The Black Girl in Maine Podcast has arrived

The podcast has dropped! In it you will hear MamaC speak from the heart as you would expect.

I first met Shay Stewart-Bouley aka Black Girl in Maine through her writing, and presentations on antiracism and decentering whiteness. We have been on panels and symposiums together and share our stories of raising Black children in Maine, the whitest state in the country.

Shay and I get raw and real on transracial open adoption, impacts of daily racism and microagressions on the boys, unpacking whiteness, and why I left my 9-5 as a newly divorced single parent. The episode explores if and why I’m qualified to do my work as an equity and inclusion facilitator in schools, and as a 20th centurty family formation coach working with individual clients.

This podcast marks the true arrival of me knowing what I do best, and how I choose to share my unique and valuable experience with the world.

Please consider making a contribution to support more podcasts from Black Girl in Maine Media if you like what you hear. It was indeed an honor to be invited to participate on this nationally and internationally recognized platform. I look forward to hearing your impressions after you give a listen.

Keep questioning how your beliefs are serving you, and hold your littles and your loved-ones close.

Two weeks and counting!

Sammy and Mama C in California in 2005

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.

Marcel and “Tree” in 2011

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:

To Fade or Not to Fade

With less than a month until his visit to his family in Tacoma, Washington Sam is working on the desired look. Being in brown skin, raised in a very white state and in a white home I watch as he seems to absorb every morsel of what-is-Blackness he can from the world around him.

I attempt to witness and validate how he integrates this into his daily experience of self-in-the-making.

Marcel opted out of the fresh cut this time. He is growing his hair out, today. His exploration of his racial identity is something he has been less empowered to explore historically.

By that I mean I realized recently that I have had this attitude that he would be fine for the last several years.  Part of the journey we’re about to go on his about me waking up too. His path is just as important and deep as Sam’s.

Promise is theirs. Let’s try and promise that.

My kids are not white.

I am.  So, I will never know what it feels like to be them. I will never be Trayvon Martin.  But, my sons are.  They are going to be young Black men full of promise, walking down the street.

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My kids are not white, but I am, and I benefit from this in a gazillion ways that I could not begin to list, or comprehend.

When I was pulled over for speeding when I was 16, I told the cop, and later the judge that I was racing to get to school to take an exam. This was the truth, and the white judge tossed out the ticket the white cop had written. (It was only for going five miles over the speed limit if you must know.) I was screeching with joy when I left the courtroom. My mom told me to lower my voice, I had got off lucky and I should be more contained about it.

Today, if I imagine Sammy being pulled over at 9:00 in the morning in my car racing to school five minutes late how might the outcome be different? *

I have to work actively all the time to not be the oppressor, not the oppressed. When I keep my mouth closed when someone makes a racially tinged  joke, I am that oppressor. When I stay quite in a room full of white when I am aching to talk about who is not there, I am colluding. When I shy away from my own voice and power to make change, I am resigning.

When I stand up and read a poem about what it feels like to hold your son in your lap while he sleeps, and ache for the mamas who no longer can, I am joining.

When I read every uncomfortable line I can about the pandemic of racism worldwide I am opening.

My education, my rearing, my curiosity, my world travel, and the many wise women and men I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from in the first forty-five years of my journey have allowed me to say this-I am resisting.

Resisting the allure of racial and class privilege some of the time.

I was given the opportunity to parent my sons by a force of incomprehensible generosity. My sons have given me a mandate that I must continue to evolve as a person, as a mother, an educator. A mandate to try to be a slightly less racist person at the end of the each day then when I woke up. So I  work at it. I also get lazy and I forget. I have the option to forget.  Therein lies the difference.

My sons are  full of promise, just like so many sons and daughters are and were. My job more than ever is to make whatever part of the world I can- a little more able to see as much of their promise as I do. Period.

Join me?

Push your edges, get uncomfortable, unpack your story of white privilege, and help everyone make some room for them to be all they were meant to be-without fear or trepidation- too.

Not sure how to get started? Here are a few links that have been helpful to me:  What I want you to know about being a young black man in America and also from Rage Against the Mini Van this post on 7 action steps towards becoming an anti racist ally. I also found this tumblr very encouraging as people begin to unpack their own acknowledgement of their privilege.  It has taken me two days to put this post together. It will take me the next twenty to live up to it.

*Although I do not have the actual statistics in front of me I read a report last year on the increased number of incidences where young men of color end up in detention, or worse, for the exact same type of non aggressive police involved encounters as their white counterparts in Maine and nationally.

