Our One-On-One With Kuae Kelch Mattox, Mocha Moms, Inc. President
Words: AdeOla Fadumiye
Visuals: Jennifer Currell
The mom of three talks to mater mea about building her family, deciding to stay at home, and the future of her organization for mothers of color.
Kuae Kelch Mattox’s childhood was one filled with love and wonderful family traditions, an experience she wanted for herself when she started a family of her own. Family became even more important to Mattox after losing her own mother—the unexpected loss motivated Mattox’s decision to become a stay-at-home mom. '
That meant leaving her high-profile media position at NBC in New York City for the suburbs of New Jersey to raise her three children, Teddi (17), Cole (15), and Evan (11), along with her husband.
Mattox shared her story with mater mea earlier this week. We continue our look into Mattox’s motherhood and career journey during a one-on-one conversation with her about her parenting philosophy and making the transition from stay-at-home mom to working mom.
How has motherhood changed you?
Motherhood made me a better person, and also more introspective about the world and the kind of place my children are growing up in. I am more concerned about the issues in the world and especially issues black mothers are dealing with.
The Trayvon Martin case made me think about the world in which we live, and the kind of messages my children are receiving as they grow up. I think much more about the world and leaving a mark on it. When I was working full time as a journalist and even growing up, I had little to no interest in being a leader, speaking up, ruffling feathers, or making waves. I just wanted to go about my daily life.
It was not until I had children that I realized I could be an advocate for my children and for other mothers and their children. I don't think I understood my purpose until I became a mother. Now that I am a mother, I understand much more why I am here and where I want to go.
How did you feel when you found out you were going to be a mother?
I was so excited. The wonderful thing was [that] my mom was alive, and I remember when we found out. I went out and bought a little baby booty [and] tied a ribbon around it. I wrote “It’s a baby” and included the expected delivery date. We put the shoe in a box and drove to Philadelphia to give my mother the box. We videotaped the expression on her face. It was a very exciting and precious time for me, and it is emotional for me to think about it now especially because my mother was alive. We were continuing a generation and she was going to be around to witness it.
What were your pregnancies like?
I had morning sickness for a period of time, but they were [all] very smooth. Interestingly, my three pregnancies were the periods in my life when I felt the best about me. I remember feeling my daughter kicking, going to the doctor to hear her heartbeat, and feeling flutters. It blew me away that there was a baby growing inside of me, and I would get to meet her, and know her sometime soon. I felt strong when I was pregnant and I felt good about myself.
When I was pregnant with my second child and only son, a friend of mine told me she knew a photographer [who was] doing a book on pregnant women. She asked if I would be interested in posing for the photographer. I said yes, and that was so shocking to me, because If you had asked me today when I am not pregnant if I would pose nude for someone, I would have said, “Of course not.” This was a testimony to how I felt during my pregnancies and the babies growing inside of me. Early one morning at about 5 a.m., I took a shower and put body oil and lotion on my body. I was glistening. I put a coat over my naked body, got into my car, drove to my local train station, and posed naked on the side of the train tracks. I felt incredibly beautiful, and it was like an honor to display and show my body. It was something I wanted to capture. Her book, “Ripe,” came out 10 years later [in 2010]. My picture was not in it partially because I did not sign the photo release and was not quite sure I wanted it to be in the book. I became a little unsure about the world seeing it. [But] when I look at myself in that photo, I see a woman who is glowing, content, [and] beautiful. My face looks at peace in the photo, and it is indicative of how I felt with each of my pregnancies.
What is your parenting philosophy and how do you execute it?
I don’t exactly have a philosophy, but when I parent, I am neither strict nor lenient. I want my children to be open with me and comfortable [with talking] to me. I also decided I wanted to be their partner especially in their education. It was very important to me to be a PTA president and to be actively involved in their schools and classrooms, and to work on their homework and projects together. My 17 year old, who is doing very well in school, will often send me her essays. I will edit [them], send [them] back, and she will send me another version. There is a lot of give and take—I want them to know that their education is not just on them, but that I am a member of their team and we are working together.
All three are in different stages of their lives right now and all have different personalities. My oldest Teddi is a senior and over the summer, she committed to row at University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). She has worked so hard to get to this point—she is an AP Scholar with a 4.0 average and has been committed to her high school crew team all four years. She has also been running on the cross-country track team for the past two years. We are so very proud of her as she completes her senior year—carrying five AP classes—and looks forward to going to UCLA in the fall of 2015. Her personality has evolved over the years, but she is my global-thinking child. She wants to save the world, join the Peace Corp., help orphans, and help underserved communities. She is excited to start the next phase of her live.
