Freshman looks back on late mother’s impact


Most days, St. Edward’s University freshman Genevia Kanu looks like just another college student happily and tiredly going through her day. It’s not easy to tell that Kanu has gone through something that most people cannot even imagine: the loss of a mother.

Kanu grew up in Houston as the daughter of a single-mother, Tangela Brooks.

“Growing up my mom was superwoman. She did anything for anyone,” Kanu said.

She remembers her mother as a stern but loving woman. She allowed her to be a child, while still raising her to have a passion for learning, especially reading.

Kanu’s mom sacrificed many things including her sexuality in order to raise her daughter the best way she could.

Kanu didn’t know that her mother was a lesbian. She had completely hid that part of her life because she thought it was the best for her daughter. She grew up in a small community that didn’t encourage homosexuality, so she was ashamed and afraid of teaching her daughter otherwise.

“She felt like being gay was a sin, and she didn’t want me to grow up in that,” Kanu said.

She found out that her mom was gay six months prior to her death.

When she did learn, she felt like everything had changed but eventually she came to the realization that her mother was still caring and supportive and loving and that was all that matters.

Before her mom died, Kanu remembered them being very happy.

“We were on a high. My mom was finally happy, I was happy, it just seemed like things were going right” Kanu said.

Their happiness lasted a while, until a summer afternoon in June 2009 when Kanu and her mother were at a friend’s ranch for a family gathering.

Kanu, only 13, was innocently playing in the pool when her mom fell.

“I looked out at the water, and I just remember seeing her on the floor,” Kanu said.

As the emergency medical technicians took her mom away, Kanu felt helpless.

“I remember sitting there and not knowing what to do. I said, you know what, let me pray. I remember bargaining with God. If you let her live I promise to always clean my room and go to church.”

At the hospital, she received the most life changing news; her mom had died.

The cause of her mother’s death was unknown, which left Kanu looking for answers.

As she sat in the lobby of the cold hospital in panic, she was sad, frustrated and confused. But among all of the emotions that she felt, she was calm.

“I literally felt like it was my mom telling me ‘You’re gonna have to figure this out, baby girl, I have equipped you.’ I just remember being so calm, and it was so creepy,” Kanu said through tears.

In the weeks and months following her mother’s death, life was extremely difficult for Kanu. She was stuck in the middle of a nasty custody battle between her grandmother and her father.

“I just remember spending a lot of days sleeping and trying to prepare myself for the days to come. It just didn’t seem real. I just remember taking the first month day by day.”

During the eight-month long custody battle, Kanu faced a lot of difficulties with missing school and even getting into trouble with her teachers.

“She was dealing with normal teenage issues, and the loss of her mother added on to that. It was difficult,” her grandmother, Catheryn Longino, said.

Throughout the following years, she continued to live with her grandmother, who won the custody battle. Although they faced financial difficulties, they were happy. At the beginning of her senior year, Kanu and her grandmother fought about normal teenage issues, and she left the house.

She moved in with her mom’s old college friend and continued her education. One day during the first semester of senior year, she received a call from the private high school that she attended, informing her that she owed $13,000 in school fees. Her grandmother handled the finances so this was news to Kanu.

At this point she had almost given up on going to college or furthering her education in any way.

“My life is over, I’m gonna go get my GED and work at Chick-fil-A and be a manager,” Kanu said.

She took up two jobs in order to pay off her debt while she continued high school.

As she took up all of this responsibility, an old friend of her mom reminded her how proud her mom would be of her and how much she was becoming like her mom, a superwoman.

“I never realized that’s what I was hoping to hear, but I was so glad when I heard them. I was so sure that I had disappointed (my mother). To hear that from someone was so comforting,” Kanu said.

Kanu was able to finish paying all of the debt with the help of some of her mom’s old friends and was able to go to college.

Remembering the love of reading that her mom instilled in her, Kanu chose to pursue an English Writing and Rhetoric degree at St. Edward’s.

“I sit back and look at 2014 and I am just so thankful that (my mom’s) legacy and the people that (she) has touched still continue to bless me,” Kanu said.

Although her mom died at a young age, she still has a big influence in her life.

It had always been her mother’s dream to open a non-profit organization for underprivileged youth and Kanu has adopted that as her mission. She wants to live out her mother’s dream and leave a legacy like her mom’s.

“If I can be half the woman that she was, then I would have done something great with my life.” Kanu said.