When they walk into the room, they are arm in arm. When they sit, they curl into each other. They steal glances into each other’s eyes.
For years, Mary J. Blige’s music has been the sound track reflecting the pain in her life, the struggle in ours. But today she’s drug- and alcohol-free. Introduced by Queen Latifah, Mary and music producer Kendu Isaacs married in December 2003. At 32 years old, Mary is finally able to sing the sound track of joy. Here are cuts from the original interview with ESSENCE Features Editor asha bandele, only on ESSENCE.com.
Mary, you’ve talked so much about how men have let you down and hurt you. What was it about Kendu that allowed you to trust him?
Mary: Kendu was consistent. He called when he said he was going to. He showed up on time. And he hung in there with me until I could trust him.
So often we don’t see ourselves in the same light others do. Where do you think the idea that we’re not good enough comes from?
Mary: It comes from what we see and experience as we’re growing up. If you grow up with a lot of anger and violence around you, or if you had a parent who abandoned you, you’ll probably be left with some scars. I know I was, and I know women who are 40 and 50 years old, who still think they don’t deserve to be treated well. After my father left, my mother was really hurt. She didn’t understand her own beauty-and I don’t want to put her business out there-but that hurt led her to a lot of things that only hurt her more. Growing up like that made it hard for me to trust Kendu-even though I loved him. But I’m starting to understand the kind of man he is, and I’ve put my trust in God. That’s the only way that I’m able to trust Kendu.
Kendu: That’s the key. She trusts God. And I’m cool with that. God is very consistent. There’s no man in this world who can compare to the consistency of God. If Mary trusts in God, He will direct her. If I’m not the one for her, then God’s going to say, “He needs to be gone,” and if he removed me from her, she’ll still be okay because her trust isn’t with me. It’s with Him and He’ll show her the way.
Can you talk about the journey you took to getting to this peaceful place, and to a place where you that you deserved to be treated with respect and kindness?
Mary: It was a process that was about learning to identify myself with image God created me in. That’s why I believe in myself now, and why I so much want to continue to do the right thing. Just to please God. That’s why I believe I deserve better. It would be a real slap in the face to God if I who was created in His image-spent all of my time with a hateful man.
Mary, what do you think is the greatest blessing this love has given you?
Mary: I never experienced a real loving man before, and I never realized how much attention they need. Through Kendu I realized how selfish I was. I wasn’t ready to give another grownup a simple hug. I thought only children were supposed to held and nurtured. My heart wanted to do it, but my flesh had been conditioned to pull away. What he’s taught me is that love makes the rules, and if love is making the rules, then you have to really submit to it. Men need loving attention and affection. You have to rub his head, hold him, whatever. He’s your baby right then. Kendu’s showing me how to love. I never knew how to love, and I never knew that it’s okay that love hurts sometimes. Not hurt as in physically or emotionally abused, but Kendu taught me that the very thing that’s going to heal me may not feel good.
Kendu: I remember saying that to you in one of the first conversations we ever had. I had some things to say about the way you were living, and told you it might hurt to hear it. You said, ‘I don’t want to hurt anymore.’ And so I told you it seemed like you had a wound that didn’t heal properly, and the scab on top is the problem. You have to pull it off, and that will hurt, but then we can get the medicine that will make the wound heal properly.
Mary, are you happy now?
Mary: I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I still have bad days, but not like the days I used to. My life won’t be perfect until I can let my past stop haunting me. Life still troubles me, but not like it used to.
Do you drink at all?
Mary: Not at all.
Did you go to AA?
Mary: No. I went to Proverbs. Sometimes when I look back, I think: I’m surprised I’m not dead.
Kendu: You’re not dead because God wants you to live. You have a mission, a reason to be here. We all do.
What do you think holds so many Black women back from getting the love they deserve?
Mary: I think many too much pride gets in the way of partnership. Being in a relationship means you have to be humble, take someone else’s needs into consideration. When I’m too proud, when I don’t want to do any sort of give and take, it means I’m not listening to my partner when he may need it the most.
Kendu: And so many Black men don’t know who they are, and they don’t understand what they’re supposed to be doing when it comes to women. Once you take a woman as your bride you’re telling God you’ll take care of her. But if you don’t a have real relationship with God, then you’ll never know how to take care of a woman the way He would want you to. . only way you can take care of a woman in a God-like way is to understand what God would do, and try to emulate that to the best of your human abilities.
Why do you think so many Black men don’t know who they are?
Kendu: Because we were enslaved. And as a group, we’ve never really dealt with what that did to us. We were sold away from our families, stripped of our names, treated worse than animals. We were family men once, providing for our women and children. Over the course of those centuries we were enslaved, we lost our sense of identity.
How does a man like you exist then?
Kendu: Through the word of God. But I had to go through fire to get to where I am now. Not everyone is willing to do that. When you start going through that fire and feel the burn, you want to turn around and run. I ran many times before I got through. And making it all the way through hurt like hell, but eventually I was able to stand the pain-the pain of looking at myself and my own shortcomings-which obviously I had since I didn’t make my first marriage work. But the point is that in the end I found that fire didn’t only hurt. It also cleansed. I know I’m a better man today, a more Christ-like man. Not a perfect man, but also not a man who’s chasing girls or going to strip joints.
What advice then would you want to give to Black women who are struggling-with addiction, with bad relationships, with anger and depression. How do we begin to let go of the hurt and move towards love?
Mary: To move towards love we have to able to look at ourselves instead of gossiping about someone else’s situation. Gossiping won’t help us see what we need to change in ourselves. I prayed for God to show me who I was-and that was hell-because I was prideful, selfish, jealous, mad, angry and hateful. It’s not easy, but women who are struggling need to ask God to show them who they are. Then they will know where their own pain is, and begin to heal.
Photo Credit: Spicer
Blige was married to Kendu Isaacs in December.