Despite the turmoils and troubles I've had in my life, the things that have always been constants were my mother's support and love. Even when she couldn't be there for me, she kept me lifted in prayer. When I was a teenager and was goin' through so many hardships, my mother was always with me. Really, she is me in many ways.
But let me explain by starting at the beginning.
My forty-two-year-old mother, Diane Barrino, is a self-proclaimed "country girl" who got pregnant as a teenager. She was nineteen years old. I would say that in some ways, she was luckier than me, and in other ways, I was luckier than her. You'll see as you read my story that much hardship has been required of both of us.
My mother was also raised in the church because her mother, Addie Collins, is a pastor. Just like me, my mother got pregnant by a guy in the church. Of course, she was a singer too and a member of the choir. It was her love of music that brought her together with my father, Joseph. He was in the church quartet and had been asking a lot of questions about my mama. He finally got her phone number, and they started dating. My mother tells us kids that she didn't like my father at first. Mom fell in love with him when she heard him sing. He was able to teach my mother a lot about music because, despite loving it so much, she didn't know anything except how to sing. In her early days, my mother was a baad singer. She was raw. She could squall, and her cry sounded like an old woman with many years of grief and wisdom in her spirit.
My mother did have some grief in her past: My grandfather, who was originally from South Carolina, was an alcoholic and abused my grandmother. Grandfather Neil eventually left my grandmother and she was left to raise her three daughters on her own. Grandma Addie's oldest was also named Addie; then there was Diane (my mama), and Surayda. My Grandma Addie had the same dreams for my mother that my mother had for me. Addie's dream was that my mother would go to music school. Right before my mother's pregnancy, Addie had taken her to look at music schools, and they hoped that she would get a scholarship.
Addie had always warned my mother, if you get pregnant you won't be able to follow your dream and become a singer. You won't get to do what the other girls do like go to the movies. And, if you get pregnant, Addie warned, "You will be on your own – no man will help you, and I don't have much to help you with either."
Within twelve months of my parents meeting, my older brother, Kassim VonRico Washington, was born. We call him Rico for short. At the time, my parents were not married, and so his last name is my mother's maiden name. After Rico was born, my mother got a job working in the cafeteria at the Presbyterian Nursing Home while Addie took care of Rico.
Then, eleven months later, my other brother, Joseph, who is named after my father, was born. His nickname is Tiny. That is all we have ever called him.
Family rumor has it that my father's family has Cuban lineage, which would explain my last name – kind of unusual for a black southern man from North Carolina. My father, JoJo, was more gracious than my own "baby daddy." He actually agreed to marry my mother and take care of their two sons. That's why I sometimes say that Mama was luckier than me.