As back to school day pictures flood the social media channels, I feel tender-hearted looking at the three of us. Having taught middle school for fourteen years I know full well that this picture may become more precious to me than most.
Marcel’s sweet hold on me, and his joyful innocent anticipation of all that middle school could be will soon shift. A former principal I worked with for a decade would always start the 6th grade back-to-school night the same way; “You are going to witness the greatest change in your child this year since they started their school career. So buckle up. It’s going to be a great ride.”
As his mother I want to protect that innocence and joy with every ounce of Mama-bear I have in me. As an educator and parent of a now 8th grader too, I know my effort will be better spent accepting, adjusting to and celebrating all that he will become.
As a mother of two beautiful brown boys I start the year with a larger prayer that they are seen and safe in their #BrownBoyJoy by their teachers and peers. That I will not be called in again this year to navigate how the school could or should have handled that racial slur differently. Or find myself on the phone carefully laying out how the curriculum does not accurately represent people of color, or does so in a demeaning or destructive way. Mostly I pray my sons will always walk through the halls standing tall and proud in their glorious bodies with their full hearts and hopeful and hungry minds.
May all of our babies believe in their potential to achieve whatever they imagine their highest version of themselves to become.
Soon Sammy Sammy will be flying across the country on his own to spend a few days alone with his family in Tacoma, Washington.
I’m really curious and a little nervous about how this will shake out. He is closing in on 13, he is an old soul, the child has lived. But he is a child, still. He is a child moving between two mothers, two families, one love. He is journeying at a moment where the world feels volatile and unsafe. But his is the world he is entering into as a young adult. It is what he knows, what he must know. He is no longer that little in my arms. His will always be that little in my arms.
I’m also so thankful that all of this is possible in every way.
Marcel and I leave on our journey two days later to visit with his donor and family in California. (Knowing that I will be on the same coast as Sammy is going to bring us all ease I suspect.) I’m equally curious how this Marcel moment will unfold, and what new understanding Marcel will gain about who his radiant, beautiful poetic self is in this lifetime. He will hold his little brother, who just turned one. He will be with his donor and his donor’s family. He will be invited into a new layer of understanding about what the word “family” holds for him.
I’m also so thankful that everyone involved is all about the YES in this moment too. The everyone includes my husband who has been holding the YES in his own way. I can not begin to imagine what his experience will be having us all across the country navigating this extended family foray away from him. (Of course he was invited to come, and would very much like to join us another time.) And, yes, part of this story began long before he came into our lives. One day we all hope that those markers will fade into the background, allowing this to just be a shared breath at any one moment of who we just are.
A dear friend reminded me to reach out on the blog to readers encouraging them to contribute to the GoFundMe campaign.
Or, for those of you who prefer to use PayPal and make a donation to this epic adventure that way-you can do so here for a generous $10.00 donation:
or here to pay for the pre-travel line up for both boys, or the tank of gas for the rental car for $25.00: or a day of driving from the airport to Sammy’s family and back to the airport thirty-six hours later with $75.00 here: or several hundred miles on the airplane for one of us with an over-the-top hugely appreciated $100.00 donation you can do so here: Or finally because you just feel crazy moved by all us on this courageous, family-making, more-love is more-love adventure and want to support this being paid for outright with ease and love with a $500.00 donation here:
Yesterday Sammy and I were at the grocery store, when we had the good fortune to be introduced to this little beauty. Her name is Aggie. She is brown, and her doting but shy four year old white mama was clearly pleased by the attention her little baby girl garnered when we halted our cart and immediately started gushing. “You have the most beautiful little baby girl,” I said kneeling down in front of her kid sized cart. Her mother immediately accepted the invitation to celebrate with us, and told us that this was her daughter’s most beloved doll, and that her name was Aggie. I wasted no time expressing my joy that Dr. King’s dream was alive and well here in Trader Joe’s and that she made my day, no my week, because she knows how important it is to love people who don’t look like us too.
Sammy tolerated the entire interaction, as this is what he is used to by now. Mommy sees a race positive potential conversation with a stranger and she grabs it.
In our family “MLK Day” has come to mean: a three day weekend that is kicked off each year by an incredible gospel music celebration at the performance hall in the city, and an awareness that what we talk about all year other people seem to have more permission to be talking about too.
In honor of this day when areas in the United States gives pause and consideration to the Civil Rights Movement here, I am writing to invite you to do the same. To give yourself permission.
Permission is something granted to you. I’m formulating an opinion that much of the ability for creamy colored white people to talk about their own implicit bias, or internalized racism will only happen when they are invited to do so in a very explicit and controlled way. I can not imagine how maddening this is to the people who do not have the luxury of not talking about race and racism. If you do not go to a special MLK breakfast today, or a symposium on the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative in your city, or have the benefit of having a magnificent teacher in your child’s school starting the conversation for you, there are many things you can do today, tomorrow, and every day you chose to from now on.
Here are a few examples of ways to give yourself permission, to jump on in, on behalf of your children, your neighbor’s children, and the legacy that you are going to leave behind to the world. Period. It’s never too late.
1. Listen to the I Have A Dream Speech with a kid. A young kid, and older kid. Listen to it over coffee with a friend. Talk about it. Pick one message in the speech to write down and put up in your kitchen to take in every day. Have everyone chose a quote that resonated. Listen to other speeches. Give this day meaning. Give every day meaning.
2. Listen to Safe Space Radio’s series on white racism. Bookmark it, and pick an episode to listen to at the gym, or on the way to church. Share something you learned with someone else. I am featured on this episode talking about my own racism.
3. At the dinner table, talk about a memory you have about a time when you did not understand something you witnessed, or saw on television, or read in the paper that had something to do with race or culture. Talk about how not understanding why a person or group does things differently then the way you do it, does not mean it is wrong, or not normal, but means it is not your experience. Ask your family if they can relate.
4. Go to your library, local video store or Netflix, and find a few books and a movie that features kids of all sorts of color doing really groovy fun things too. For a million great ideas for books go here. One of our favorite feel good flicks is Jump In. Here is clip to preview.
5. Read a book by an author of color, about anything you enjoy. Talk to someone else about the book.Want a radical suggestion? Start here by reading How to Be Black.
6. Find out when Alvin Ailey Dance is coming your way and take a friend, or a kid. I took Sammy when he was six. It was mind bogglingly amazing. He still talks about it. We are all going in March.
7. If you are affiliated with a school, make an appointment with your child’s teacher, or better yet the administrator to ask them to share with you the school’s vision for making sure all staff are grappling with cultural competency in and out of the classroom. If they look at you blankly, or say it is too expensive to begin to tackle, send them here to Teaching Tolerance’s Anti Bias Framework.
8. Find other blogs that are talking about race and culture and difference and leave a link on this blog, or on your FB page. NPR’s “Code Switch” is an amazing resource too. My Brown Baby is a go to for me.
9. Have athletes under your roof? Or who often sit next to you in the synagogue or in church? Or living across the street? Challenge them to research an athlete of color and share out their accomplishments by the end of the week. Musicians? Scientists? Poets? Kids love a challenge. Make it a monthly event. Have a potluck.
10. Look in the mirror and say; “Self, I give you permission to talk about race today, and every day for the rest of your life. I give you permission to be curious, confused, baffled, and muddled. I give you permission to mess up and say something you regret and learn from that. Self, I admire your courage.”
P.S. The title for this post was inspired from the book by the same title; Courageous Conversations about Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools, which I just ordered for myself.