Janelle Monáe owes much of her success to the strong women who raised her. Here she talks about the lessons she’s learnt from her mother, grandmother and aunt.
My mother, Janet, had me at a very young age and she made a lot of sacrifices in order for me to be the person I am today. She put me and my sister in front of her own needs, sacrificing both her own career decisions and her comfort. She endured a lot of suffering – including feeling the shame of being a young, single mother.
I grew up watching my mum put on a uniform every day. She was a janitor. She also cleaned houses and was a maid at a hotel. I saw her work very hard and watched her live pay cheque to pay cheque. She never talked down about her job and we respected her because she was doing work that needed to be done. Without cleaners, our whole community would fall apart.
My mum gave me the opportunity to grow and pursue my dreams instead of following her own. She was always very creative and she used to sketch a lot when I was little – I have tried to encourage her to do more art. Now, she’s going back to school and getting a degree. My mum is at a level in her life where she doesn’t give a damn about what you think. She is a free spirit with no inhibitions whatsoever.
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.