There are endless difficult conversations parents know they must have with children over the course of their lives. World-wide Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd are leading many families to prioritize one of the most challenging questions. What is most important to teach children about race, racism, and systemic oppression in such a divisive world?
Birmingham Mom Collective is made of a unique blend of contributors of different races, ages, stages of motherhood, and family structures. But one thing we hold in common is a desire to spread love and support through our communities and our families. Several of our contributors have shared reflections on words they want to pass along to their children in light of these events.
To Our Children . . .
Injustice: absence of justice; violation of right or of the rights of another; Unfairness
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, Tamir Rice, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Samuel Dubose, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Terrence Crutcher, Regis Korchinaki-Paquet, and Tony McDade.
Fifteen Black African Americans that were killed by Police officers. We often say “this has got to stop.” The real question is: When will this stop? This question, among others, is one of many questions that we are trying to get answers to. It’s easy to ask a question with a question, and it’s even easier to just pretend like this didn’t happen. To sweep this issue under the rug, like all the others we have done in the past. The conversations that are now being had in open spaces, instead of behind closed doors, are wonderful.
Fifteen Black African Americans and countless others; we would like justice for their families, but more so for them. As a mom of two black boys I worry about when the innocence dies and they become another number. Or just another body. My boys are ages one and two. Right now when my oldest sees a police car, he says “Police, Police” with all the excitement in the world! He doesn’t know that this police officer could easily turn and end his life. As a black mom I am scared, I am worried. All I can do, like other moms, is hold my babies just a little tighter at night, and pray a little harder. I feel that change is going to come and it’s only going to come when we are ready, wholeheartedly ready, for a change.
Ally: a person who listens to the experiences of systemic oppression of others and uses their privilege to stand alongside those being oppressed.
My child, you were born into privilege. There are unending benefits to being born a white middle-class male. This is simply a fact about yourself I want you to understand some day, because you will often have to make the choice of how to use this privilege. Will you use it for the good of the world, or simply to benefit yourself?
You will often hear me say our family believes in seeing all people as our equals and that differences are a part of what makes the world beautiful. Tragically, you will encounter many ways others do not hold this truth. You will witness people use the color of another’s skin to put them down, hurt them, even justify taking their life. Our responsibility is to speak against such injustice.
Harper Lee, your namesake, wrote “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” You will never know what it is like to be a person of color. But I will do my best to raise you as an active ally. I hope I’m showing you how to humbly listen to the experiences of others. I hope I’m modeling how to take on the struggle of the oppressed as your own. I hope I’m teaching you how to share your privilege rather than hoard it. During this time especially, I hope I am demonstrating courage in standing alongside others to fight for liberty and justice for all.
Apathy: lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern
I want my children to understand that more than blatant racism, blatant apathy has allowed the crimes against the Black community to continue. The number of people who owned slaves was small compared to the number of people who stood by and watched. The number of people murdering black men, women, and children through lynching was small compared to the number of people who ignored the problem and enjoyed their own lives, free of fear. The percentage of people parading around with signs reading things like, “Keep Alabama White” was small in comparison to those who saw the images and went about their day. Those who drank from water fountains marked “White” didn’t necessarily fight to ensure the ones marked “Colored” remained there, but they still took their drinks.
I want my sons to understand that history looks back at the crime of apathy for what it is, and this pivotal time is when people are finally beginning to say, “No more!” Many of us have sat on the sidelines and assumed we’re not racist because we have Black friends, never use racial slurs, or have done a host of other things to show “I’m not a racist.” We are waking up to our own apathy. We are committed to doing better. When the time comes for my young boys to really grasp what was going on in the world when they were two and four years old, they will not have to wonder what their mother was doing while the world around her fought for change; she was fighting, too.
Courage: strength and confidence in the face of pain or grief.
Dear daughter, I hope you always have courage . . . the courage to stand up to injustice, and to fight to protect those around you who are more vulnerable to harm. I hope you will always recognize others’ inherent worth and sacredness, and that you will defend and celebrate the beautiful things that make them unique.
I pray too, that you will have the courage of conviction to stand up for yourself. You will soon realize that racism doesn’t just happen to other people. Your beautiful brown skin that is so beloved in our home, will make you a target to some. There will be times that you will be made to feel as if you don’t belong. (At 7 years old, you have unfortunately already experienced this.) Some days this will be subtle . . . other days, devastatingly blatant.
When you come face to face with apathy, ignorance, and hatred – I hope you will remember that others’ opinions will never define you. The earliest definition of the word courage meant, “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” I hope that in those difficult moments; your brilliant mind will call upon your beautiful heart and remind you of the love, integrity, passion, strength and fortitude that abide within you. I hope that you’ll be brave enough to know your true worth – despite others who cannot recognize it.
