Between Privilege and Vulnerability: Social Responsibility

familyOur Pastor has been preaching on the “Great Ends of the Church.”  I am embarrassed to say that I missed what all the great ends are.  Last week’s sermon (which was awesome) was about telling our truth. We had a great Black History Month litany honoring truth tellers in a variety of fields (art, music, science, education, etc.).  This week Pastor Heather is leading a group in Israel so Rev. Cindy came to preach. I LOVE Cindy, really I do. You know you meet someone and you instantly feel like “I could hang out with her often.” Yep. That’s how I feel about Rev. Cindy Kohlman.  Today she ROCKED the message on Justice and Social Responsibility.  As a social worker I was “Yea. Right on! We are about justice and helping others, and spreading the good news, and social responsibility.”

I wish the sermon had been tapped so y’all could see because I am not able to do her justice! She asked if some folks were uncomfortable. I ask this in my diversity courses all the time, with the premise that my space is safe and there will be discomfort because diversity…justice…social responsibility is challenging, controversial to some, and uncomfortable to many. The question for today’s sermon was “What Shall We (You) Do?” Justice and Social Responsibility is ACTIVE work! (Ephesians 4:25-29, 5:8-7 and Luke 3:1-14).

Our son, who has no enemy that he knows of and everyone he meets is a friend knows how worldto do justice and social responsibility in a very nice 5 year old way.

  1. On the playground or in a play setting he may notice that a child is different in some way and that does not stop him form playing with that child or inviting that child to play if the child was not already playing.
  2. Three times now at school I have received an email from his teacher saying that our son shared his costume with someone who forgot to wear their costume for that day (Whakcy Dr. Seuss Wednesday, or some other day…)
  3. Whenever we go out – to a friend’s house, to church, to a meeting, wherever…he insists that I pack enough snacks for him to be able to share with others. Sometimes he doesn’t get a snack he’s so busy sharing!
  4. While he likes to consider himself a BIG boy at age 5 and tends to gravitate to the older children (ages 10 and up), he always first looks out for those younger than him – giving them his toys to play with, a snack, a hug, before running off to be a big boy!
  5. When he is tired of a book or toy he always says “Mommy, you should give this to so-and-so.” We then discuss making a bag of toys and clothes to give away either to friend or to an organization.

His heart is so BIG and sensitive.  I am heartened that even though he has faced not being included because of his age or gender or race, he still takes the time to make sure to include and give to others.  (He by the way is often oblivious to being excluded…that’s a blog for another time). The scripture that come to mind is Matthew 25:45 “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.

We, of course have done some prompting on giving, being generous, being aware of others and their situation. But our son has done a lot of 5 year old social responsibility work on his own.  Our job now is to continue to nurture that and make sure he continues to become more aware, ask bigger questions, and continue to actively work for justice. Because even those who have been oppressed or fee vulnerable or discriminated against have MUCH to give!

If your child has the tendency to ask questions, be generous, include others, give of him or herself – ENCOURAGE it and engage him or her in age appropriate discussions about justice and social responsibility.  One of the things I see missing in the larger society is justice being enacted across cultures, ethnicities, ages, genders, religions, political affiliations, religions – it’s OUR world and we ALL have a responsibility to do GOOD and RIGHT!

 

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Thoughtful Tuesday

familyOur son was not yet 2 years old when Trayvon Martin was shot in Sanford, Florida. That night we held him tightly and I prayed that I would find the words as he grew up to talk to him about vulnerability, oppression, being a person of color, racism. My parents who were born in the south but grew up in the North and the West did a poor job of preparing me for the harsh realities of the isms. I was sheltered and protected. I believe my parents thought that because we moved out of Inglewood into Pasadena, enrolled me in private schools, exposed me to those upper-class activities that they did not participate in, I would be spared or safe from racism, sexism, etc. Otis Graham, author of Our Kind of People wrote a column about how privileged status does not protect our children from being called a N—- https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/11/06/i-taught-my-black-kids-that-their-elite-upbringing-would-protect-them-from-discrimination-i-was-wrong/

Since February 2012, so may incidents of racial injustice and violence have occurred that I have honestly lost track. All I know is that I am trying to remain calm, not panic, and talk to our son in ways that make sense. My husband and I have different approaches, which is o.k. I think. There are different ways to expose our children, talk to them, and prepare them as best we can for their futures. Our differing approaches collided when our nephew was elected president of his high school student body and social media erupted in racial slurs and threats of death. For the first time since our son had been born I was called to action. I participated in a rally, but our son did not go. Our nephew was on the front page of the paper and on the nightly local news almost daily. Our son is learning to read and pictures speak volumes. I felt we could not hide or sugar-coat the truth. We have responded simply or used religion or sports analogies to help.

