But it is time, as the saying goes, to put away childish things. I am not, as I would like to think, hatched from an egg. It has taken me all my life to understand that I am a link in a long chain of fearless and flawed people: my grandparents, now dead; my aunts and uncles; my great-grandparents who came to Philadelphia from the South under harrowing circumstances at the beginning of the twentieth century. Also mine are Bettie Mae Fikes, and the millions who fled the Jim Crow South with nothing but a crumpled address and a few dollars in their pockets, the little children in those old colored schools with handed-down textbooks and more pride and hope than I can conceive of, and the children in the present iterations of those schools in Philadelphia and New York and all across this country. Also mine: Bessie Smith and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Nina Simone and Stevie Wonder and Lauryn Hill. To think that for so many years I refused to turn my head to see these luminous chains of souls, stretching across time and geography, to which I belong. I still turn away frequently. It is difficult for me to cede any bit of my growling individuality. But I have a few family photos, and I have the music I love, to chastise me when I am arrogant and to brace me when I falter.

God is in all of this. I don’t mean the God I encountered at church when I was a girl, the bearded tyrant up in the firmament jerking us around like marionettes. Rather, I believe in the God of the links in the chain of being. This includes ancestry and culture and history, but it extends beyond those particularities into a vast constellation of belonging, which seems to me to be a form of grace, and a bulwark against despair and disconnection. Certainly, it is what I mean by love.

—Ayana Mathis, What Will Happen to All of that Beauty