There are 14,297 black people who live in Ferguson, MO. Since Monday, November 24, 2014, approximately 119 people have been arrested. Of that number a little over half were residents of Ferguson AND all of those arrested were not black. White people have gone to jail for what they believe is a travesty to all this country stands for. So have Latinos. And Asians. And Muslims. And Christians. And every group one can imagine. This is not a black issue. This is a human issue. Furthermore, the majority of those arrests did not involve violent crimes or vandalism. Only seven, SEVEN, were arrested on felony charges; the MAJORITY were arrested because of failure to disburse.
So, to those who are trying to imply all or most of the black folks in Ferguson are going crazy looting and committing violent acts, shut up. Your voice is neither needed or desired. The majority of the people of Ferguson are at home, grieving and mourning the loss of Michael Brown and the loss of their faith in a system that has failed them time and time again. The majority of the people of Ferguson are sitting behind closed doors, holding their children tighter because they fear allowing them to even go check the mail could lead to their death or injury.
So, to all of you armchair racist, do your homework before you make incendiary comments about how black folks are conducting themselves right now. Stop being a tool used by a racist media that wants you to believe black folks are out of control. Trust and believe, we are still in control of our emotions and actions and they world should be on a prayerful vigil that it remains that way.
If you can't discern fact from fiction, then stay away from the news. You are a danger to your own weak minds, and the weak minds of those who are listening to you. Oh no. I'm. Not. Going. To. Be. Quiet. I am just getting started.
If, by chance, you are as outraged at what took place in Ferguson, MO as I am, then please, join me this Friday, this Black Friday, in this national movement to not spend one dime on a system that clearly believes brown doesn't matter. #NotOneDime
It is ironic. I am currently reading THE OTHER WES MOORE for school. In a nutshell, the book is about two African American men named Wes Moore who lived blocks from each other. One went on to have a successful career and family life, and the other went on to a life of crime that ultimately ended him up in prison. The moral of the story is you can have two guys with the same name from the same place, yet something simple can cause their lives to diverge and go a different direction.
It is ironic that I am reading this book because today I am thinking about a young man named Michael Brown whose life has ended as a result of a police officer shooting him multiple times and in my family, we have a Michael Brown too. He is my stepson, but I never fear for his life the way I do for my son. Not because I love my son more, but because unlike my stepson, my son has brown skin. My stepson is white, and not once in his life have I worried about him getting shot by the convenience store clerk because he was sagging his pants or looking “angry.” Not once have I worried that a routine traffic stop could result in my white stepson being falsely arrested, or worse, shot dead with little or no regard. Not once have I said to my white son, “Smile. Don’t be mean-mugging. Let people know you aren’t a threat.” Not once.
The media has decided to focus on the looting and violence that took place after the murder of Michael Brown. Two issues that need to be kept separate. The looters need to be dealt with according to the letter of the law. But the murder of Michael Brown needs to be dealt with separate and apart from this looting and violence, because when we try and connect the two, the message is clear. “See, those folks are nothing but criminals and thugs. THEY don’t deserve justice.” That is the message that is being sent and that is the message that is being heard and regurgitated by so many. If the looters burn down the entire city, that doesn’t change the fact that a mother and father lost their child.
My students and I will be talking about this issue. My students are mainly white, but they need to know that this issue is not a black/brown issue. This issue is OUR issue and it will take ALL of us to reach a solution. This issue of police brutality and disregard for certain segments of the population has to be addressed as an issue that is important for ALL citizens of this country.
There is nothing worse than not knowing who you are. For years, I searched for my birth family so I could see myself in their faces, as well as find out where my love of writing came from.
Once I found my English-Hall family in 2001, for the first time since I gave birth to my son, Justin, I could finally see Me in the faces of others. I learned that I came from a family of writers and poets. People like my Grandmother Ellena and my Aunt Yuvonne Brazier who are both poets and writers, not to mention some of my cousins like Ellena Balkom who is also a talented writer and motivational speaker.
