Right now, we’re gaining more warriors in that army, and we won’t gain everyone, but the army is getting really big. And that group is what will face and package the future for us. And that’s exciting to me...this army we’re building of peace and justice who want to see something different, they are setting up a package for us that could be brilliant for the future.”
When I asked her what she’s most proud of, she didn’t hesitate a bit. She is most proud of her kids, and she calls them her superpowers.
“I’m not a movie watcher, but watching them grow is like watching the best movie ever.”
As a domestic violence survivor, she’s always conscious of the fact that she’s made some difficult choices that have not been easy for her kids. When they arrived in Oregon, they experienced a tragedy that took them from a full family to being homeless in 24 hours. She would never want to rewrite the script, but the healing that came through that was her ability to speak and tell her story. She shares that her favorite flower is the lotus, because it grows in the mud and the worst conditions.
“My toughest times have made me grow into my best self,” says Libra.
When you’re in a domestic violence situation, you lose your voice, and so much of who you are...when all that dims, you don’t know how to find it again. She found that when she finally began speaking about her experience, it healed her. She realized that when you speak up and be transparent, you help others.
We talked about parenting and how to help children do hard things like her daughter who is a female skateboarder and how to help my son, a basketball player who is a sensitive boy. She shared some wise words that I have already passed along to my youngest son, who loves basketball.
“For me, basketball was a way to learn something...basketball was not going to be the ultimate,” she says.
“The thing about basketball that’s amazing is that it teaches you how to pivot. You go down one side and you shoot, and you need to make points. If it doesn’t go in, you need to immediately, without thinking, without hesitating, go the other way and play a totally different lens. And then that’s over, and you go back and you do it again. And you do this hundreds of times in one game. And it becomes a rhythm. And now, if you think about it in life, if you approach a barrier, if you know how to pivot, you think, ‘oh no problem; I’ll just go this way.’ It becomes a skill that you build without even thinking.”
Libra begins each morning alone, meditating for an hour and a half. Because she was an only child, she values her alone time. She finds joy in just waking up and realizing “Boy, I get to do this again.” She’s created a comfortable, safe, and warm home for her family, but at the same time she is always aware of all the privileges she has. Her day is full of fighting for people who don’t have the same privileges, and there was a time when she didn’t have those privileges either.
I asked her what she would say to her 21-year-old self, and again, without skipping a beat, she said,
“Never dim your light. Stay bright...in dimming my light, I realized how damaging that is for an individual, and I don’t want that for anybody...if someone thinks you’re too bright, give them some sunglasses.”
Even though some people might find her intimidating because she carries herself with confidence, she hopes people know that she is incredibly loyal and she has a huge heart. Her grandfather taught her to show up and show boldly,
“If people aren’t talking about you, you’re not doing anything.”
We discussed grit and resilience, and she talked about the importance of allowing children to not always be successful, but in their own way. “As parents, we want to jump in and break their fall. Grit and resilience comes from providing them guardrails, but allowing them to figure out where the guardrails are.” She asks her kids all the time, “If I die tomorrow, what would you do?”
She is eternally grateful to her family for sustaining her with their stories of resilience, coming from when they had nothing, and they were always smiling and had hope. She said,
“I think constantly about my ancestors, and the amount of pain and struggle and sacrifice that they always had to make on a daily basis...It was the only way they had to live,” says Libra. “And I think about their struggle and fight for people like me in a time when they didn’t even know my name...but they fought for me. And that is just so empowering to me. This literally gets me out of my bed, out of my seat. Whenever I want to complain, I think ‘this aint’ nothing compared to what people who fought for me to just be where I am today...oh yeah, I can do anything.”
Libra is an incredible inspiration to me, and I felt incredibly energized and motivated by our conversation.
Next week I release my interview with Jewels Pedersen, who is a writer, performer, and activist...another badass Black woman with three daughters. You won't want to miss it!
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