Ayris T. Scales
A Deeper Look Into Legacy: Generational Wisdom, Confidence, and Momentum
Over the years, I've had the fortune of being in the company of some very influential people. Whether mentors, colleagues, or friends, I've been afforded an opportunity to see how those at the top operate. One common link I've found when speaking to CEOs, self-made millionaires, etc. is their commitment to being lifetime learners. This means, not just learning from mavens and moguls, but recognizing that everyone has something to teach. One such person I've had the opportunity to learn from is my own daughter, Abriana.
Having her so young, I always had to be accountable not just to myself but to her. So for a long time that meant working long hours, making sacrifices, and living below my means.
My main concern was making sure we were taken care of and building the beginnings of generational wealth so that she wouldn't have to start from scratch as I did.
Now, my free-spirited, go-with-the-flow child encourages (and inspires me) to take care to enjoy my life and live a little. She reminds me I've worked hard, and it's okay to have some fun now.
She is absolutely one of my favorite people and I learn so much from her. I remember one day we were at my mom's house and Abriana was lying in bed midday while I was buzzing around the house getting things done. I said something to her like, "Oh, you are so..", and she responded laughingly, "What, 22?" When she said that to me it made me step back and pause because I had never been able to have the lifestyle she has. Not having the pressure or responsibility of caring for someone else has allowed her to flow and make decisions in a way I can relate to on some level, but don't necessarily understand.
When I think back to moments like this, it really makes me think about legacy and generational wisdom - what will I leave behind beyond wealth?
Setting the Tone for Generational Confidence and Momentum
I'm currently reading this amazing book, "Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find - and Keep - Love" by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. It's a profound read and I highly, highly suggest grabbing a copy. In the book, Levine and Heller designate three attachment styles - Anxious, Avoidant, and Secure. When I originally took the test, it didn’t surprise me to see that I was Avoidant.
As a child and into my early teen years, I experienced a lot of loss and change. Throughout the foundational years of my life, my parents divorced, my mom moved away, and my father suddenly and tragically passed away. At the same time, I moved and changed schools. And, while I wasn't exactly an outcast, I definitely wasn't winning any popularity contests. Combined, all these things really shaped who I became and how I perceived and pursued relationships.
I think when the people around you aren't necessarily embracing you or holding you to a high standard, you start to put up barriers. It's a defense mechanism. To build on that, when the people who are close to you leave abruptly, it can make you not want to get too close to anyone for fear of experiencing that hurt again.
But I didn't want that to be the legacy I passed to Abriana. I wanted her to grow up free of the constraints I put on myself because of the things I'd gone through as a child. We all pass down certain ingrained mannerisms, patterns, and beliefs, whether limiting or empowering. My parents inadvertently passed their "stuff" down to me, from the great to the not-so-great and, of course, their parents did the same to them. It's just what happens.
So, I knew it was important for me to lean into my role as a nurturing, present parent. I wanted her to know that it's okay to be open and vulnerable, to take risks, and to fully invest in herself. Because of this, my attachment style has evolved to Secure (and I have the test scores to prove it).
It warms my heart to hear Abriana share that I give her confidence and that I've instilled in her that she can conquer anything that comes her way. Reading "Attached", I've learned that Secure attachment-style people really act as that backbone. When someone has that in their life, they're able to show up in a more profound, assured way.
Lifting the Black Community, Generation by Generation
I've noticed, and I'm sure I'm not the only one, that a lot of POC children and children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds lack the support system their white counterparts usually have. Of course, everyone tries and fails, but if your gut reaction is, "See, that's why I didn't want to do it in the first place." then that's the thought process children will inherit.
The resiliency that simple statements such as, "It's okay, you can try again." or "You'll get it next time." facilitate is essential in creating the confidence and momentum we so greatly need to achieve great things.
This is a core reason my work with the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative under the Obama administration in 2010 had such a profound impact on me.
In short, DCPNI, established in the Kenilworth-Parkside neighborhood, is a two-generation approach that seeks to end the cycle of poverty by providing what we call a cradle-to-career continuum of services for children and their parents, particularly mothers. This model, largely informed by The Five Promises (Caring Adults, Safe Places, A Healthy Start, An Effective Education, and An Opportunity to Give Back), targets factors such as maternal education, parental employment, and community social support.
By helping to shift the individual and communal mode of living from survive to thrive, we can begin to see a change in not only the adults of the community but also in the way the children play, learn, grow, and adapt.
And this is where the real, lasting generational change occurs.
Changing the Status Quo
When you're stuck in survival mode, it's nearly impossible to be fully present. I felt it as I was raising Abriana and it's a feeling I know so many mothers can relate to. Don't get me wrong, we were always together. She came with me to meetings, to run errands, and everything in between. But there's a certain weight that comes with knowing you have to win in order to provide for your family, to keep a roof over your head, and food on the table.
In her own way, Abriana has broken a generational cycle of early pregnancies. Though I'm immensely grateful for her and to her, I recognize that there are certain stressors and struggles that she just doesn't have as she navigates her early 20s.
One day, when she has children of her own, she'll build upon the status quo of college education and financial literacy set by me and my mom before me. And, of course, her children will do the same.
It's a domino effect, and it starts with each individual making a commitment to themselves, their education, and their future.
When we began thinking about what success looks like, it's important to consider how our grandparents, or even our great grandparents, might have defined it. For them, success was likely about being able to provide for their families and create a stable life. And while that's still important, we have to consider how we can expand the definition of success to include things like happiness, mental and emotional health, and relationships.
Legacy runs far deeper than bank accounts, homes, and life insurance policies. I was recently asked what legacy I want to leave for future generations, beyond the tangible. The answer is simple - that we are Kings and Queens.
We, as Black Americans, are the direct descendants of the most resilient, resourceful, and powerful people to have ever walked the earth. And it is our duty to carry that legacy forward. We have to remember that we come from a long line of survivors and that no matter what life throws our way; we have the strength to pivot, adapt, and overcome.
Embracing this as inherent truth is the key to unlocking limitless possibilities within our communities.