The answer to this question can be found by considering the importance that Walker places on the role of her mother in her upbringing, and how she acted as a role model for her, in spite of all of the troubles and disadvantages that she faced as a woman and as an Afro-American. Walker places her success as a writer at the doorstep of her mother, who gave her a drive to engage readers and an appreciation for the transforming power of details. If we look at the poem that Walker cites in this essay, we can see that she managed to achieve this without any formal education herself:
How they knew what we
Without knowing a page
Though such mothers were uneducated and lacked even the most basic literary skills at times, they valued the importance of making education and knowledge available to their children.
The converse then can be clearly seen. Without clear role models who can do what is best for their children and provide them with such an example of life and how to live it in the face of significant setbacks and trials, children would be brought up without a proper respect for education, learning, for others and ultimately, for themselves and what they are capable of.
We learn about ourselves, because we are forced to by default. Our "Mother's" walked blindly without intention because they had no choice--as a result, they unintentionally became our positive role models. Role models that forced us to take a deeper look, a "look" they were unable to see that b/c of them we are now able to recognize.