However, I still see Me in the hearts of my Jackson kin. Through and through, I am a Jackson. I am, and will always be, M.C. Jackson’s little girl. Daddy was the first person to say to me, “you’re going to be a writer someday.” He also taught me the value of working hard at whatever job I had whether it was flipping burgers in the food court in the dining hall at Auburn University or standing in front of a classroom at Ball State University teaching and engaging with students.
I am also a part of the men and women who helped nurture me along the way. People like my cousin, Frankie Key, who mothered me and showed me the value of standing up for myself no matter what. People like Miss Addie Haynes and Mr. Paul Reeves, who first taught me how to speak loud and proud and enunciate my words when speaking in a public forum. People like Mrs. Beatrice Miller and my Aunt Lenora Key McClendon who helped me to see that being a strong woman, yet a caring woman, are not contradictory to each other. People like Uncle Raz Casey, who lived beyond 110, and taught me growing old is not something to fear but something to celebrate. People like my Uncle Lonnie B. Jackson who taught me storytelling is a gift and if you are going to tell a story, you better “tell it straight.” And finally, people like Mrs. Eveline and Aunt Mary, who taught me there is strength in being quiet and observant.
I could name so many more people who touched my life, and taught me the value of being a strong woman, and over time, I will, but for now, here is a poem that expresses who I am and where I came from.
My Song of Me
When you look at me, you see not just an
adopted baby of unknown pedigree.
but a baby shuffled from one
Front Porch Monarch to the other,
each trying to mark me, massaging their
imprint into my skin with gnarled fingers
in an effort to make me their own.
a love child cradled by my daddy’s callused hands,
hands that were rubbed soft with Jergens Lotion and Vaseline
after long days of toiling for what seemed like at times
only a few dimes and nickels.
A country child begat by country folk who often got pecked
by the beak of Jim Crow but who occasionally
got the chance to peck him back.
A blues child who jooked just as hard as the grown folks when
J.W. Warren plucked blues harmonies
in the guise of gospel tunes in order to satisfy
both the tea drinkers and the shine sippers who
all congregated under the Saturday night altar
of stars and vast, Alabama skies.
A sometimes fearful child who was warned about
the Billy Bobs, Joe Nathans, and Cooter Lees
who whooped it up on back country roads and side streets--
screaming racial epitaphs that burned crosses into
the souls of the hearer, but in a pinch these men
would do you right – whether you were white or black.
But most of all
I am a storyteller who is tied to generations of
other proud storytellers whose
stories I carry in my belly like unborn babies, waiting
for the day when Emancipation comes, so I can
be one of the first to set our stories free.
Don't forget to join me today as I discuss DRINKING FROM A BITTER CUP with DuEwa Frazier on her radio show, Rhymes, Views & News Talk Radio ! The show begins at 1:00 pm EST. Click here on the link to take you there! See you on the radio! If you would like to buy a copy of DRINKING FROM A BITTER CUP, go to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Books A Million.
By the time I turned 16 and started looking for my birth mother, I was angry. I was suffering from “mommy abandonment issues” and I wanted to find her so I could punish her. I’m not proud of that fact, but it is the truth. I’m thankful I did not find her then. Emotionally, I was not ready for a relationship to begin between the two of us and I’m afraid, had I found her, things would have quickly fallen apart between us. So I say with gratitude, my journey to find my mother was a slow process with a ton of road blocks in the way. I started my search before there were computers like we know them, so my process involved writing letters and making phone calls. On my adoption papers it said her name was Gwendolyn English and I was born in Montgomery, AL. That’s all I had to go on. For some reason, since I loved English so much as a subject, I just knew she and I were destined to meet one day. In my heart, I knew it was just a matter of time until I found her.
