Love Changed Their Plans

Entrepreneur Kia Levey-Burden was adamant that she would never be a mom, especially a single one. State Sen. Gary Winfield always wanted to be a dad but never thought it would happen after a first marriage failed.

Before a gathering Monday night in Newhallville, Levey-Burden and Winfield told the stories of how love and faith brought each of them the unexpected adventure of parenthood.

They did so as part of Storytellers New Haven, a monthly series that invites people from the community to tell a story about their lives to their fellow community members. Monday’s event at ConnCAT was the third since the inception of the venture created by husband-and-wife team Karen DuBois-Walton and Kevin Walton. (Read here about the November event.)

DuBois-Walton said Storytellers New Haven is an outgrowth of the community conversations that were held around the city after the last presidential election and the Waltons’ affiliation with the Graustein Community Leadership Program. Like those conversations, the series is designed to bring a diverse group of people from all over the city together to learn more deeply about their neighbors.

“This is our offering to the New Haven community as a way of coming together,” she said. “There are 130,000 residents in the city and there are that many plus stories.”

A Reluctant Love Story

Levey-Burden, a native New Havener and founder of a consulting company called Launch, told the crowd of nearly 50 people Monday that she had a lot of plans for herself at an early age particularly around love. But being a mother was not among those early imaginings.

“I knew I wanted to be a wife,” she said. “I knew we would have the kind of wonderful relationship that writers write about and storytellers talk about. But I knew that I never wanted to have children, even as a teenager.”

Though she loved children, after seeing her own mother through a tumultuous marriage and then widowed at age 30, Levey-Burden said she swore off motherhood.

“She had three children who were not the easiest to raise,” Levey-Burden recalled of her mother. “As I got older and reflected, I knew I loved her for what she did for us, I honored her but I did not want to be her. It just looked too hard.”

She swore it off again when she discovered herself pregnant at 19, during her sophomore year at college in North Carolina. Rather than stay with her boyfriend at the time and keep the baby, she came home to Connecticut. And she said for many years she never told her mother why she had decided not to return to school in that state.

When she did finally get married, she made sure to discuss her desire to not have children. As their friends also started to marry and eventually have children, her then-husband asked her to revisit the idea. Her mind hadn’t changed. But her fate would change about four years into the marriage.

“I knew before I took the test,” she said when she discovered she was pregnant. “I knew it. I cried for two days.”

They weren’t tears of joy, but she wasn’t willing to terminate the pregnancy. She went through the pregnancy “dutifully,” not particularly excited about the process of growing a baby she was certain she didn’t want.

But when her son Seth arrived, she fell in love.

“This baby’s amazing,” she said, drawing a chuckle from the audience. “He is all the things. He’s gorgeous. He smells good, and he’s fun.”

But while she was “growing in love as a mother,” she was “falling out of love,” with her then-husband, she said. The marriage broke up.

In the early days, she was angriest with her ex-husband for making her the very thing she never wanted to be: a single mother. She said it wasn’t the love story that she envisioned. But her love for her son helped her embrace motherhood.

She said she named her son Seth, deliberately because the biblical Seth was “God’s promise.” The meaning of his name is something that she now reminds him of regularly as they navigate systems, particularly school, where they are both confronted with labels like “aggressive,” and “out of control,” when his behavior is in question.

Motherhood has been hard for her, she said, but not necessarily in the way that she thought. It’s been hard to confront the fact that people don’t see her “really tall, really big, little black boy” the way she sees him. She said it has been her job to remind Seth, who will soon be 11, that he “is not bad, not a problem, not a behavioral issue.”

“That’s not the name I gave to you,” she said she tells her son. “You’re God’s promise.”

“There’s always a happy ending,” Levey-Burden told the crowd. “I get to be his shield and his rear guard. I get to tell people how to treat him. That is a love I didn’t know I had the capacity to give.”

She also found romantic love again and got married in July.

What’s In A Name?

When State Sen. Gary Winfield got up to tell his story Monday night, he remarked that is was amazing that he and Levey-Burden hadn’t talked beforehand, given the similarities in their stories.

Winfield opened his story with the demise of his first marriage back in 2014.

A 20 plus year relationship — or 8,522 days from the first date to the day he found himself in divorce court — ended in the blink of an eye. That night when he couldn’t sleep. He decided to have a talk with God. He told the crowd Monday night that in that conversation he said he didn’t want to meet another woman for at least two years.

That is unless God had a different plan.

“Someone said something about not blocking your blessing,” he said. So, he told the Lord, “‘If you have a different plan…’

“He had a different plan.”

An avid user of social media, Winfield a couple of months later noticed a woman was liking a lot of what he was posting on Facebook. He decided they should talk.