Talking race in the classroom, on the air, at the salon

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.

In the classroom. Photo by Samantha Fields.
In the classroom. Photo by Samantha Fields.

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?

Acceptance 101: A Writers Residency in April

Celebrating Mama
Celebrating Mama

It’s official. I’ve been accepted to my first writer’s residency in the spring. I sent a selection of poems from my manuscript to the director along with the application and imagined myself arriving there a few months from now with a bag of books, my cozies, my laptop, and “the binder”.  I heard the sound of the ferry as it pulled away leaving me and the other nine writers from all around the world engulfed in a late morning sun drenched anticipatory fog… Then the daydream would be rudely interrupted by the sound of “Mom, Marcel just gave me a wedgie!”  No matter what happens, I would think at those moments the possibility of a week away in my own room, with just my writing and the sound of the waves crashing outside my window was a delicious gift.

To that end I also have to admit the sending of the work out into the world, to be deemed worthy or not, was a test of my work, and a test of my readiness to be seen. Would I make it into the “maybe next time” the “to be invited” or the “to be fed to the gerbil’s cage” pile? (Now isn’t that an image for a short story? Lines of poetry all over the gerbil’s cage?)   So when I read the line; I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your poems from “Black  Enough” and am looking forward to meeting you and to talking with you more about your work I felt my skin expanding.

My work is ready.

So, am I?

____

Are you interested?  I came across this post this morning by Tracy Marchini on looking for a writer’s residency while searching residencies as a topic. It looks super useful, and I hope to return to it to learn more.

Have you?  Have you been to a retreat or residency? What was your experience like? Would you recommend it? How did you prepare?

So much good in a day

Watching our president, become our president, again. C 2013 Mama C and the Boys
Watching our president, become our president, again. C 2013 Mama C and the Boys

We’ve been all sorts of good busy in these parts. We’re doing great overall. Aside from the preponderance of tissues we’re upright, and accounted for. Watching your brown president become your president again must be about as life affirming in the “I can do anything I may ever choose to do” department for a five and eight year old of the same complexion and gender I would imagine.  I can’t help but wonder how seeing a woman accept the oath of office might have impacted me thirty-five plus years ago.  Here in Maine we also took great pride in the selection of Cuban American poet Richard Bianco as the inaugural poet as well. Hearing all the references to gay rights, climate change, and just about every other equality I can imagine, I felt like a walking goose bump for most of the morning. I feel hopeful. Tremendously hopeful today for the world our children will inherit.

I also had the amazing good fortune to collaborate with several dynamic women and men, young and old and in between, on a celebration honoring Dr. King that families from at least six local elementary schools attended yesterday. The creative portion of my contribution consisted of a staged dramatic reading of Martin’s Big Words by Dorreen Rappaort that I adapted, narrated, and directed with the help of several amazing youth volunteers, and other PTO parents and friends. With three rehearsals in a forty five minute period we pulled it off to an audience of about 250. I was also able to facilitate a little participatory conversation about “big words” as it related to MLK before we wowed the crowd. Afterwords families participated in creating a gigantic mural of dreams (that will be displayed at the City Hall, and travel to several of the participating elementary schools) and were led in a remarkable ongoing drum circle. Right?

I wrote to my co-leader of our “Cross Cultural Committee” of the PTO that this event allowed me to feel as if I answered Dr. King’s call to service in helping to organize and facilitate this event.  She wrote back that creating the opportunity for so many youth of color, and families and children to show up and engage in all of these ways was a gigantic source of  joy for her too.

Rehearsing the play. Photo by K. Mngqbisa
Rehearsing the play. Photo by K. Mngqbisa
mural making. Photo by K. Mngqbisa
mural making. Photo by K. Mngqbisa
waiting...photo by K. Mngqbisa
Drum hands   photo by K. Mngqbisa
mural
Mural phase 1. photo by K. Mngqbisa
wordplay
Wordplay. photo by K. Mngqbisa

If you are wondering how we managed to pull all this off and send the first 75 families that arrived there home with a free copy of Martin’s Big Words while working full time, raising our families, and being in relationship-you should be. It was hard work. I’m not afraid to admit that. But the results were enthralling. The positive reverberations are innumerable.  One photographer who was sent to the event without a reporter, took me aside and said; “I am going back to the office and fighting for this story. The looks on folks faces during the play, the drums, all of it? Now that was moving. That is a real story.”

