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.
Last night I ordered one of each of these shirts from DNBE, a company that promotes what they call positive propaganda:
If you think about it, your t-shirt is like a billboard, and every day you’re walking around advertising something (or maybe nothing if it’s a blank tee or a meaningless design) . That advertisement says something about the person wearing it and has an effect (conscious or subconscious) on the people around him/her. Why waste that valuable advertising space? Why not use it to uplift the people? … For that brief moment you know that there are other people out there that have not lost their minds. And that positive energy is infectious and magnetic. With enough people catching on, we can start to turn this situation around. That’s positive propaganda, and that’s why we’re here…
To grab onto something that feels positive in the message department for young Black men today is not an easy find. I, like many mamas I know who are parenting young men of color have found myself traveling the continuum from abject despair to enraged disbelief and everything in between. I have been attending rallies, and reading my poems out loud to honor Trayvon, Michael, Tamir, Eric, and, and, and…
I have been talking to colleagues, friends, family, and anyone really who will listen and tried again to get those who don’t seem to care to notice what I am saying for a moment. At work when I am asked how I am, I try to answer truthfully; “In a state of disbelief. Crushed. Shocked that our country has such a broken judicial system, and devalues the lives of so many of the young men and women here in our schools…” I have prayed. I have hugged my boys so much more. Each time I catch myself forgetting, I notice Sammy or Marcel just walking out of the room and think to myself; “he is coming back.”
I say this to honor all the mothers who can’t.
I have also tuned out completely, because I have that choice. I don’t just mean that I deactivated my Facebook, and disappeared almost entirely from social media. I mean that I can pop into the gas station to get a cup of coffee, and not engage with the headline on the newspaper out loud or in private, if I don’t want to. I can say; “I can’t deal today.” I am not the one Black colleague in the school who everyone either avoids, or seeks out after another horror show is splayed across the news. I can just carry on and not engage. I can, and I do. I am not a young Black man walking down the street wondering if it is safe here, or in the convenience store being watched to see if I steal a candy bar while I am waiting to pay for my coffee.
I have accepted invitations to be on panels, and co-design Ferguson units with colleagues. I have scheduled several meetings for the next three months with various white men in positions of power in the field of education to talk about how we keep talking about this in schools and beyond, because it is one way I can use my voice, experience and privilege to promote a little more positive propaganda.
I have wondered if I would care this much today if my sons were white. I have not always answered that question honestly.
I have so much gratitude and appreciation for all the people in our lives who can listen, and who are climbing up underneath this massive weight next to us, and offering to do more than just hold it up too.
Sammy just woke up, and asked for a cuddle. I stopped writing, and crawled up into his bunk bed, rearranged his twisted up blankets and sheets, and wrapped myself up in him too. In a few days he will be ten. He will be just two years younger than Tamir Rice who was shot when he was reaching for his toy gun-most likely show the police officers it was fake-when they were all screaming at him to put his hands up. That’s when he was killed. It was a few days after his twelfth birthday.
Sammy will not be getting any toy guns for his birthday, and we have talked about why. Sammy asked for anything in the remote control helicopter department, an x-box, and some footy pajamas-because he used to love to wear them when he was little…