Honoring The Wisdom Of Black Women, The Echo Presents A Conversation With Mother Sister Miko Stewart
Updated: May 26, 2022
Women's history month traditionally honors women who have achieved great heights and accomplishments globally. Often mainstream media honors women from a global perspective while overlooking the gems of wisdom in our back yards. This particular write-up gives me great pleasure as we’ll focus on the words of wisdom from a Black woman and change maker, born in Fukuoka Japan raised in Long Branch, NJ, who has not just reared three incredible young men but helped advance the careers of many while providing an example of how to walk by faith. Or, as Stewart shared in our interview, "when you walk by faith, you know that you know that you shall accomplish that which you have put your hands to do." I introduce to some and present to others none other than Mother Sister Miko Stewart.
Echo: Who are you named after? … Miko: Actually, I'm not named after anybody; however, when I decided to be called Miko instead of Donna, I later found out that Miko meant "shaman" in Japanese culture. So I guess it's kinda fitting that I am now Miko.
Echo: What was the house you grew up in like?
Miko: I grew up in a middle-class family setting early on, and then my parents separated. Then, I grew up in a single-mother household. We were very rich in Japanese culture in our household, and my father was always a significant part of my life—even though he was outside of the home. I learned a lot about my Black roots from him. So I would like to say that my household was very balanced and very spiritual growing up.
Echo: Where did you go to school? Did you like it? What were your favorite subjects?
Miko: I went to school in Long Branch, and I literally hated it. Pretty much middle & high school in Long Branch is what I'm talking about because in elementary school you pretty much learn how to make friends & things like that. But by the time I was in middle & high school, my parents had separated. And at 11 years old, I felt as if I was an adult. I've been really different from my classmates because I had to handle all of my mother's business affairs. I didn't jar with the people I went to school with in high school. However, math was always my favorite subject...
Echo: As of 11 years old, you began to handle your mother's business affairs? How did you manage that as an 11-year-old child?
Miko: At 11 years old, I've always been an avid reader. I just had to read a lot of things. And between the newspapers and dictionaries, because we didn't have the internet back then, this responsibility at an early age has helped me later in life to research everything.
Echo: What has been crucial to you as a daughter? A sister? A mother? A grandmother? As a friend? As a member of a community?
Miko: In actuality, it doesn't matter what the role is, what's really important is to be truthful and humble. And in regards to our Black community, we lack a lot of love in our community, and our community can be one-sided and biased. So with that, it's imperative to put your heart into everything we do. And to show love to our people who don't show love towards us.
Echo: That's true; we struggle to show love towards each other. Do you think that's a result leftover from the trauma of slavery? Or is it just a personal issue?
Miko: In my viewpoint, I think we should go back to a generation, pre-slavery. Because slavery was a hiccup in our history, not the whole thing. The disconnect in our society in our community is that many of us want to one-up one other. We do not love one another, and we don't move as a body. I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings, but I'll use this example. The organization is called "Black Lives Matter." We run around saying Black lives matter, and in actuality, we come off as if only my Black ass matters. We have to stop that. We have to start understanding other people and loving one another.
Also, I am a single parent. And the one thing I really don't like about our youth is the term "Baby Daddy and Baby Mama" because it disconnects you from the other person who helped create this child. It takes a connection to raise a child. Even if they are not a significant part of raising the child, using that person's name is essential. This love has to be unconditional love by showing respect and acknowledging the child's father or mother by accepting plus speaking that person's name. A child is a whole person, not 50% of a person.
Echo: Do you think we lost our unity as a people post the civil rights movement. Because I remember being around my grandparents, whose parents fought in the Civil War, and there was always a sense of love and respect in our community, plus support for the civil rights movement. Do you think that we as a people lost something post the civil rights movement?
Miko: That's not so true, Karen; per your reflection of being with your family, you remember the love that is true. But do you know that Malcolm, Martin, Harriet, and Rosa—despite how significant they are to our history and enrichment and empowerment of Black people—the back story is that many people disagreed with them. Deemed them troublemakers—as they were taught?
Echo: That's something I learned when I went back to church in the 90s.
Miko: Many Black people turned their backs on those who did so much for our culture. The ideology behind Black people thinking this way is because Black people went through so much during slavery here in North America that nobody wants to ruffle any feathers, even to this day.
Echo: This may be true in reflection of mass incarceration. I'm not saying everybody is innocent but what I am saying is that we lost a generation of people per mass incarceration. Who really could have been intervened on behalf of Black citizenship on the whole. But there was no Malcolm, Martin, Thurgood, or Harriet Tubman to intervene on their behalf.
