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.
On Sunday, my first attempt to talk to Sam about what was going on in Charlottesville and around the country did not go well. We were walking to the Y, and after he heard me say; “KKK” he said; “Enough. I’ve heard enough.”
He is absolutely right. He is twelve. He does not need to hear his white mother talking about how the KKK and Nazi party is marching, beating, and killing people south of us. I felt horrible. But I also knew I had to frame this for him, and Marcel before the world did. So I took space, read a few articles, talked to Shrek, and asked God for help. Then I started from this premise: What do they he need to hear?
So, when we sat down I started off this way; “Our country, our state, our city, our neighborhood is populated by people who believe in every cell of their bodies that all people are created equal. They believe that all people need to be and feel safe, and are determined more than ever to making certain that such a place will be the country, and the world they leave to their children. Your parents, your friends’ parents, your extended family, your teachers and so many of the people we interact with all the time are deeply committed to keeping the world safe for you and all those under attack. We will not allow hatred and ignorance to intimidate or attempt to harm or take away the rights of people who do not look like them.”
From here we talked very briefly about how a small group of people who live with hatred and fear in their hearts for reasons we can only imagine gathered in Virginia seeking audience for their beliefs. We talked about how five times as many people showed up to show them that their beliefs are backwards, unwanted, and not welcomed.
The boys asked questions about why these racist ogres were allowed to be so hateful, and why the police could not stop them from yelling violence inciting slogans and words. We wondered out loud how they learned such hatred.
We talked about going to the rally that evening in town, and they were both afraid of going, which was completely understandable. I could not promise them they would be safe there. I didn’t try to. That night both boys woke me up with more questions and need for reassurance.
While this conversation was going on Marcel was surrounding a group of Playmobil characters with his police characters. He has begun playing with them again, and the only characters he has been drawn to this time around are the police force. They are constantly catching bad guys who are breaking out of jails. So yesterday I found this for him at the Reny’s in town. He was the only officer on the shelf.
If you are looking for resources to help you feel as if you are riding one of those in your conversation, here is a great starting place. I would also encourage all of my readers to craft a letter to your child’s teacher, with that link, or this one (The first thing teachers should do when school starts is talk about the hatred in America-Here’s how) and why you believe this is necessary. Make sure to copy the principal, and members of the school board. Then follow up the email with deep gratitude for the hard work they do. I would also bring in a coffee gift card, flowers, and a huge box of pencils.. But that is just me.
Birth-family Reunion Travel Fund
We have just completed our cross country trip, and still hopeful to raise the expense of the airfare through crowd sourcing. We are only $200.00 away from that attainable $2100.00 reach! Will you please consider a $10.00 contribution? Each donation adds up and truly helps. Thank you!!!!
Mama C and the Boys Patronage
Love what you read here? Are you a first time reader, or a long time fan? Do you look forward to opening the email announcing a new post? Has your own understanding of Open Adoption, transracial parenting, or known donor family connection shifted in a helpful way? If so will you please consider showing your support with a ten dollar fandom contribution? This allows me to be "paid" here, instead of needing to farm the stories out elsewhere. This will also help me keep Mama C add free and content full all year round! Bisous!
This week I had the pleasure of speaking to a counseling class at University of Maine, about my experience as a transracial parent, white mind, internalized racism, privilege, and adoption. Suffice it to say, that an hour seemed to evaporate in front of our eyes. The feedback from the professor and the class was tremendous, and the invitations to come speak here and there are beginning to materialize. I am developing a five year plan that involves designing many more speaking engagements organized around talking about race in the classroom and beyond, so all of these opportunities are shaping that vision beautifully.
This was quite encouraging in the wake of not winning “Best of Portland Phoenix 2013” blog award. The winning blog was a photography forum called “Unseen Portland”. The pictures on the blog are incredible. I took comfort in knowing that I continue to write my own version of the unspoken here in Portland and in many other communities across the country. It was an honor to be nominated, and thank you to all who voted.
