My grandmother Bessie helped raise me. I remember going to live at her house – she had 11 kids living with her, but she never turned us away. Her house was a community centre of sorts. My grandmother would open her home to people who were recovering addicts, who had just lost their jobs, just got out of jail or who were trying to get back on their feet. It was humbling to watch this woman, this matriarch of the whole community, have so much influence over people. I saw convicted murderers treat my grandmother like a queen.
I look at my grandmother as an example of how to love unconditionally. Some of the people who lived with her would steal from her and she would forgive them. It didn’t matter what you did to her, if you cussed her out, if you harmed one of her kids; she forgave. She was a very spiritual woman. Now, I always try to forgive when I can and to give as much as I can to those who don’t have anywhere to turn – as a way to honour my grandmother’s spirit.
My aunt Loretta passed away four years ago. She was a very outspoken woman and she never sugar-coated anything. She was also very sexually liberated. She taught me how to protect myself and embrace my sexuality. I appreciate her for being open with me about that.
My aunt Loretta was also open about the tough times she went through. She dealt with drug abuse and a lot of dark things; but she turned it all around and became a flight attendant and learnt how to fly planes.
She chose freedom over fear. She came from this dark past and ended up seeing the light. And that’s how I remember her: being a light for everyone in my family. She showed us that you can come from nothing and turn your life into something.
Tiffany & Co.’s There’s Only One campaign starring Janelle Monáe is out now.