Echo: Not to get off-topic, but because mass incarceration's rippling effect affected so many of our people, causing a vicious cycle as it was, what are your feelings on mass incarceration?
Miko: So we are talking about the 80's & 90's. Is that what you're talking about?
Miko: Of course, it was a cause-and-effect situation. Because that was the period of the birth of crack, many people thought that selling crack was more manageable than selling glorified cocaine. But throughout history, this is how it has always been. Everyone is talking about the war right now—and it is magnified through the media. But since the inception of this country in 1776, this country has been at war for all but 18 years. Because war makes money, and divide and conquer make money. So we're talking about cash versus human rights. And this has always been unequal. That's why we were enslaved. Because they equated human life as a way to make money, and it never stopped. https://medium.com/traveling-through-history/only-15-years-of-peace-in-the-history-of-the-united-states-of-america-c479193df79f
Echo: And it never stopped.
Miko: No, it never stopped. So going on in regards to mass incarceration, we have to realize that most prisons are not owned by the states. When you look this up, you will see that most prisons are owned by the private sector. And the state pools money from the federal government to house these inmates across the board at $120 per head. Plus fines on top of that. Our society selects the population they deem or feel is not an asset. And this population overwhelmingly will be incarcerated. That's a business venture. Just as it was when they sold our people as enslaved people. Nothing has changed.
Echo: I didn't see that before, I mean, I've read stats, studies and understand the importance of voting, but when you put it that way, there is a continuation of a business venture to continue to sell people for chattel. Utilizing payment via the federal government plus taking money from the individuals by allotting heavy fines. And that the majority of these prisons are owned by the business sector. Interesting. It would be interesting to find out who owns these prisons and publicly put their faces out. Do you know what I'm saying?
So that would be really interesting to see the public reactions when they're able to put a face to the crime of mass incarceration. As well as the politicians who may have received campaign funding throughout the years supported mass incarceration by allowing slavery to continue by another name. But that's a whole nother bowl of spaghetti we can’t get into right now. But I will work on it for a different article. Because all skin folk aren't kinfolk, we should not be surprised if we see people of color involved.
Miko: Blood makes us relatives, but loyalty makes us family. So yes, all skin folk aren't kin. https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/private-prisons-united-states/
Echo: Thank you, Miko, because we need this type of real talk. This was what the Echo was all about as a family paper. The Echo allows us a platform, as a people, to have an honest dialogue about politics, religion, society, and the rebuilding of our community. Somebody will hear this, and that will do something for them.
Echo: Who have been your role models? What about them do you admire?
Miko: I have role models per history, but my two role models were my father and Uncle Alonzo. My dad was a critical thinker. So he gave me my drive for research and was always about finding out the truth and finding out the right way to do things. And my Uncle Alonzo was always very hardworking; although he laughed a lot when he spoke to me, he always talked to me about controlling my emotions. If you're trying to do something, he would advise me that you can't put your feelings in it when dealing with issues or managing something. That I need to be a man about it. And I would think, but I'm a girl, how am I going to be a man about it? But now that I'm an adult, I have to be a man about it to get through. Those two are my role models because they were critical thinkers and hard workers, but money wasn't their all - happiness and love was the foremost important thing in life. Love and happiness were worth a lot more than money.
Echo: That's a beautiful gift because currently, there is a disconnect within our people's family and communication.
Miko: Karen, that goes back to how this younger generation of primarily mothers and fathers have disconnected themselves by considering the person they had a child with as the "Baby Daddy or Baby Mama." You have a child, and the child is half you and half that person. For example, we must stop allowing our children to think that their father is an insignificant part of their lives.
Echo: How do you push through your worst times? Because I've seen you as a Black woman, mother, and sister and your work ethic plus your ability to succeed in what you focus on doing. And you make it all look so easy. Can you share with us how you manage tough times?
Miko: Look, I believe that those times are a test for you, and you have something to learn from those times. I always thought that hope was a lack of faith. Because when you hope for something, it is like you wishing for it, but when you are operating by faith, you already know. Everybody thinks that life is supposed to be at the top of the mountain. And they don't respect the ground. But even the mountain was smart enough to stand on solid ground. You have to go through those times. You have to struggle to survive, and this develops perseverance. Everything is not going to be easy. I see life's tough times as a test for me that will build my fortitude, patience, and faith. You know what I'm saying. Tough times sharpen your survival skills. Just like the bible says, "This too will pass."
Echo: In your opinion, how can Black women be powerful without alienating people or upsetting them?