The simplest response possible: “He won and some people were not happy, they are sore losers, and they said mean things.” And our son would say “Are they going to get in trouble? Did they apologize?” The truth was that no, those kids did not truly get into trouble and we were not sure they had apologized. So another type of conversation was had. We turned to religion: “Sometimes people do or say mean things and they do not apologize. God knows our hearts and will always protect us.” God is still a vague being/concept to our son, but he kind of got it.  IN other situations, we have turned to sports (his favorite activity): “You know how in a game there is a referee that monitors the players and when a player creates a super bad foul the player gets kicked out of the game and then later he has to pay a fee?” “Yes.” “In life there are referees who patrol our world and kick people out and make them pay fees.”

But then the news images of police, protestors, shot boys that look like him become too much to ignore. Even if we were not watching the news in his presence, he sees the front page of the newspaper as we bring it into the house, the news has a preview on t.v. as we are turning to his kid’s channel, our gatherings are a mix of adults and children and he over-hears our conversations. We cannot and will not live in a bubble under the guise of shielding him. So the real challenge is how to navigate this harsh reality without burdening his 5 year old mind, soul, and heart.

He is obsessed with playing “jail.” He also loves soccer, football, play dough, and coloring. But inevitably whatever he is building with Legos turns into a jail. His soccer players end up in jail because they cause d a foul or his play dough creation is a jail. Even his beloved TMNT are in jail! My social worker antenna is buzzing!!!! So I ask “Why is everyone always in jail?” “Because they’re bad.” “What did they do?” “They were fighting.” “Oh” I say weakly, wondering if I should continue the questioning, which I do not but instead say “I think you’ve played jail long enough, let’s read….”

Our son is very intuitive, he is smart and savvy. He listens to everything people say. He is not naïve. At the same time, we do not want to give him more information than he needs at this age. We also do not want him to be shocked (which he will be) when a classmate or a classmate’s parent says something racially cruel or he doesn’t get invited to the party because the parent doesn’t like black people, etc., etc. I also do not want to be a helicopter parent, but I can easily see how trying to protect your child from injustice based on his race or biological sex or religion or ability…could lead a parent to helicopter…patrolling the books in the library, the holidays celebrated at school, etc.

I am too often overwhelmed by that state of our country and our world. I feel paralyzed and fearful. Then I remember that I need to model what our son should be (my husband does too) and I just make sure our son hears and sees me engaged in social justice. I also remember that I have gotten through it with minimal protection and I have grown stronger, more passionate, braver.

I also just hope and pray that there are parents of every race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, and orientation out there who are just as concerned as I am and are having age-appropriate conversations with their children about the same issues and about how to be an ally. I just hope and pray that there is better police academy screening and training. I just hope that the post-modernists, whom I do not always understand or agree with, are right and we reach a post-label-identity society…where we are all equal and treated as such.

Do you talk to your child about difference? Vulnerablitiy? Racism? Sexism? Current events? How do you do it?

Some of my favorite articles on related topics:

  1. To The White Parent of My Black Son’s Friends – http://www.amusingmaralee.com/2015/12/to-the-white-parents-of-my-black-sons-friends/#sthash.mZuLFa7R.dpuf
  2. Respect what black America is feeling – http://www.salon.com/2015/04/29/dear_white_facebook_friends_i_need_you_to_respect_what_black_america_is_feeling_right_now/
  3. Five recovery steps from a form helicopter parent http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/01/05/overparenting-5-recovery-steps-from-a-former-stanford-dean/
  4. What it’s like to be the only black kid in class http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/this-is-what-its-like-to-be-the-only-black-kid-in-class_568a847be4b014efe0dae77d

 

I noticed you didn’t “like” my post

News1There has been a lot to write about lately. SO much that I have felt almost frozen and overwhelmed by which topic(s) to blog about. So I wrote the Opinion Piece instead and then posted and re-posted lots of mini opinions on FaceBook about ALL the current events.

