When an encounter on the playground brings you to your knees in prayer…Warning: God is mentioned in this piece. The derogatory “n” word is also used. If either one of those bother you, then you may not want to read this. It’s okay. I understand.
Yesterday I was on the playground with my youngest son pushing him on a swing when another Black boy decided to join us. My son is five and I’m guessing our new playmate was 7 or 8 years old. The new kid sat on the swing next to us and tried to get himself started swinging, but he couldn’t do it. I was getting ready to offer to give him a push when I heard him say to himself, “damn I’m a dumb ass nigger.”
My heart stopped. I felt sick to my stomach. I became nervous and angry and sad all at once. I had a myriad of thoughts as I jumped from “who told you that?” to “what did we NOT tell you?” and “how can you feel that way? You’re a child.” to “I just want to cry right now. We have undoubtedly failed you.”
He got off of the swing and walked away taking a bit of my heart with him.
I came home and I did cry – for him and every child who might believe the same thing about themselves. I cried about the emptiness and the brokenness that must exist in his world. I cried because I was too stunned to say anything and tell him something different and give him a new thought, a new self-belief. I cried because I let him walk away and because I didn’t know what to do. I cried because I felt guilty and unworthy.
And then I prayed. I asked God for a new reality and self-belief for that young child and anyone else who needed it. I asked God to protect him and keep him safe. I asked for strength and clarity so that the next time I’m faced with a similar situation I’m stronger and clearer about what I need to do and say to change the self-depreciating beliefs that our young Black children have about themselves. I prayed for us, all of us, to erase our differences and instill in our children that we are all equals. We are all smart. We are all worthy. We are all capable. We are all part of God’s plan. Thank you Lord.
But where do we start?
Through my work in ed reform I am constantly faced with words like “marginalized” and “black and brown” and “seat at the table” and “status quo” and my least favorites of all “minorities, subgroups, and underserved.” There are Black people in ed reform, it’s just not a lot of us in positions of visibility. To tell the truth, we, along with our Latino brothers and sisters, are the backbones of this so-called movement. We are typically the community organizers sent in to mobilize parents and students to fight for more high-quality learning opportunities. I didn’t understand it at first, but I get it now.
It is up to us to ensure that “Black and brown” people who have been “marginalized” understand that by accepting the “status quo” of traditional public schools, change will never come. They need to know that they have options. And although they are considered “subgroups,” “minorities,” and “underserved” populations, having a quality education can change the trajectory of their lives. The best way to do that and to ensure that these communities are always represented, they need a voice and a seat “at the table.”
My encounter on the playground forced me to ask some tough questions and demand different answers. No longer should there be teachers who don’t believe that all children can learn regardless of the color of their skin or the salary level of their parents. Nor we should ever hear from leading voices in ed reform that poor people are more likely to be suspended from school because poor people are more violent than people from other affluent backgrounds. We should be short on time and patience with people and organizations who don’t want our children to succeed.
I don’t know all of the answers. However, what I do know is sometimes we are faced with situations that throw us so far from our comfort zone that, although uncomfortable, are needed to serve as a wake up call for all of us.
Get woke people. The children need us.