Feeling inspired? Want to do something like this at your local elementary school next year? Great. Find some like minded folks, and get started. Start small. Organize around a great book, and invite to help would be my suggestion. (For a great post with a zillion resources on books to talk about race, check out this post at Rage Against the Minivan). If you are not part of your PTO, now would be a great time to join.

Did you attend, organize, read, compose or experience something that inspired you and yours too this weekend?  Share it here, or commit to something you’d like to help make happen next year in the comments, and then come back periodically and share your progress! We’d love to be your cheering squad!

Pilgrimage to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in DC

At the Dr. King Memorial in Washington, DC Photograph by Samantha Smithstein 2012 All Rights Reserved

Last weekend the boys, Shrek and I made the long awaited journey to the new Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, DC. Seeing family and friends was deeply important, but this was about an event, an arrival that had taken on a life of its own in my heart. I have been plugged into this venture for years, including fundraising for it with students as part of a unit on Civil Rights two years ago. I had shown the boys photographs, and nearly climbed out of the airplane when I saw it from my window during our descent into Washington on Friday.

The number of people there with us, on the atypically crisp spring like day in Washington was exhilarating. The fact that the majority were Black was exciting too.  School groups, church groups, and just group groups were there milling about, taking photos, and claiming the space. For the most part my kids were more interested in what could be climbed on, and how close you could get to the water than reading the quotes, or taking in the significance of the monument. But I didn’t care. We were there, and they knew that getting there, and witnessing this GIGANTIC BLACK LEADER-MAN (who is carved out of white stone, which is still odd to me) was our collective priority. That we shared it with one of my dearest from high school and her extended family-as planned months ago- added another layer to  the significance.

If Sam and Marcel weren’t in my life, would this have been our collective priority? Would I have felt this palpable sense of arrival, and togetherness with all of these other Civil Rights pilgrims? Would I be taking in on such a cellular level the importance that Dr. King shares the stage with Lincoln, Roosevelt, Jefferson and Washington, along with the Vietnam, Korean, and World War veterans? Have other transracial parent readers here ever had that almost mythological feeling of; “returning the boy/girl king to this place of great import. See how well they  are cared for…” at these events? I’ve come to embrace it. Maybe then I can get through that tape, and just enjoy all the learning that being Sam and Marcel’s mama affords me that my life without them may very well not have had? What a gift the entire event was, and if I needed the excuse of being their Mama in this life to embrace it, so be it.

MLK Memorial, 2012. Photo by Mama C and the Boys all rights reserved

A little what if…goes a long way

Recently a friend was over for a play date with her two kids. On the way home from the park she told me the story of a young Black girl who was adopted by dear friends of her parents twenty some years ago, in a near by state. The young woman was the only child of color in her neighborhood, and her school all her life. Her family had no friends of color, and did precious little to expose their daughter to people of any color at all, as far as the story teller knew. As the girl grew up, she began her own research wherever she could find answers, which was for the most part on television. By 19 she had run away from home, in search of a more authentic Black experience, according to the friend. It has been years since she has heard any news of the young woman from the family.

Even if this story is missing 90% of the truth, and sharing only 10% of it, the outcome did not really surprise me at all. I sat with that story, grieved for the girl, and the family. I immediately wondered how that story might or might not apply to the experience my sons were having. Then I let myself try to imagine being raised by parents of color in a non white community. I tried to imagine what it would be like, if there were no white people in my neighborhood or school, or in 98% of the movies I saw, or music I listened to. I imagined only going to a Black/ person of color dentist, and doctor, and once in a great while meeting another white kid at a play group, or on a soccer team.  I imagined what it would be like if everyone assumed her and I would naturally want to be friends because of how much we were suddenly alike. I tried to picture my family acting out their very well intentioned “white traditional customs” to help me feel seen or taken into consideration.

Then I imagined my family noticing all of that, and doing their very best to make friends who looked like me, with kids who looked like me too, and not just having a few books on the shelf, and one white doll. I let myself feel the relief in knowing I was not always going to be the other, the exception, the one who “is not really white, because we see her as one of us!” I imagined how I might feel so worried to ask them for what I perceived I needed in case it seemed like to do so was in someway a negation of all the “good” and “loving”  they were providing me. Not that I would even know what it is I needed to begin with, but if I did…

I tried to picture arriving at college years later, and being roommates with another white person, but really not understanding certain “givens” that all other white people might just assume I would know, or do, or talk about. Givens around customs, hair care, celebrations, religion, food, art, and so forth.

