For Mary Hooks, raising her daughter and changing the world is all in a day’s work! She is an organizer for Southerners on New Ground (SONG) — an organization that engages in grassroots efforts with queer people, people of color, immigrants, undocumented people, people with disabilities, working class, rural and small town communities, and their allies throughout the South to make sustainable social change. Her 5-month old daughter, Porter, joins her on the road connecting with people who are redefining the region for vulnerable communities. At home, Mary proudly shares space with an amazing group of friends that infuse service to their neighborhood as a daily practice. In fact, they will hand out gifts to women living in the West End community of Atlanta, GA this Sunday for Mother’s Day.
We thank her for opening her heart and home for our Strong Families Mama’s Day interview! We asked this movement leader about family, motherhood and about policies that support families year-round.
SPARK: To start, who makes up your family and what does family mean to you?
Mary: Porter, co-parent Brian, my sisters, immediate and extended family members, play cousins, my SONG family, and my roommates — or as I say my partnas! Everyone who shares space with us is family to me.
SPARK: Can you say more about seeing community as family?
Mary: It’s about being able to connect with people who don’t live in your home. We have a shared identity or experience and we come together and share a loving space. We hang out, we create, and support each other. We engage each other. We look out for each other. We create a bloodline.
Porter has so much to learn, but I do not feel responsible for teaching her everything. I embrace my community as family, my partnas as family — and that is nothing new. It’s going back to the ways we have always done it: as a village.
SPARK: So what has been your favorite moment as a mother so far?
Mary: One is when I actually labored for two days in my house. As a mom in that position, I was obviously very uncomfortable, to put it lightly — but I realized it was a shared experience. Folks were at the house camping out with me. My Aunt Lorraine was hooking up a fish fry at 2:00 AM! I had so much support! And in that moment, I realized that this is how raising my child was going to be. I just felt so held. It was amazing.
The second moment is after I bathe her and I get her all smelling good. I hold her, put on our soundtrack of The Colored Purple vinyl, and I hum her to sleep. I loved this movie as a child and the story has been such a huge part of my development. It’s a gift to share those moments with her.
SPARK: What tips do you have for mothers?
Mary: One tip I received was from Kate Shapps, my fierce comrade, about having your sacred no. Letting no be sacred so when I finally say yes to something, I can give my best. I am not going to spread myself so thin that I don’t produce good work for my commitments. This is something I am being more intentional about doing.
Another tip, you only asked for one, but just in case — a tip that Paris Hatcher (former Executive Director of SPARK) and Shannon Miller (Founder of All My Children Project) told me is to mother myself. What does it mean as a mother to love on, to dote on, and to pour into yourself — to resist this idea that you have to be a martyr for your child? It is not healthy in the long-term, and Porter doesn’t get my best self. I don’t come from a background where I was mothered in the traditional sense. I got mothered in pieces by several phenomenal women. So now, I’m piecing everything they taught together in order to learn how to mother Porter and me. So far so good! She hasn’t run away!
SPARK: What is something the larger movement could be doing?
Mary: Be mindful of the little treasures in the movement. SONG has been so accommodating for Porter. I can bring her to the office and on trips. They take care of her as if she was a staff member on the payroll, and I totally appreciate that. Do the “work” in a way that doesn’t exclude families, or discourages people to have families. Folks shouldn’t have to leave the movement in order to have a life that can accommodate raising a child. Thank you to my SONG family and other organizations that are modeling how this can be done.
SPARK: What is a policy change that would help you as a parent year-round?
Mary: Ah, a policy change… Overall, I think people should be able to reproduce, and to set up agreements and boundaries with no connection to the government. It bothers me that my friends who are same-gender loving want kids but can’t because there are so many systemic barriers that deny them from creating the families they want. We should be able to decide how and with whom we make our families.
SPARK: Finally, expanding access to home birth choices is another policy issue that could be very empowering for people—yet, it is highly debated in Georgia.
Mary: I was going to break the rules, but after laboring for 2 days, I wasn’t dilating. The midwife made a judgment call, and I wound up birthing Porter at the hospital. However, our choice in the way we desire to bring about life is a sacred one and whether people decided to have babies in or outside of the medical industrial complex, is their right to do so. We have been doing this by ourselves for years.
SPARK: Any last words?
Mary: This is the best thing and the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. Really, I get the honor? The universe chose me to raise another human being—or to be the facilitator of her being raised? That’s amazing, I’m grateful for the village that is helping to make her livelihood possible!
We honor Mary’s work at SONG, which is a “home to LGBTQ liberation across all lines of race, class, ability, age, culture, gender, and sexuality in the South.” Become a member today!
Mary’s words bring to mind the importance of reproductive justice. Reproductive justice includes the right to define and plan your family with the ability to support them. To do that, we must promote progressive policies that affirm sexuality, gender, and access to abortion and contraception. Join SPARK as we fight for these rights on Mama’s Day and every day for our Strong Families!