The beautiful resistance of Lisa Marie Simmons, as told to Jeneé Osterheldt.
My beautiful resistance was gifted to me by those who carved a way forward and gave me resiliency in my blood. I carry my beautiful resistance forward to those whom it will benefit.
I was adopted twice, once as a baby by a white family who sent me back, and then I was re-homed as a little girl. The heritage bequeathed to many women in America by our government and our patriarchal society was the stigma associated with an “illegitimate” child.
In the 1960s, having a child out of wedlock was not only frowned upon; it was hidden as much as it possibly could be. Black motherhood of a child out of wedlock was compounded by institutionalized racism, an untenable situation. We know the heartbreaking statistics regarding Black women who give birth in America today. Black women are over three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related issue than their white counterparts, which speaks volumes about the legacy systemic racism has left us.
I ended up in the predominantly white community of Boulder, Colo., with a white adoptive mother. I was given a hard row to hoe; as abusive as my adoptive mother was, she had much to redeem her. In the ‘70s, she and her friends taught me about protesting. She marched for women’s rights and against nukes, though I have no memory of her attending a civil rights demonstration. Still, it was spoken of and instilled in me early on; the imperative responsibility we bear to challenge the status quo.
‘My beautiful resistance is in the refusal to allow the circumstances of my birth and upbringing, compounded by systemic racism, to determine my fate.’
A few years back, I was drawn to thanking my ancestors as I sat in my studio in Italy, where I’ve made my home. I did this every day for a couple of years, feeling lucky in my disposition and character. If I was alive and thriving, it was something I felt had been passed down to me. I would think each day, I’ll never know you, but I am so grateful for the tenacity and toughness innate to my character and the knowledge that I wasn’t born in a void.
I’ve watched how our foster and adoptive systems can beat a child down. How is it that I’m still here, and my younger adoptive sister took her life? Who would I have been if my mother had been permitted to raise me? Would I have become a poet and a songwriter? No matter. What is important is I am here, and I am contributing. After two years of this gratitude practice, I found my birth mother.
My beautiful resistance is in the refusal to allow the circumstances of my birth and upbringing, compounded by systemic racism, to determine my fate.
My beautiful resistance is doing my best through my work to ensure that the generations who follow will have the map plotted out by our antecedents and then detailed by my generation so that they can amend and expand upon it.