The woman’s name was Rasheda. That talk led the senator, who also is an avid photographer, to take Rasheda’s picture. That picture taking session turned into talking for hours.

“When I heard her voice it was like magic,” he said. “It hit me and went through my spine and made me feel something.”

That magic gave him the courage to ask for a date. That date turned into more dates and long conversations. They eventually married in 2016.

Rasheda came with a daughter and a son. Winfield assumed that helping raise those two children would be as close to fatherhood as he would get.

Once again God had other plans.

The newlyweds announced on social media last August that they are expecting twins: a boy and a girl.

Baby boy Winfield will take his dad’s name. Winfield admits mixed feelings about that because he is named after an absentee father.

Baby girl Winfield will be named Imani Harriet.

“Imani means faith,” he said. “Faith allowed me to meet that woman.”

Harriet is for his beloved mother, who died in 2012 after what was supposed to be a routine medical procedure and the lineage of women who came before her. His mother was named Araminta and his maternal grandmother was named Harriet. And his maternal great-grandmother was named Araminta. All the women were named for Harriet Tubman, who was born Araminta Ross. And naming his daughter Harriet keeps the alternating patterns of the names alive.

Winfield said that his mother was a woman of faith who wanted to live up to her namesake’s accomplishments. But she had not been able to. She died before she was 60. In his previous talks with his mother, Winfield knew she regretted not being able to do more of that work. He said it hurt to know that his mother might have died believing that her life wasn’t important.

“My mother was like a superhero to me,” he said. “I wouldn’t be doing the work that I’m doing if not for my mother.” Not only is Winfield a state legislator; he is an activist and leading advocate for criminal justice reform.

And so his daughter will carry his mother’s name and the faith she passed down. That’s how Imani Harriet Winfield got her name.

Storytellers New Haven meets monthly at ConnCAT in Science Park and is free and open to the public. The next event is Feb. 5. Visit its Facebook page for more details.

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posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on January 9, 2018  2:51pm

Those in my circle of friends know I love a good love story. I happen to know both
Kia… My Sorority Sister and Gary my dear friend. It has been a pleasure to see these love stories played out in real time. So often these kinds of love stories (Black Love stories) don’t get the light of day.

I wish I could’ve been there to hear them even though I know the stories!

This story telling project of the Waltons is just so heart warming and spirit binding. Gawd knows we need the tenderness of shared stories to bring us back to our humanity and concern for each other. Bravo!

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on January 9, 2018  3:29pm

Great Story Tellers.

posted by: RatashaSmith on January 9, 2018  5:05pm

This was awesome…I wish I was there to hear it in real time. You forget behind titles and notoriety we all have amazing stories - whether good or bad - that makes us who we are. We are all connected and can all can relate to one another on some level. This is a wonderful series. I look forward to hearing (or reading) about more stories.

posted by: TimeforChangeInNewHaven on January 10, 2018  10:54pm

Great idea but let’s get deeper in our communities to speak with people that are not common names because of their job position sorority/fraternity affiliation etc ...

posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on January 11, 2018  7:57am

TimeForChangeInNewHaven,

Common names? Well, we all can’t be “TimeForChangeInNewHaven”.

Affiliations is how work gets done in communities. Organized efforts by folks who care about community and shared progress. Black Sororities and Fraternities have been in service to our communities for well over a 100 years.

As far as I know there have been only 2 out of the 6 story tellers who are Sorority members. Myself and Kia Burden.  Gary Winfield, Bill Graustein, Juan Castillo, Eric Clemons(not sure if he is a D9) are not. None of us are in the same professions. Just regular folks with a story to tell.

Perhaps you would like to organize a talk with those folks who may offer stories from “deeper” in the community. Maybe you should contact the Waltons and offer up your story… Maybe share what “TimeForChangeInNewHaven” means.

Perhaps coming to the next Storytellers event in February would give you first hand knowledge of how storytelling works.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 11, 2018  9:30am

posted by: TimeforChangeInNewHaven on January 10, 2018 9:54pm

Great idea but let’s get deeper in our communities to speak with people that are not common names because of their job position sorority/fraternity affiliation etc ...

Home run.As far as these sorority/fraternity I leave the words of my master teacher when I was at Hunter Collage in 1971.