I meant to start the class with my now signature poem, “Black Enough”. Since it is POETRY MONTH, and I am leaving on my residency soon, what better time to share it here, again.
I can’t wait to tell you Sam,
that when you were just two
one of my very black students asked me
why I went
all the way to North Carolina
to have you.
I can’t wait to describe to you the look
on that student’s face
when I told him
that I didn’t have you
like his mom had him,
but that your birthmother
placed you in my arms
in the hospital in North Carolina
on Christmas Eve
as she smiled bravely and
Oh. What? He asked. And then,
It’s not that I thought you were black black
But I thought you were black enough to have him.
True I wondered if I was black enough
to walk through the door of Cordell’s barber shop
that first time six months ago
to get your black and curly hair
cut properly, what would they think of me?
And I can tell you that I am just
black enough to keep walking in that door,
where all the men
in that barber shop,
who have never asked me my name
Call you by yours-
Hey Sammy my man-
and What’s up boss?
They ask you
as you strut
to Cordell’s chair to demand
for a line-it-up
and black enough to notice
as they stare at me
and stare at me
as if by looking
just a little longer
I might become
black enough to them too.
Black enough to notice that
now I own
many more brown and black sweaters and shirts
and brown corduroys
because I must want you to think I
am a little more black
and a little more like you
Black enough Sam
that I’ll never be black enough
and because of that
I must never forget
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of engaging in a series of conversations/interviews with a conscientious, thoughtful reporter from our local public radio affiliate. She contacted me to discuss how Black History Month is or is not a part of the classroom.
Samantha was ready to tackle the topic in an informed and respectful way. She was very successful at putting me and my students at ease in our one on one interviews as well as the taping of the class. It was such a gift for me to have more practice at integrating my core beliefs and values within the framework of my professional life in such an accommodating venue.
To view the online piece, or listen to the audio, please click here.
This past week I hosted a “salon” where I invited twelve friends, colleagues, and fellow race journeyers to join together in circle to share a poem, a story, a journal entry, a song, an article, or any other medium where the intersection of race and the body were at play.
The night was energized and exhilarating. We shared. We laughed. We were still, uncomfortable, and grateful as we witnessed the crisis, the grief, the depth of the unknown, complicated, triggering and complex territory of race in our collective bodies. Yet, it felt safe. How amazing.
It was one of the more hopeful evenings I have had in a long time. Special thanks to Justice in the Body, for providing the space and the encouragement to host the event.
How are you reaching out in your personal lives to create a space to talk about your experience with race? What is working? What is helping? What can you share to give others the courage to take the same risk?
We had one of the nicest days yesterday. Our sitter invited us to her church to hear her and her three brothers play in the chorus/band. Her church is maybe 65% Rwandan (where she is from) and 25% neighborhood Mainers and then the rest of the folk. The minister is Hispanic. The chorus is all high school and college age Rwandan boys belting out their joy, along with two young women. My sitter’s father is the co-preacher–who misinters in his language-Kinyarwanda. The other minister has his sermon translated into Kinyarwanda by one of the young men. The songs were in English and Spanish. We felt totally welcomed and not judged. We blended in with so much ease. There were several Black families there, who I imagine would identify as African American. Many of them had at least one white family member. After the service the boys gravitated towards my boys, and invited them up to jam. Today we talked about our experience there in terms of Dr. King’s legacy of peace and brotherhood. Continue reading “Feeling it (singing and spitting included)”→
About halfway through my presentation called; “I can see race (in the classroom)” tomorrow I am going to hold up this Black Barbie, still in her box. I plan to ask the 50-75 teachers in the audience to tell me what message they think it would convey to their Black (and all) students if they had grown up playing with her along with the more common blonde and white version. (No, we are not talking about gender, or the messed up proportions that the Barbie exhibits….this time.) I am going to introduce this doll by telling them what one of my Black students said when I told her I bought it for my kids. She looked so confused. I explained that I wanted to get her because she was so beautiful. What message do you think they took in when I chose this one over the other versions on the shelf? Continue reading “I can talk about race (in the classroom)”→