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Mother Essentials: Rio Cortez

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Portrait by Brian Francis

It’s been a little over a year since Rio Cortez was first featured on MOTHER (you can re-read her beautiful essay on pregnancy and the conversations it invites), and of course so much has happened since then, both globally and personally. All in the last few months, the Harlem-based poet and editor has taken on a new role at Harper Collins, focused on supporting BIPOC authors and BIPOC-owned bookstores, her baby girl is now a thriving, vibrant toddler, and she’s just released her very first children’s book—The ABCs of Black History—this week!

Illustrated by Lauren Semmer, the stunning new title teaches kids the alphabet with beauty, passion, and flow. A, for example, is for for Anthem—an introduction to James Weldon Johnson’s Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing. Meanwhile, “Q is for Queens! Behold and bow down! Shield your eyes from the shine of their crowns!” (The page features luminaries from Nefertiti to Michelle Obama!). Each page is packed with engaging images and info that all kids—and parents—can appreciate and treasure.

To mark the milestone occasion of her book’s release, we caught up with Rio once again to get her current lineup of Mother Essentials—from strong coffee and shearling-lined clogs to plenty of products that make great gifts (her book included)!

The ABCs of Black History. “Black history is a story of heartbreak and triumph and I wanted to celebrate it with the youngest readers. I wrote this poem for us and everyone.” The ABCs of Black History, written by Rio Cortez and illustrated by Lauren Semmer, $14.95, Reparations Club.

Blue Light Blocking Glasses. “So. Much. Screen time. These blue light blocking glasses take some of the stress off my eyes. Bonus! They also hide my fatigue during early morning meetings.” Round Glasses, $42.90, Zenni Optical. 

Birkenstock Clogs. “These shearling clogs have really stepped my cold weather game up. They are so warm and easy to slip on when I run out the door.” Boston Genuine Shearling Clog, $165.95, Nordstrom.

Baby Fringe Earrings. The only jewelry I wear lately is on Zoom and designed by Alicia Goodwin. It is the perfect gold hue, literally dipped in gold, and the pieces are hand-crafted and unique.” Shower of Faith Baby Fringe Earrings, $125, Lingua Nigra.

Wooden Letter Magnets. “I don’t mind these on the fridge! I love the vibrant patterns and designs on this magnetic letter set from the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum.” Design Patterns Wooden Magnetic Letters, $17.99, Cooper Hewitt Museum.

Audible. “As a person who once read during her commute, and as a person whose child once went to daycare, I have found my reading time has become scarce. Audible truly saved my TBR stack. I can listen while I toddler-watch, while I cook, and run errands. I also enjoy the added texture of hearing an author’s work in their own voice.” Audible Premium Plus, $14.95/month, Audible. 

Pinot Gris. “I want to love an earthy red this time of year, and I do, but I also can’t resist a chilled white. This one is a dinnertime favorite.” Other People’s Pinot Gris, $25, Maison Noir.

Legacy Toddler T. “I love a graphic toddler tee that represents Black history. This one is a reprint of the original design from the 1969 Black Panther Party Free Breakfast for School Children program.” Panther’s Legacy Kid T, $20, Philadelphia Printworks.

Moisturizing Hand Sanitizer. “My hands have been struggling. I love this sanitizer because it actually moisturizes. And it’s super cute.” Power Mist Aloe Vera, $12, Touchland.

Café Bustelo. “An essential part of my morning routine is to brew Café Bustelo on the stovetop. It’s a comforting ritual that delivers the caffeine I desperately need.” Café Bustelo Espresso Style Ground Coffee, $4.79, Café Bustelo.

Lee Lee’s. Speaking of Black history! This bakery, operated by 78-year-old Alvin ‘Lee Lee’ Smalls makes the best rugelach uptown. We stop by whenever we need an afternoon treat. I am partial to raspberry.” Rugelach, $21 for 12, Lee Lee’s Rugelach By A Brother.

Naya Bucket Bag. “This is my everyday purse. It feels like one of those cartoon bags, in which everything inexplicably fits. With its earthy colors, it also goes with everything I own.” Naya Bag Noir Traditional, $189, Ivory B. 

Copal Incense. “We were introduced to these by dear friends and now we burn them as part of our evening wind-down. They are ancient and wonderful.” Copal Incense Sticks, $17.50, Marche Rue Dix.

Butterfly iPad Case. “Screen time has increased for all of us, unfortunately. But we love this iPad case because it is both adorable and indestructible, a true toddler gem.” Valor Butterfly Shock Resistant iPad Case, $24.99, Target.

Doona Liki Trike. “This convertible trike works as the lightest weight stroller option we’ve had, plus, it gives our daughter some personal agency as she practices peddling the wheels for herself.” Liki Trike S5, $299, Amazon.

Susan Miller. “The first of every month you will find me on Susan Miller’s app, texting with friends, and devouring monthly horoscopes. She is a seasoned pro and I’ve come to really appreciate her attention to detail and candor. (Hi, I’m Virgo sun, Gemini moon, Cancer rising).” Susan Miller’s Astrology Zone.

For more Mother Essentials, peep our past columns with Kido Chicago owner Keewa Nurullah, small-space mama Laura Fenton, Citizens of Humanity creative director Marianne McDonald, Curasalve founder Kelley Williams, Trade Street Jam Co. founder Ashley Rouse, Weelicious and One Potato founder Catherine McCord, Milky Mama’s Krystal Nicole Duhaney, mega-influencer Chriselle Lim, Matana Organics founder Gabriela Babila, interior designer Susan Work, author Tiffany Dufu, Les Gamins founder Veronique Nguyen, Lonny editor Angela Tafoya, Wiley Body founder Vanessa Wade, DockATot’s Roma Patel, designers Anna WallackCynthia RowleyRebecca Atwood, and Dana HaimOlympian Alysia Montano, cookbook author Hetal Vasavada, model and muse Slick Woods, children’s author Serena Minott, clean living expert Kristian Henderson, Oakland retail queen Sherri McMullen, wellness influencer Joanne Encarnacion, author LaTonya Yvetteand many, many more!

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