Family has many meanings, but among them, love often comes top of mind. Just ask Glenda Irby, an Aerie store team leader at the Galleria at Crystal Run in Middletown, NY. “Love, happiness, togetherness, and blessings,” she explains, are some of the leading characteristics that make up the idea of family for her. 

This Black History Month, we caught up with Aerie’s Glenda, as well as American Eagle’s Marianne Stewart and Deja Starks to reflect upon the 2021 Black History theme of “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.” Read up on their thoughts in the interviews below, where they chat about familial support, their favorite examples of Black families throughout history, and more. 

Glenda Irby

Aerie Store Team Leader, Galleria at Crystal Run

What does family mean to you? What are some of your favorite family traditions in the Black culture?  

To me, family means love, happiness, togetherness, and blessings. Some of my favorite family traditions in the Black culture are [activities surrounding] the food and the music. And the family values we learn but also teach towards the younger generations we raise. 

Why do you feel that family and support are essential in the Black community?   

Family and support are essential in the Black community because [when you’re] coming from a neighborhood where some children didn’t have family support nor values, they’ve turned to the local community centers for guidance. 

How do you feel the Black family is repairing itself and breaking generational curses or social barriers?  

Black families now tend to make sure that their children understand the importance of education itself and getting a higher education to pursue successful entrepreneurship and business qualities. 

What are some of your favorite examples of Black families throughout history? These can be past, present or fictional examples!  

 One of my favorite examples of Black families throughout history is a family from a show called Good Times. Another iconic but also underrated Black family throughout history is Dr. Sebi’s Family. These two Black families showed excellent values on how Black families come together to learn and to teach from one another. 

Glenda (far left in both images) poses with family.

Deja Starks

Assistant Inventory Planner, American Eagle 

What does family mean to you? What are some of your favorite family traditions in the Black culture? 

This may sound cliché but family is everything and I stand by that. I come from a big close-knit family. I have family in the south as well as the north, but no matter where I am, I know my family is there to support each other. By definition, family is the descendants of a common ancestor. But in my family, it means so much more than that. Family is love, support, laughs, coming together in solidarity, and most importantly, it doesn’t matter where you are — family is home.

It is so hard to narrow down my favorite traditions in Black culture as there are so many to choose from. But top tier would be our family reunions. Gathering together in matching shirts, eating good home cooked food, playing games, seeing all the cousins, dancing and being in good spirits are all the things that I look forward to when it comes to our family reunions. I also love how we gather for cookouts for any occasions: graduations, birthdays or just random Saturdays! Family game nights and line dancing are also in my favorite categories, these things bring family and friends together no matter the circumstances of the world and always lifts your spirits. 

Why do you feel that family and support essential are in the Black community?   

Family and support are essential in the Black community because family members are the people that truly help you to navigate the world. You are able to come home and be your authentic self and feel “safe” versus when you are outside and having to be mindful of how you present yourself to the world with the stigmas about the Black community. The family support is what keeps you going in the rough times. 

“You are able to come home and be your authentic self and feel ‘safe’…”

Deja Starks

What ways do you feel the Black family is repairing itself and breaking generational curses or social barriers? 

The Black family is breaking generational curses and social barriers every day. Present day, there are more Blacks encouraging an education, when back in the day Black [people] were not even allowed to get an education. It is also more prevalent now to see Black people in leadership roles.  

For example, we have seen the first Black president, first Black woman vice president, more VPs and CEOs of companies, and more entrepreneurs. Seeing more individuals in these types of roles allow the rising generations to have something to aspire to be.  Representation matters. 

Photos courtesy of Deja.

What are some of your favorite examples of Black families throughout history? These can be past, present or fictional examples! 

My favorite examples of Black families that are fictional are the Banks family from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the Kyle family from My Wife and Kids, and the Johnson family from Black-ish. There are way more Black sitcoms that show authentic representation of the Black family, but these three relate to me the most. The authentic way they bring comedy and laughs into the everyday life of Black families, while also covering topics our community faces every day that are usually not discussed on other non-diverse TV shows.   

My favorite non-fictional family is Deval and Kahdeen Ellis. They have a YouTube channel with their three boys showcasing their realness of the Black family while being in the entertainment industry. They also have a podcast that I listen to; Deval and Kahdeen speak about topics such as Black family experiences, relationships, the importance of voting, being financially stable and being a young black millennial in general. 

Marianne Stewart

Merchandise Planner, International EMEA License, American Eagle

What does family mean to you? What are some of your favorite family traditions in the Black culture? 

Family to me is about having a support system. They are the people who are there for you when you need them and also at the moments when you didn’t realize you needed them. My favorite Black tradition is the cookout/family reunion. There is a feeling of being connected to people who love you through all the things we love the most: food, dancing and games.


Why do you feel that family and support are essential in the Black community?  

When you live in a world that isn’t always on your side or looking out for your best interest, having a family that supports you and lifts you up when the world is telling you [that you] are not worthy [is essential]. It is important to have people behind you to uplift and keep you going.  
 
What ways do you feel the Black family is repairing itself and breaking generational curses or social barriers?  

I think the Black family has come around to the idea of self-care and therapy. Taking care of yourself has become more important and healing the damage/trauma of the past has become more important for us to sustain our families. It is important for us not only to appear strong but also to be strong and supported on the inside.  
 

“The Black family has come around to the idea of self-care and therapy…healing the damage/trauma of the past has become more important for us to sustain.”

Marianne Stewart

What are some of your favorite examples of Black families throughout history? These can be past, present or fictional examples! 

I know that when we think of family we often think of our blood relatives, but I often think of my chosen family. When I think of my favorite Black family I think of Living Single. They were not related but they supported each other like family. I also think of the Cosbys — they were the first Black family I remember on T.V. being successful and relatable. I also think of the Obamas, Gabrielle [Union] and Dwayne Wade, Aeysha Curry and Stephen Curry.  
 

Photos courtesy of Marianne.

We love hearing from Glenda, Deja and Marianne on what family means to them as we celebrate Black History Month. What does family mean to you, Aerie fam? Let us know in the comments!  

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