Miko: That's never going to happen. Someone will always feel alienated or upset about what a Black woman will say (laughs) and guess what they are supposed to talk about you. They're supposed to because they pass your words to someone who needs to hear them. Or, as we say, "your haters" are your greatest fan. And they're not going to only talk about you to other people who are just like them. But they're going to speak horribly about you to people who do not feel like them. And those people will be enlightened and be inspired by what you are doing.
They are going to speak to others who agree with you. Because your haters will go out and talk so wrong about you, and they don't know it, but they're taking your message to other people who will be really proud of you. As well as talk about you around people who will then begin to question why they are feeling so upset about you. Your haters are really the deliverer of your message because the message wasn't for them. It was for the people in the back of the room. They just carried your message for you. We’re talking to the people in the back. People will complain and say she's just going for herself, and others will not see it that way.
Echo: Deep That was a very mother-sister statement right there. So yes, people will be upset when Black women speak their minds, but the message wasn't for them. The message was for the people in the back of the room. Because we forget about the people in the back. That's the majority of people who need to hear what's said to better understand a situation.
Echo: What words of wisdom did your mother/grandmothers/aunts share with you?
Miko: It's not so much about what they said; my immediate family was always very loving, strong people, and their example of being kind and caring. Japanese culture is very different. And family is family on both the Black American and Japanese American sides.
Echo: Your experience being raised with both African & Japanese influences would make an interesting documentary.
Miko: As a matter of fact, my mother just contributed to a documentary on NHK Television titled "Boys Town," on Blasians Post World War II. The documentary is about children born of color in Asia, and I posted it on my page. https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/ondemand/tag/fukuoka/?type=tvEpisode&
Echo: I would love to share that because there seems to be a lot of Black on Asian crime posts immediately after Trump lost his election, which seems suspicious to me.
Miko: It's suspicious to me too because Asians are a Black race.
(Pictured below civil right advocates Yuri Kochiyama & Angela Davis.)
Echo: I'm not too sure of that because as far as North American studies have shown that they classify themselves as White. https://www.latimes.com/projects/la-me-census-middle-east-north-africa-race/
Miko: That's because of western influence.
Echo: I was surprised to run into racist Middle Eastern Asian people here in NJ, and it was a condition I did not believe existed. Not to mention that they classify themselves as White. https://www.vox.com/22321234/black-asian-american-tensions-solidarity-history
Miko: Yeah, that's all greed and advarice. Everybody wants to be the Kardashians.
Echo: Ugh, ugh, oh, we will leave that alone. Because that's another bowl of spaghetti. Echo: What has your life brought or given you the most excellent satisfaction or fulfillment? Looking back, what would you have done differently? What would you do again?
Miko: That's easy. Becoming a parent. Being a mom.
Echo: How did you feel when you first looked down on their little faces. Miko: I was in love.
(Pictured below Miko with her grandsons)
Echo: And how did you feel when you first saw your grandchild? Miko: Firstly, I didn't meet one until he was six months old. I ran to the car crying when they pulled up, and he was asleep in the back in his car seat. And when I opened the car door, he opened his eyes and began to pout while looking at me, crying. He reached out his hand and wiped the tear from my eye. And then I picked him up, and that's when the bounding began.
Echo: Laughter, I know that's right. He sensed you. Lovely.
Echo: Is there anything that you would have done differently. Miko: I wouldn't change anything. My life has been excellent, and I've seen all situations seeing so many different people. I got so much understanding now through the difficult times of trauma and the satisfaction of experiencing love, so yeah, I would do the whole thing again. Echo: What personality trait should every leader have?
Miko: They will need to learn to lead with an open hand and not an iron fist. You can show the path if you lead with an open hand, but you offer resistance if you rule with an iron fist. You'll have people going against you. So they need to lead with an open hand. And I don't think that’s a personality trait but more just a quality that leaders should have. Echo: Excellent. Echo: In your opinion, can everybody be a star, a leader, a contributor, and a change maker?
Miko: Absolutely. Change does not come in leaps and bounds, change comes in fragments. It comes in fragments of endearment, fragments of being kind to each other, a lesson learned, a smile, a changed tire, an umbrella on a rainy day. We all have change within us. And in actuality, we all exhibit it to each other. But not to enough people. Even murderers can show kindness and make a change.
Echo: Thank you, Mother Sister Miko Stewart, for your words of wisdom, humor, and open hand in sharing this intimate discussion that was inspirational and enriching. And this is why The Relaunched Echo Spotlight shines bright on you!
Thank you all for checking out this chat. Please enjoy Eddie Kendricks "Going Up In Smoke."