Dear daughter, you are neither white, nor black. As you grow up in this world filled with complex biases and intense brokenness, you will have to learn how to wield both a sword and a shield. There will be times that you will be able to protect others from harm, and times that you will need to protect yourself too. This is a heavy burden to bear, but I believe in your strength and your fighting spirit. I pray you’ll always be a courageous champion of justice and truth – for others, and for yourself. I promise to never stop fighting by your side – for others and for you.
Awareness: knowledge or perception of a situation or fact
Children of the world, you are now living in a time of deep awareness. You should always be aware of how the world is working and how you fit in it. With that said, here are some things I want you to be aware of.
1: YOU MATTER not because of how you look, but because of who you are.
2: Everyone in the world is different inside and out and that is okay.
3: Some people and things will not always be fair for you but you can always demand fairness.
4: Be aware of your feelings because they are important. And finally,
5: You can help other people be aware! Being aware is a big job, but you little ones have already been doing it by telling adults how you feel, asking questions and learning new things! Keep up the good work!
Endurance: the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way
When the topic of racism is no longer covering our newsfeeds, will we continue to advocate for justice? Will that be the norm of our private lives, or only as long as social media reminds us of its importance? We need endurance. I want my children to know that treating others with dignity, respect, and value is not something we do only when it’s popular. I pray daily for my kids to do what is right even if no one is looking and even if no one is following. Seeking justice is an on-going activity. It’s easy to follow the lead of others now in regards to fighting racism, but when there is no one to follow I want my kids to lead with kind, truthful words and helpful actions.
The issue of racism in our country is deep, difficult, and complex. As my children grow older and more aware of the disunity in our country, I don’t want them to grow weary in doing good. I don’t want them discouraged, thinking the problem is too great for them to have an impact as a young individual. I want my children to learn endurance, long-suffering, and patience. I want them to bear one another’s burdens. I want them to walk alongside those who need a listening ear and a helping hand. I want them to be humble when they are wrong, continue learning what they don’t understand, seek the truth in God’s word, and love others as they love themselves. This requires a lifetime of endurance. It won’t always be easy or fun, but I pray my kids will persevere with love in demonstrating value and dignity to all people at all times.
Lament: to express sorrow, mourning, or regret — often demonstratively.
Grace: A simple elegance or refinement of movement; courteous goodwill; do honor or credit to (someone or something) by one’s presence.
There are many types of grace. Although the word implies a condition of effortless existence, grace must be practiced to be performed correctly. It is important to me you learn this word, as a man, and make it a part of who you are. True grace is powerful, fluid, and strong, like a dancer launching feet into the air to land soundlessly on the stage. You, my child, must give grace in order to receive it from others, and show grace to others even when they do not reciprocate. We must dialogue with grace. Be respectful and thoughtful both when sharing and receiving information (especially if the new information directly contradicts what you have always assumed was 100% true). When you think, and rethink, and refine your thoughts, they become more easily expressed and thusly understood. A pithy meme, while succinct and thought provoking, may start a conversation, but it will never end one.
Systemic racism is a nuanced, sensitive topic. Our society has been imbued with it for generations. Yet only now are many of us realizing how lacking we are in teaching, reacting and guiding each other as we move forward. In this course, I ask for grace for myself.
I pray that you learn to listen. REALLY listen to those you encounter. Everyone has a different story, and they are valuable and worthy of your attention. I ask you not to be colorblind, but see the world as the rainbow it truly is, each soul integral to the life of our humanity. This quote by Luvvie Ajayi is, to me, the epitome of grace in communication: “When it’s time to say hard things, I ask myself 3 things: Did you mean it? Can you defend it? Did you say it with love?”
Love: “a strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties” or “unselfish, loyal, and benevolent concern for the good of another.” Higher: “exalted or elevated in character.” Higher love: an elevated benevolent concern for the good of others.
Love is both heady and sweet, passionate and tender, heavy and carefree. Love inspires. Love accepts. It encourages. It creates a magical holding space. It desires good things – if it’s healthy love. But, toxic love harms, constrains, belittles, and wreaks havoc upon the soul. I want healthy love, a higher love; a love that endures, that earnestly seeks the best even when overwhelmed by the worst.
Higher Love is the very love that I wish to give in my marriage, as a physician, and as a woman but especially for my children. Honestly, a higher love is so hard amid COVID-19 and what I see as the complete unraveling of our country under the weight of hundreds of years of oppression for black and brown people. Yet, this is exactly why embracing a higher love is so critical right now.