But all of my searching seemed to lead towards more and more dead ends, and there were so many monumental events that took place that I wanted her to be there to witness. My high school graduation. My marriage. My graduation from college. My son’s birth. My divorce. My stroke. Yet, it was almost another twenty years after I began my search at age 16 before I found the woman on my birth certificate – Gwendolyn English. I remember walking to her door, anxious, even though she said she couldn’t wait for me to arrive. When she hugged me for the first time in my adult life, I felt like I had come home. My adopted family, especially my daddy, meant everything to me; I was thankful that I grew up a member of the Jackson family. But she was always the missing component. And then I found out that I had siblings, and having grown up an only child, I felt blessed beyond measure. Not to mention all of the fabulous aunts, uncles and cousins I inherited. My life was moving toward completeness.
A few months ago, a television show called “I’m Having Their Baby” aired, and it became a source of conversation for the two of us. The show was all about women who made the decision to give up their babies for adoption. One day my birth mom said, while we were discussing the show, “I wish I could talk to those young women and tell them how difficult it is to give up a baby.” Shortly after she said those words, I approached her about doing this interview with me. I think she was a little hesitant at first, but eventually, she and I made the decision to share part of our story. So, here it is. My interview with the woman who birthed me into this world and set me free for just a little while – Gwendolyn English Pendleton.
Hi, Mom. Tell me about that first year after the adoption.
I didn't handle the first year very well. In fact, I was nearly a basket case. I was determined to keep the adoption a secret, leaving me with no one to talk to, and at the time, I didn’t have God in my life, so I truly felt lost and alone.
When I was little, I used to pretend you were a Queen in a far-away kingdom, and one day, you would come and find me. What are some of the dreams you had about me and my whereabouts?
In my dreams of you, you were always an adult. I never saw you as a child. And when I did dream of you, I didn’t find you in the dream, you always found me. You were at the front door of the house. I never saw myself taking you from your adopted family. It would have been the wrong thing to do. My dream was seeing my daughter as a young lady, knocking at my front door. And, it almost happened just that way.
You mentioned that after you put me up for adoption, you went back looking for me. What was it like for you when you found out I had been adopted?
It was sad and then again, it was almost a relief that you had been adopted early and you weren’t stuck in a dreary orphanage, like the ones in the movies about abandoned children. You were such a beautiful baby. I did have some mixed feelings when I found out you had been adopted though. I was happy for you, but I was also disappointed because my deep desire was that I might reclaim you. However, I realized that getting you back would have been a difficult task since I had already signed away my rights. Another part of me decided that my baby was in a good home and I should allow her to grow up there. This decision finally gave me a level of peace.
In what ways did the adoption affect your relationship with my sister and brothers?
It made a difference when they were older and their father and I divorced. Having given you up, I knew I would not allow another child to get away from me. It made me want to hold on to them more. The adoption, I believe, caused me to be a stronger mom, and a more determined mom who would fight to keep my other children and not let anyone take them out of my arms.
Describe what your first thoughts were on that day I called you for the first time.
That day you called, I knew who you were before you even said your name, a name that I chose for you – Angela Denise. I knew your voice. It was our voice. And when you said your name I thought, God did just what he said he would. He brought my baby home!! It was a miraculous moment. It was glorious. It was awesome.
Because my adoption was a secret to most members of our family, how did you deal with my sudden re-appearance into your lives?
I called the family together and told them the truth. They were so wonderful and so understanding. I'll never forget it. I thank God for all my babies and my other family members.
You and I have spent the last 13 years trying to get to know each other. What has been some of the challenges? And what has been some of the great moments?
We need to be seeing each other more – that’s the challenge. The great moments were the very first time I saw you as a young lady and every time I've seen you since. The challenge has only been the physical distance between us.
If you could give advice to mothers contemplating adoption, what advice would you give to them for surviving those years apart from their child?