You can quickly determine who is like-minded and who is not.

I am not delusional about who my family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances are and who they are not.

I do not mind agreeing to disagree. This is part of what makes living in the U.S. so nice.

What doesn’t make living in the U.S. so nice is that we each live in some type of privilege that then often leads us to hate on someone else based on our privileged identity (whether that is one identity or many).

Hiding behind one privileged identity and it’s values and morals in order to hate on another group is still discrimination, oppression, and hatred.

I am an equal social justice advocate.  Not all vulnerable and oppressed groups experience discrimination the same. But each vulnerable and oppressed group deserves to live free of fear of oppression and violence. That is true for abused women, infertile women, LGBT families and individuals, folks without enough resources, racial and  ethnic “minorities,” etc., etc., etc.

So, I noticed you didn’t like my posts and that’s o.k. I doesn’t make my passionate advocacy any less, it just assures me that I should be louder until wide-spread justice occurs.

The A.M.E. Church’s loss is a loss for all us

I’ve been told this will appear in the Salem (MA) News on Monday. SO this is for y’all who are not on the North Shore of MA.

According to the U.S. Census Massachusetts may not be as diverse as some other states, but if you live, walk, drive, work here then you can clearly see the great diversity of our Commonwealth. The U.S. Census reports that of those who completed the Census in the Commonwealth 8% are Black, 6% are Asian, 10% are Hispanic. 15% of our residents were born outside of the U.S. and 21.9% speak a language other than English in their home. Hispanics and Blacks together own 6% of firms in the Commonwealth. When immigrants go to a new place they often look to find a familiar church to seek support and comfort. There are ten African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Churches in Massachusetts. These churches have a strong historic significance and are important bastions of hope, service, growth, justice, equity, and unity.

untitledHistorically, for the African and African American communities the Church is one of the most important social institutions. The A.M.E. Church is one of the most important churches in the U.S. It is the oldest, most stable, largest historically black church in the United States and abroad. It has been the foundation for the creation of schools, colleges and universities, housing, and other social, intellectual and cultural institutions such as literary societies, fraternities and sororities. Since Reconstruction the A.M.E. Church Bishops and Pastors have served as Congressmen, Senators, City Councilors, Mayors, and School Board members. The commitment to civic engagement and justice has been evident for centuries and is enacted on behalf of the entire community. Ministers, Bishops, congregation members are often on the scene after racial incidents in Missouri, Baltimore, Texas and not just this year but since the inception of the Black Church.

The first settlers quickly established churches and as more people came from every corner of the world, more churches with specific languages and rituals and practices were created. Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, places of worship are sacred. They bring hope, unity, and solace to many. A place of worship is one of the first institutions new comers to the U.S. seek out when they arrive. Churches feed communities, offer safe space for meetings (AA, NA, boys and girls scouts, etc.). Churches feed our bodies, our minds, and our souls. Despite a lot of backlash from society against religion, religious institutions and leaders, most churches are places open to all without question. I know exceptions exist, but not within the A.M.E. Church.

Richard Allen was one of the key founders of the A.M.E. Church. In 1787, after being forced out of a Methodist Church in Philadelphia where they were praying Allen and others were inspired to have a church in which Africans could worship without discrimination. The first A.M.E. Church is called Mother Bethel and is located in Philadelphia, PA. The A.M.E. Church and its colleges and universities have always been open to all without discrimination or any kind of exception. It is not surprising that a young, Caucasian male sat in prayer with others at Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in South Carolina without being questioned. It is a church that was implicated in the Denmark Vesey slave uprising/rebellion. The church was burned and its participation in that state banned. Today the Charleston community has come together in strong unified support of Emmanuel, their members, and their Pastor, the Honorable Clementa Pinckney.

