Kenyatta Matthews

Kenyatta Matthews is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s partner (later his wife) and Samori’s mother. In the memoir, Coates refers to her first as “the girl from Chicago” and then, since the book is written as a letter addressed to Samori, as “your mother.”

Matthews grew up in a mostly white neighborhood in Chicago where the Dream was evident all around her and where she never felt entirely at home. She was raised to believe that she needed to be smart, because she wouldn’t be able to rely on her looks; later she was told by white people who believed they were paying her a compliment that she “wasn’t really black” and by young black men that she was “pretty for a dark-skin girl.” Matthews was also an only child and, like the majority of people Coates knew at the time, never knew her father. Coates describes Matthews as having a “knowledge of cosmic injustices” to which he deeply related and as having opened his eyes to the particular injustices inflicted on women and girls. The two of them met and started dating while they were both attending Howard University; Coates recalls sharing a blunt with Matthews at a party at her house and feeling himself becoming spellbound by her.

When Matthews and Coates were both twenty-four, Matthews unexpectedly became pregnant with Samori. She and Coates resisted the pressure to marry but remained a couple and began raising Samori in Delaware, then in Prince George’s (PG) County, Maryland. Shortly before September 11th, 2001, Kenyatta got a job in New York City, and the three of them moved to a basement apartment in Brooklyn. Coates says it was Matthews who taught him how to love and be a good father to Samori. On her thirtieth birthday, Matthews took a trip to Paris. She loved the city, and the pictures she brought back inspired Coates to travel there himself. The following summer, Coates and Matthews brought Samori to Paris as well.