To be honest, I have no advice to give. Every woman must decide for herself what the right decision is for her. Fortunately, I came through by the grace of God. I know that God allows us to go through things for spiritual and mental maturity, even when we bring these things on ourselves. Would I make that decision to give up my baby again? I don't know. I'm not that person anymore. She was only 19 and very confused. I don’t believe I would do it now, knowing what I know. How do I know I wouldn’t give up my daughter – give up you? Because I'm stronger and wiser, and I know that I wouldn't have to go through it alone.
Mom, thank you for doing this interview with me. We’ve been through a lot together, both when we were apart and now that we are in each others' lives again. Let me say what I have said before, I have no regrets. I was loved. I was nurtured. I made a difference in the life of my parents who really wanted me. You did the right thing.
If you would like more information about adoption, visit the National Council for Adoption website by clicking here. If you would like to read more blog posts by me, visit my blog, “Writing in the Deep” by clicking here. Thank you for visiting my blog. Don't be a stranger.
It has been nine years since my daddy died. Nine years! I can’t believe it sometimes. There are mornings when I will wake up and reach for the phone to call him and then realize – he’s gone. Oh, I know all of the things we tell ourselves. ”He’s not really gone. He still lives in you.” I hear the words, but the bottom line is, sometimes I just want a hug from him. Sometimes I want to hear his wisdom. Sometimes I don’t want to be the one who has to have the answers. I actually remember when Daddy was my age. I was a little girl. He seemed so much older and wiser than I feel at this same age. He wasn’t without fault, but when it came to my questions, he seemed to know everything. Daddy, why is the sky blue? Daddy, what does God’s voice sound like? Daddy, how far is it to the end of the universe?
Of course, he didn’t have answers to questions like those, but he had a way of explaining things to my young childish mind that I was satisfied to not wonder anymore about things that were not easily explained – at least for a time. I fear that I do not have that same ability he had. Sometimes, my sons will turn to me for wisdom and insight and all I want to do is ask my daddy to tell me what to say to them. Sometimes I think about my future grandchildren and I wonder, what life lessons can I impart to them to help them become stronger – braver? I don’t know. And that scares me at times. I want to be their rock. I want to be their guiding hand. I pray that when that day comes, instinctively, I will know what to do and say.
A few days ago I spoke to my Aunt Lenora on the phone, and she said she was the last living member of her side of the Jackson family. I heard within her voice the fear and the loneliness of being the last elder standing in a long line of amazing people. As the matriarch of our family, we expect Aunt Lenora to always be brave and fearless. We expect her to always be knowledgeable about every question we might have. Yet, we forget. Like the rest of us, she was a little girl once who looked up to the heroes and she-roes in our family. She ran around outside and played with her siblings and cousins. She sat in front of her mother, the woman we lovingly called Big Mama, and asked her all of the questions little girls ask their mamas. She ran behind her daddy, Daddy Red, and hung on to his every word. Now, she must be the elder of our family. I know at times it must be overwhelming to be the one everyone comes to for answers. My conversation with her allowed me to have a greater understanding of what it really means to be an elder. Elders are wise, but they are also vulnerable, just like the rest of us.
We sometimes take for granted that when we reach some magical age we will be wise and ready to face anything life might send our way. But the older I get, the more I realize, we are all still just babes. Our hair might show white strands of wisdom, but when it is all said and done, no matter what our ages, we still crave someone to be just a little wiser than we are. We want those loving arms of someone older to wrap us up in an embrace that says, “Don’t worry. I’ve got you.” We want those things when we are seven and we want it when we are seventy-five.
I miss those days when my daddy was able to solve all of my problems with a reassuring look and a full-on loving hug. I pray my children and grandchildren will feel that safety I always felt in my daddy’s embrace. I hope that, in me, they will find some of the same traits I found in the the elders who helped to raise me to be the woman I have become.