Churches, in particular churches founded by immigrants and people of color are an important fabric of our society. They represent hope, progress, growth, justice, unity, and are a place where people from different walks of life come together in comfort and peace, or at least in theory they should be able to. Justice will be swift and hopefully served appropriately. Tragedy has struck within the walls of a house of worship that has historically fought for equality and social justice and it is a sad day in our society. In a time where race, race relations, and racial identity are hot topics, we should be outraged and work to protect all of our historic institutions and their missions.

I grew up in an A.M.E. Church. I was married in an A.M.E. Church. My mother was funeralized in an A.M.E. Church. The A.M.E. Church is partially why I have a Ph.D. I am deeply saddened by the shooting at Emmanuel A.M.E. in Charleston and I am disturbed by the rhetoric and dichotomies presented of the racial violence in our country. We must do better.

Our Lives Matter: Summer ecclectic blog post #2

familyMy son and I have the sweetest night time rituals. I hope that we can engage in these rituals for a long time to come, but I know that soon he will feel embarrassed by snuggling with me, and maybe he won’t tell me what was good and not so good about his day, and maybe he will get to a stage that he won’t even say “good night” to us before slipping into his room. He’ll probably also want the door closed and all the lights turned off. But for now I cherish our rituals.  Since the shooting of Trayvon Martin I’ve prolonged our rituals, I hold him tighter, and each night I am reminded what a miracle our boy is. He came late in our lives and after many challenges and losses (see other blog posts). He is the most precious person I do not own or control.  At 4 he is wise beyond is small self. He’s aware of skin color, hair texture, and facial features across races and nationalities. Without prompting he is aware that skin color matters. I did not expect to have to talk to him about his body language, clothing choices, tone of voice, etc until he was a teenager, but it’s happened now. Our son has taught me that children can be savvy and wise beyond their years; that it’s never to early to begin life lessons, and of course our son reminds me daily that HIS LIFE MATTERS.

In a similar fashion my husband’s life, the life of our son’s father matters. Our marriage is a work in progress! I think we do pretty good for two later in life getting married people. He has all the qualities I do not and then some and likewise, I balance and complete him. He was born outside of the U.S. and often tells me all kinds of stories about how he learned about the American system, especially the legal system and how to deal with police.  As if coming to a new country is not enough of a learning experience but as a man of color you also need to learn how to interact with the police in a specific way. Even though he is a smart adult with a calm demeanor I worry for him. HIS LIFE MATTERS.

Women are the fruit of the world. We bring forth new life. We heal. We bring peace. We nurture. WE MATTER. So finally, but not least of all the life of the mother of our son and the wife to my husband (ME) matters. No space for a history lesson on the abuse and exploitation of women of African decent all over the world, but suffice it to say that my life matters.  My son is learning love, respect, adoration, and care from his dad and I am appreciative of that. And they both show me that MY LIFE MATTERS.

I am no CJ scholar. I am a social work professor who is all about social justice. I am a woman of color living in America. I am a mom and wife to men of color. I teach all my students (CJ students included) why race matters AND why ALL lives matter AND how learning about others, developing acceptance and respect helps us in that process. No individual is perfect, but there is still a lot of teaching & learning that needs to be done with police systems across the country.  I often feel as if I am living in my grandparent’s generation. How much changes yet stays the same. I am originally from Pasadena and am a contemporary of Rodney King (may he rest in peace).  The issue of inappropriate policing, police brutality, etc is not just a passing hot topic it is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed and changed NOW. WE MATTER.

THE BRUTALITY AND DISRESPECT MUST STOP. WE MUST VALUE ALL OF OUR LIVES.

Tell me how your city or town rates on cultural competency within the police force?  Does specific diversity training exist? Is there training to deal with people who face mental health challenges? What do you see in your community?