That little five minute journey opened me up even more to what I need to be doing more of, and more of. Sammy did not choose to be placed in this family.  I chose to honor his place in this world to the best of my ability, when his first mom, his birth mom, his only mom until I showed up placed him in my arms. The more I learn, experience and grow, the more able I am to provide him with an experience that allows him to be as fully realized as possible in this world he has been placed in. That is my duty to him, and Marcel.

I just know that for me anyway, I tend to learn more, when I can imagine myself in the other person’s shoes. Or, at least try to.

Loving all of that BROWN and then some

At the supermarket the other morning, Marcel and I had the following exchange.

Marcel: Mommy when people look at me do they see my brown skin or my white skin?
Me: What would you like them to see?
Marcel: My brown skin of course!
Me: I love you so much, and I love your brown skin.
Marcel: Because I love my brown skin so much too, that is what people will see first!

To me the magnificence of this exchange is manifold. Obviously Marcel is not only thinking about his own racial identity, but he is articulating it beautifully, and clearly confident in his own assessment of himself and his world. Over the last few months he has been more and more interested in talking about who in the family is more brown or less brown and why. My big drive has been to let him know how rich and gorgeous his brother’s color is, and how Marcel’s creamier brown skin is also enviable and lovely.  Marcel is also trying to understand on some level how Sammy came from Tea’s tummy (Sam’s first mom) and how Marcel came from mine, and they are brothers and we are a forever family. Throw the donor in there, and you have a lot for a four year old to grab on to.

At first Marcel was not “seeing” himself as brown too, and was much more sure he looked just like me. So the exchange above tells me that my work to balance out his perception has been landing. This is also a result of the increased time outdoors, and Marcel’s corresponding darkening color, which I keep calling attention to in an enviable way.  The kid loves a little competition. I was pleased that I answered his first question, with a question, because it allowed for me to uncover a little more deeply his thinking, today.

Of course the real celebration in the exchange is how he equates self acceptance, and love for who you are as the reason others would be drawn towards that thing about you too.

I have a feeling a certain remarkable set of teachers he works with have more to do with that strength in himself than me. As always I have a lot to learn from my kids for sure.

Alvin Ailey’s REVELATIONS from Alvin Ailey on Vimeo.

Robert Battle’s TAKADEME from Alvin Ailey on Vimeo.

 

On a similar note, last week Shrek sent Sammy and I to see the performance of a lifetime: The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. Although I had looked into getting tickets weeks before, the price was out of my reach for the whole family (not having kids prices at these events still puts me in a twist) so I grieved it, and let it go. Then Shrek suggested I take Sammy by himself, and found great seats at a reduced rate (he just finds a way, always).  So Sam and I got decked out and went on our date, while Shrek and Marcel went to the movies.

The moment the first brown skinned male dancer came on stage Sam’s eyes were the size of apples.  He looked up at me and whispered; “Mom there are men?!?” When I smiled and shook my head, he followed with; “BROWN ones?!?”  He sat in his seat CAPTIVATED for the entire show. The slower pieces, and the hip hop ones, the spiritual ones, and the New Orleans ones. He was RIGHT THERE (OK the mints purchased at intermission helped). Then, all the way home he danced. DANCED. (We live close enough to walk to see the performance–city living has it’s advantages!) And my favorite part? How after he came home he pranced about the house, in just his pajama bottoms with no shirt-just like the dancers. It was as if suddenly his beautiful brown skin, fit, muscley and growing body was transformed into those remarkably striking, powerful, elegant, athletic  and BROWN dancers too.  This morning, he walked into the room, took of his shirt and began to eat breakfast. OK Alvin, shirts on at the table buddy, I said. Oh come on! He retorted, smiling.

Minor qualm: where were all the boys in the audience? Brown boys and white boys? What a powerful example of masculine grace and beauty. I realize that I had my specific reasons to get to that show and yes the tickets were prohibitive in cost. But for all the brown and white skinned girls in that audience, I am sure as many boys would have been transfixed as Sammy was.  What keeps other parents of boys from getting their sons to an event like that? Is dance theater still that gender regulated in our mainstream culture? If ever there was an opportunity to change that, it would be a show of this caliber on so many levels.

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Do you have some loving on your BROWN stories you;d like to share here? Your brown could be another color, or ethnicity of course. Your story could be about gender, sexuality, or just some way that you witnessed growth in yourself or your family that you’d like to put out there for the world to see!  We need more and more chances to do that! Have a great week, and thanks to my new followers on facebook, twitter and here.