Although I met many of my birth family nearly 13 years ago, my cousin Tracy and I have only “met” over the telephone, via Facebook, and through email exchanges. Yet, even though we have never had a face-to-face meeting, we have clicked just like cousins who had the good fortune to grow up together, sharing summer vacations filled with silly little secrets and long walks down Alabama dirt-filled roads.
Over time, my cousin, Tracy, has shared her story with me. Let me just say, Tracy’s story is phenomenal – just like her. I asked her would she be willing to share it with others on my blog. I am a firm believer, like Good Morning America’s host, Robin Roberts says, “Our mess can become our message.” Tracy has had to overcome a lot of “mess” over the last few years, but she has never lost hope or faith that her tomorrows will be better than her yesterdays. So, here is my Cousin Tracy’s story. May the readers of her journey be as positively touched and helped by her words as I have been.
Tracy English Butler is 41 years old and the married mother of six children. Her children range in age from 18 to 10 (the ten year olds are twins). Tracy says she never envisioned herself as having such a large family. Instead, she thought she would be a full time career woman. But Tracy is the first to say she has no regrets and loves every part of being the mom to her amazing, beautiful family.
As a child, Tracy grew up in an upper middle class neighborhood with two loving parents, Edward and Jean English. She has one sister, Kelly English Quirolo, and a whole host of loving aunts, uncles, and cousins. Tracy and her husband, Mario, have been married for 19 years, and when asked the secret of their long lasting relationship, Tracy says, “Running our household and raising six children has been a task requiring endurance, love, compromise, and understanding.”
All of their children are in school full-time and about a year and a half ago, Tracy returned to school herself to get a graduate degree in counseling. Tracy was accepted to a challenging program at her Alma mater, Oakland University in Michigan, and was breezing right along carrying a 3.9 grade point average when all of a sudden she was stopped in her tracks by some devastating news.
Here is the rest of Tracy’s story.
Hi, Tracy. Thank you for agreeing to take our private conversations public. I truly believe your story has the ability to change lives. If you don’t mind, will you tell my readers what happened to you nearly two years ago that brought you and all of your carefully laid plans for the future to a temporary, screeching halt?
Well, Angela, I found out that I had a brain tumor. The technical name for it is a Meningioma. Ninety plus percent of the time Meningiomas are benign which leads many people to think it is not that serious. Well, it is very serious, as the brain is a very delicate and complicated structure and any type of tumor that is pressing on it is therefore pressing on brain tissue or other delicate structures.
Wow, Tracy. So what were the particulars of the Meningioma you suffered from?
In my case, my Meningioma was on the left side of my skull. It was wrapped around my carotid artery and it pressed against my optic nerve. I went through a 10 hour craniotomy and I now have a titanium plate AND screws in my skull. Thank God my tumor is benign, but I have still endured the most difficult time of my life.
What are some of the effects you’ve experienced as a result of this brain tumor, and has there been anything positive to come out of this situation?
Everything about me is different. I have a right leg that slightly drags and it gets worse when I am fatigued. My speech is affected at times and I suffer from a fatigue that is indescribable. Cognitively I am not the same. I skip words when I talk and I forget that I have said things so I will often repeat myself. Yet, all of the changes in me have not been negative. I have conquered and faced many fears I never thought I would be able to. I am more vocal now and am in charge of my medical files and treatment. I realized quickly that doctors are blessings but they are not GODS. I am still healing even a year later as the tumor was removed in July of last year but I am here and able to tell my story and best of all, I am still blessed to be able to enjoy life with my husband Mario, my children, my family and my friends.
You’ve also conquered another great hurdle, Tracy. Every time I hear the story, I am amazed. Would you share with my readers what that great hurdle was?
Well Angela, as you know, over the past year I have lost over 147 pounds.
Cousin, no matter how many times I hear the story, I continue to be astounded that you battled a brain tumor and weight loss…all around the same time! If you don’t mind, please tell my readers how you did it?