Dr John Henrik Clarke Black Greeks Are An Embarrassment.

https://youtu.be/4gb61QBTiGw

posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on January 11, 2018  1:08pm

3/5,

Some of the embarrassing Black Greeks! Influencers of the Black Consiousness Movement.
Kwame Nkrumah (Phi Beta Sigma)
Bobby Rush (Iota Phi Theta)
Khalid Abdul Muhammad (Omega Psi Phi)
Betty Shabazz (Delta Sigma Theta)
Carter G. Woodson (Omega Psi Phi)
Huey P. Newton (Phi Beta Sigma)
Arturo Alfonson Schomburg (Kappa Alpha Psi)... Jon Henrik Clark came from Columbus, Georgia to study directly under Schomburg.

You should be glad you aren’t one… Influencer.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 11, 2018  5:38pm

posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on January 11, 2018 12:08pm
3/5,

Some of the embarrassing Black Greeks! Influencers of the Black Consiousness Movement.
Kwame Nkrumah (Phi Beta Sigma)
Bobby Rush (Iota Phi Theta)
Khalid Abdul Muhammad (Omega Psi Phi)
Betty Shabazz (Delta Sigma Theta)
Carter G. Woodson (Omega Psi Phi)
Huey P. Newton (Phi Beta Sigma)
Arturo Alfonson Schomburg (Kappa Alpha Psi)... Jon Henrik Clark came from Columbus, Georgia to study directly under Schomburg.

Has nothing to do with the Influencers of the Black Consiousness Movement.It has to do with what is the black/african american identity in black fraternities and sororities, and why would/do ppl of african decent tie themselves to greek and other social networking organizations instead of ones that identify with them (such as african)? Which Dr.Clark and even Dr. Yosef ben Jochannan who Demolishes Greek Historic Untruth.In fact the list you made I would ask them the same thing that as to why you would tie themselves to greek and other social networking organizations instead of ones that identify with them (such as african)?

You should be glad you aren’t one… Influencer.

I have more people that follwing me then you think.Keep sleeping.

Part One.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 11, 2018  5:45pm

Part two
My bad.I forgot My cousin was one of the first to PledgeMALIK FRATERNITY based on AFRICAN FRATERNALISM.African Fraternalism includes such beliefs as the African origin of civilization, reclaiming the stolen legacy of African knowledge, the oneness of all African peoples, Going against the grain at the time, 15 brave young men formed the first Black and Latino fraternity (Malik Sigma Psi) that dared to call themselves African Fraternalists. This was 1977, and as you can imagine, it wasn’t easy! At the time, black fraternities had done it one way for almost 75 years. These brothers stood their ground, persevered, and became agents of change on their campuses and in their communities. MALIK is still here! As part of our natural progression and evolution, we started bestowing African names to new members; eliminated the Greek lettering from our name; our rituals and practices became more culturally based and our initiation became a “rite of passage”.he African diaspora crosses into South America and the Caribbean. From Brazil to Peru; Cuba to Puerto Rico; Mexico to Columbia. The Black and Latino experience exists as one, and MALIK embraces that “Latino Connection”from what I hear they are try to help with the start of a Sorority.Check out there list.

THE FIRST SEVEN MALIK FRATERNITY HONORARY MEMBERS

1. James Boatwright
2. Dr. Yosef Ben Jochannan
3. Gil Noble
4. Pablo Guzman
5. Reverend Herbert Daughtry
6. Charles Barron
7. Richie Perez

Any one you Know? i know all of them and they Know me.

https://www.malikfraternity.org/

posted by: TimeforChangeInNewHaven on January 11, 2018  6:07pm

@babz I don’t recall bashing D9.. it appears through your words you are taking things personal?? Each of these individuals have personal connections with one another. I know them. Why aren’t we going to the communities and finding local business owners who built their business from scratch? Even use the article from Mercy Quaye highlighting the female singer facing cancer. We can do better. We have a lot of examples in New Haven of resilience and perseverance. I’d hope that this is the commentary where thoughts are presented for reflection and not attacks. My screen name is quite “common” don’t ya think? I notice you have a pattern of defending D9… is everything okay

posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on January 11, 2018  9:28pm

Hi! My name is Babz Rawls Ivy.  I am known. I stand in front of and behind my name. No cloak, no screen, not a psysodymn.  Actually it’s Barbara Lynette Babz Rawls Ivy.

Take care and be well Time for NH Change and 3/5.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 11, 2018  11:29pm

posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on January 11, 2018 8:28pm

Hi! My name is Babz Rawls Ivy.  I am known. I stand in front of and behind my name. No cloak, no screen, not a psysodymn.  Actually it’s Barbara Lynette Babz Rawls Ivy.

Take care and be well Time for NH Change and 3/5.

History shows that many slaves upon emancipation voluntarily selected their former master’s surname as their own That is why I took my name and I stand behind my name.You see anyone that knows me will tell you when I throw my rocks I do not Hide my hands after I throw them.

Time for NH Change and 3/5.

Good luck.