My son, Cole, is a freshman at Seton Hall Prep, the oldest Catholic high school in New Jersey. He loves his new school and has been playing lacrosse with Seton Hall and as an elite member of a club team called BBL. He is heavy into sports, and plays lacrosse and ice hockey. Cole is my easy-going child with a big interest in business, current affairs, and religion. Theology is his favorite class. He has an entrepreneurial mind; he sells lacrosse equipment and sneakers.
My little one, Evan Simone, is 11 and in 6th grade. She is a sweet girl, but a tough cookie. She has already made it known she would love to be a lawyer. She is also a lacrosse player and interested in tennis. She loves to read, dance, and act.
What kind of people do you hope your children become?
I want my children to be children of the world [and] to be global thinkers. I want them to learn about and understand different cultures. They are not only competing with their peers in America, but with their peers in the rest of the world. We talk quite a bit about the issues in the world. I want my children to be accepting of individuals from all walks of life. My mom was a drama teacher and worked with gay people, straight people, lesbians, liberals, conservatives—people from all walks of life. I want my children to be around and in communities with diverse groups of people. When they go out in the world, they will feel comfortable in whatever environment or culture they find themselves. I also want them to feel comfortable in their own skin. We haven't quite talked about them as children of color, but I want them to feel comfortable in who they are.
My children are privileged. They have a mom who had the opportunity to stay at home for a little more than a decade. They have opportunities that even I as a privileged child growing up did not have. I want them to know they are blessed, but I don't want them to have a sense of entitlement. I want them to be strong physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. I want them to be book and common-sense smart. I also want them to be bold, to feel comfortable raising their hands in a room to voice objections and offer other options.
What has become increasingly important to me is to give my children the tools they need to go forth in this world and be successful, but also to be good. To be good people who understand the need to help other people and to give back to their communities. [I want] children who have deep empathy, and have kind and good hearts—that's really important to me.
What was the best advice your mother gave you?
My mom always told me to put my best foot forward and “never let them see you sweat.” These past few years have been a particularly stressful time in my family. The recession dealt a financial blow on my husband's business. Business slowed down, and we no longer had the safety net of his large income. Money was tight, and I did not have the luxury of staying at home with my children.
It became apparent that I needed to pick up the pace with regard to going back to work, but returning to the journalism world that I knew and loved would prove to be much more difficult than I previously thought. It was a struggle for me to find full-time [work]. Even though I had kept my “irons in the fire,” so to speak, as a freelance journalist I wasn’t a priority to employers. In the journalism world, you are pretty much only as good as your last story. I had to work really hard, twice as hard, to convince folks that I am a better journalist, a stronger communicator and a more effective leader, for having had the experiences I have had over the past decade. My mother believed firmly in holding your head up high and putting your best foot forward no matter what you were going through. It was important to her that I did not compromise my self-worth in any situation, even the hard ones.
You are back to work full-time, and no longer a stay-at-home. How has the face of Mocha Mom changed as its members go through different transitions?
I’m still serving as the national president, and we are very proud to have elevated the profile of Mocha Moms over the past decade with a growing presence in communities throughout the country and in Washington, D.C. The face of Mocha Moms has been changing over the past few years. We have seen many of our mothers who were stay-at-home mothers go back to work. Some have gotten separated or divorced. The recession dealt a harsh blow to our ranks and many of our chapters have struggled to keep afloat. However these changes have given birth to an organization that represents mothers of color from all facets—working, stay at home, married, divorced—who love our sisterhood and want to support each other. We have also seen our online presence skyrocket. We now have a regular reach of nearly 50,000 and each day we hear from mothers who want to join our organization.
Recently, in response to the Ferguson, Missouri grand jury’s failure to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown, Mocha Moms, Inc. organized a #blackboysmatter social media campaign to combat the negative stereotypes of black and brown boys. That social media campaign garnered nearly 10 million impressions and sent an important message to us that Mocha Moms could be a much more powerful force towards bringing about social change and important public policy.
In 2015 you will see some very important changes to Mocha Moms, changes that will allow us to continue to grow as the premier organization for mothers of color. We are very excited about what's to come and look forward to supporting our mothers in a multitude of ways and making a powerful difference in the lives of others.