Over the years I had tried diet plan after diet plan. Weight loss was constantly on my mind. I wanted to fit in and not loathe going shopping because nothing fit. I spent my younger years being told "you have such a pretty face, if you would just lose weight." The whole weight issue has been a very hurtful part of my life. In school, I was the last to get picked in gym, and through the years, people would not be-friend me because of my weight. Throughout my life, I have been bullied and teased.
Finally, I made the decision to have weight loss surgery called the Gastric Sleeve, whereby 85% of my stomach was removed. I had the surgery done about six months before I found out I had a brain tumor. In my surgery, there was no re-routing of my intestines or creation of a pouch or new stomach. I am now only able to eat about 1/4 of what I used to eat at one sitting. I am not promoting this surgery or encouraging anyone else to have it done, but I will say this about it. The surgery saved my life and I couldn't be happier in this department.
I still have about 40lbs to lose to be at what is considered a normal weight, but to tell you the truth I feel comfortable right now at the weight I am. Some people believe having weight loss surgery is taking the easy way out but I can say with all honesty, it is not! I still must choose healthy foods to eat and incorporate exercise into my daily routine.
Tracy, you are truly an inspiration. Although you haven’t mentioned it yet, you have other health issues that have slowed you down some. What are they?
I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, Chiari Malformation, and chronic anemia caused by a deficiency in the blood called G6PD. I also suffer from osteoarthritis and two bulging discs in my neck. I know it sounds like a lot of health issues but I am just trying to manage things one condition at a time.
And Tracy, let me just say, you are doing a phenomenal job managing everything, including, a new career. But Tracy, let’s be frank. A lot of people would have said, after dealing with just one of the things you have dealt with, "Okay, I give up." But you never did. What kept you motivated to not stop?
I have had many, many days when I have just wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out of it. But, I keep my mind busy by reading each day and speaking with and keeping in contact with friends and classmates from school. I gladly accept help from my family and others who offer. But most of all I hold my head high. On the days I am in a lot of pain I pray, spend quiet time outside in nature by walking slowly around my neighborhood and I pray some more. And, as you mentioned, I have even begun my own business. I am an Avon representative! Running the business is helping me in the cognitive areas that I am struggling with and it also allows me to stay engaged with others. Lastly, Avon is providing a secondary source of income for my family, despite my disabilities.
But why Avon? What drew you to that particular company?
Avon is a company that has successfully been in business for over 100 years, and Avon representatives have the flexibility of running a small side business or build something larger. I love that the prices are reasonable and I personally use many of the products myself. Also, I love working for a company that sells itself. Everyone knows Avon!
My memories of Avon representatives are those ladies who used to come door-to-door. Has Avon changed from that model at all?
There are still representatives who operate their business door-to-door only. But then there are those representatives who prefer to run their business online. Either way, running an Avon business requires getting the word out; whether it is through passing out brochures or establishing a web presence. I try to do both. Each campaign, I try to canvas my neighborhood with books and I try to reach new clients online. Recently, I began a Facebook Business Page called Avon Beauty. For example, even though you and I are in different states, separated by hundreds of miles, I am still able to be your “Avon Lady” through my website. The online component of Avon is what has taken it from being your grandmother’s Avon to what it is today, not to mention the fact that the products have also evolved over time. All in all, Avon is the same in some ways, but different in all the ways that count.
Well, I must confess, cousin. I do love getting those boxes with all of my neat Avon products every few weeks. Especially the products for my feet!
(Laughing) Yes, I know.
Well, Tracy, thank you for sharing your story with me again and with my readers. As I said before, your story is remarkable, and I would say that even if you weren't my cousin. I truly believe others will be as touched by your story as I was and continue to be.
Thank you, Angela.
Readers, if you would like a chance to win some incredible Avon products, leave a note for Tracy below and automatically, you will be entered into a drawing for a gift bag valued at $25. The winner of the gift bag will be announced on her Facebook Avon Beauty page on September 22, 2013. I will also announce the winner here on my blog. Click here to subscribe to her Facebook page. If you have additional questions about Avon or Tracy’s story, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you enjoyed this interview and would like to read more like it, please subscribe to my blog on the right side of the page! Take care.
