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My Two Mommies

(by Anisa Nyell Johnson)

Eight different doctors told my mother that she could never have a baby. But her best friend, who was her OB-GYN and my god-aunt, suggested time off, so my mom and dad (who had been set up by their mothers) took a three-day staycation (long before that term was in the common parlance), and nine months later I was born. All of my life, Mommy has taught me not to accept that something cannot be done, to think outside the box, to never follow other people’s misguided rules, and most importantly to never give up.

Three generations of my family lived in the same house in West Philadelphia when I was growing up, but our roots are in Virginia, where several of our ancestors were lynched for their participation in Nat Turner’s Rebellion of 1831. I guess politics remained in our blood: I can remember being taken to a strike at the school where my mom taught and being at the picket line as a baby, swaddled up in the back of our Vega. The basement of our home was a voting place, where my mother would take me downstairs to vote with her, while my aunt and Grandmom helped to check voters in. My grandmother registered as a Republican and my grandfather as a Democrat so that they could have a voice in both parties. Having a voice was an important message instilled in me growing up.

(with Grandmom)

Mommy (Rosaline "Roady" Morgan) was a health and physical education teacher in the public school system, but she was so much more than that to so many children: a counselor, a mentor, a bonus mom to all my friends, as well as a foster mom. She did not, and still does not, believe that the day is over if someone is in need. Many times she would stay at work with the janitors and night staff figuring out how to reach the inner city youth she was teaching, not coming home until almost midnight. So I was raised by two mommies, and Grandmom (Lillian Lorraine Ridley-Gregory) was in charge of meals and my spiritual growth. God above all things was first in my house. Mommy made sure that I was always in the kitchen with Grandmom so I’d learn to cook and stay on the right spiritual path. Nobody else was allowed in there except for me, and dinner revolved around what I wanted to eat. She had learned to can and preserve food at an early age (the only girl in her family) and taught me how to snap string beans and shuck corn. The walkway to the kitchen that served as the butler pantry was lined with her recipes, meal menus, shopping lists, and reminders on Post-it notes (“Need more cinnamon for the pies”), and when a recipe was perfected, she’d write it on a piece of paper or a 3x5 card. I'm thankful to have some of her most important ones.

When I was little, I didn’t like sharing my mom with others, but she always showed up for me—for every recital, every dance class, every parent-teacher meeting—and made sure I never lacked for anything. That’s part of what made her days so long—I don’t think she really slept for years. And she always made me extraordinary birthday cakes—an R2D2 design or a Strawberry Shortcake Village that took up the entire dining room table.

I long ago left Philadelphia and now make Atlanta my home. I had to share my mother before I fully understood what a valuable lesson I was being taught, but her legacy was, and remains, about service, gratitude, faith, and daring to be different. Between my two mommies, I was a blessed girl, with nourishment for both my belly and my soul.


Anisa Nyell Johnson is an actor, producer, and entertainment consultant who lives in Atlanta with her husband Andrew and three sons, Caleb, Matthias, and Micah Drew. She can be found @anisanyellj.

Sweet Greens

2 large bunches of collards and 1 bunch kale, cleaned and chopped

1 c. mango juice

2 c. Cruzan Mango Rum

1 c. vegetable stock or water

1/4 - 1/2 c. olive oil

1/3 c. onions, chopped

1/2 c. sliced red, yellow, or orange peppers

1 t. apple cider vinegar

1 t. truffle salt

2 T. turmeric

1 T. Saigon cinnamon

2 T. organic curry powder

1 T. cayenne pepper

1 t. powdered ginger or 3 slices fresh ginger, chopped

pink Himalayan sea salt and black pepper, to taste

Place greens in a large stock pan.

Add remaining ingredients.

Cover, bring to a boil, and let boil for 45 minutes, stirring intermittently.

Reduce heat and simmer for another 1 hour and 15 minutes, adding more stock, water, and/or mango rum if needed.


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