Our police does a pretty good job. The hiring is getting more divers and I know they are actively involved in our community in positive ways. They also have learned and continue to learn about specific immigrants groups which make up the majority of our city: http://lowellpoliceacademy.com/

In 9 years my son will be a black teenager

My mind is racing, my heart is pacing, I can’t sleep. I keep checking in on our 4 year old as if he’s going somewhere. I keep hugging him and he keeps squirming. I keep whispering our love to him. Keep kissing his face. I keep praying and crying. We can’t control the outside world. We can arm him with info. But what info? I’m not yet prepared to tell him the crazy truth about his identity, which he’s begun to be so proud of “Mommy! He looks brown like me!” and smiles broadly. Makes your heart race and soar. He could be over-prepared or under-prepared. A million conversations bounce in my head “Son, if you’re in trouble look for a police officer.” “Son, keep your hands visible or a police officer may think you have a gun” “Son hands visible or not…”  Justice. Peace. I don’t anticipate him being “in the wrong place at the wrong time” or “hanging out with the wrong folks”…but what does all that mean??? And really? Trayvon and Michael were teens. Doing what we might typically label as “teenage mischief”…or not…my head hurts! My son. My nephew. My brother. I flash back to college and Rodney King…that was 20 years ago! I never said I was Trayvon, I always said “I am Trayvon’s mother” and Now “I am Michael’s mother.” Hugging my boy some more. Summoning enough energy to turn disbelief and sadness mixed with some anger into justice, peace…God have mercy. My privilege just got questionable.family I’m not surprised. I’m disappointed. I’m sad. I’m quite frankly scared. Our son is 4, since his birth I’ve lost count but over a dozen similar incidents each year, most non-publicized. I’m sick. Fear will not paralyze us. Breathing. In 9 years society will make many changes and I fear that our perceptions of each other based on race and ethnicity may not change (the pessimist in me). The optimist says if all the like-minded folks work (harder than we have been since the nation began lol) change will come…9 years is around the corner and tonight I am Michael Brown’s mom and I feel her pain.

I’m a Mom of a Black Boy in the U.S.: A brief rant

I have lots to share from events this past week and this week, but I’m going to start with this:

This week I’ve hugged, kissed, cuddled, and nurtured my son more than in past weeks. I’m feeling ultra protective. Now that I am a mom I understand that need/desire to protect your child from all harm in whatever way it takes to do so.  My heart feels so heavy and broken for Trayvon Martin’s family. I’ve been watching and listening to all the news about this incident and I’m trying to maintain a sense of calm and sanity. But as a mother of black boy in America it is difficult to not have all kinds of irrational thoughts and feelings.

I grew up in a diverse household (Black, White, Latino) and neighborhood. My parents (a mixed race couple) never mentioned race relations and when I encountered a situation that seemed rift with any kind of ism (race, sex, etc.) we talked about it. But prejudice, discrimination, oppression were not part of my vocabulary until I went off to college. I was pretty sheltered and naïve. In college I learned what it meant to be a minority in America.  Students of African descent made up almost 3% of the population at UCSB. It was possible that I could be the only face of color in a lecture hall of 300. I didn’t think twice about it. Then there was this incident that I will never forget. The short version: a good friend (African American) got into a fight with a Caucasian boy at a club and my friend ended up in jail. It was probably the 1st time in my life that “being black in America” really hit me.  After that my awareness was up and I noticed many things that I may not have noticed before.

Living in Atlanta I felt comforted by the number of people of color and especially the number of people of color in positions of authority and power. AND living in Atlanta I also got to see lots of racism and prejudice – after all it is the south and despite growth, population change, etc., etc., etc. there’s still plenty of racial tension

So now I’m a mom of a boy of African descent. I’m a worrier by nature although I’ve tried to quell my worrisome thoughts – they just interfere with reality. But the shooting of Trayvon Martin has me in worry-mode again. I can’t for the life of me begin to understand how an individual can shoot another one and not be arrested. I’m not a lawyer nor do I pretend to understand the intricacies of laws in different states, etc. But it just seems to be that murder is murder and requires some action.

I feel helpless, somewhat hopeless, scared for the future my son will live, worried that I cannot truly protect him from harm, and angry that authorities are slow to act. As a social worker and educator I teach justice, in my own life try to live a just life and create that type of world, but incidents like this leave me often speechless and wondering if what I (we) do is making a difference. If it were your child who had been shot by a man as he walked home from the store, would you not want someone to take action?All moms have these thoughts I’m sure, but only moms of black boys need worry that a white vigilante will shoot her son because….why?…

Wear a hoodie, sign the petition, make some noise for justice!