In memory of Trayvon Martin
Today, as I think about Trayvon Martin, and young Black men all over this country like him who have been “counted out,” I realize I am fortunate. I am one of a few Black professors at a predominantly white university and over the last two semesters, I have had close to ten Black male students (all athletes) in my Freshman English classes, and thankfully, I see a future for them. I can close my eyes, and literally, I can imagine them in board rooms, clinics, hospitals, classrooms, and yes, football and basketball courts. Oh, I know what I’ve been told. Other teachers have warned me that these young men are not going to succeed. They’re dumb. They don’t try. They want something for nothing. They are intimidating and rude towards teachers, and all they want to do is play ball. Well, let me tell you this. ALL of my Black, male students these last two semesters passed my classes with Bs and better and not one (No not one) ever “sassed” me or acted in any way other than gentlemanly. How, might you ask, did these young “statistics” do so well in your class? Not because I didn’t grade them hard. Trust me on that. In fact, if you ask them, they would probably tell you I pushed them harder than any other student in the class. Maybe I did. Maybe I did because I was told by my daddy many, many years ago that black folks have to work harder than any other race of people just to receive half of the success. Is that argument still valid today? Depends on who you ask. But let’s just say, I teach my Black students (particularly my male students) to be prepared for anything—in the classroom or in “real life.” I try to impart to them my daddy’s wisdom that he shared with me and his grandsons. “Respect yourself.” “Respect your elders.” “Whatever you do, do it with a willing heart and a cheerful face.” And, of course, “go into a situation assuming you will have to PROVE you are worthy to be there (no matter where there is).”
So, yes, I demand excellence from them, just like I do any other student in my class, but with them, I know it is my duty to let them know things are going to be difficult – extremely difficult, in most cases. Therefore, I do not accept excuses. Period. I don’t care if they come from the Hood or Park Avenue. One semester, one of my Black male students emailed me his little girl didn’t have a babysitter so he couldn’t come to class. I emailed him back and told him to pack up all of her things: diapers, bottles, toys, etc. and get his butt to class on time. I also told him he better take good notes during class AND he better keep her quiet so she doesn’t disturb me or the other class members. I am proud to say, he accomplished all three things. Was I too tough on him? Should I have just been happy he was a young Black male trying to be a good dad? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I wanted this young man to know that yes, I was proud of him for taking care of his fatherly duties, but school was a duty as well, and it was up to him to make it work. I am proud to say this young man not only “made it work,” he will be graduating soon, and I am sure, there will be a smiling little girl in the audience clapping her hands for her daddy as he walks across the stage – the first in his family.
I try to Conference with all of my students in all of my classes near the beginning of the semester. I want to get to know them on a personal level, if possible. I always tell my Black male students I expect better than their best because they have a generation on their heels that will need their leadership and their counsel. But, don’t get me wrong. I also offer them my Mommy ears. Many of them are away from their Moms for the first time, so I often get treated like the surrogate mom. I don’t mind it. My prayer, always is, if I can’t be there for my sons, please allow there to be some other mama who can step up and offer them some motherly words of wisdom. So when these young men come to me, I listen to their fears, their concerns and their worries, because I know what it is like to be “one of the only Black students” at a predominantly White school. I know what it feels like to wonder, “Am I good enough?” or “Should I really be here?”
To my fellow teachers (regardless of your ethnicity, social and economic level, gender, sexual orientation, etc.): These young men might enter your classroom looking angry, bored, hostile, etc. Don’t buy it. They are only wearing that mask in order to protect themselves. They are afraid you are going to “punk them,” “make fun of them,” and/or “shame them.” So, before you can GET them, they try to GET you. Therefore, I challenge you – reach out to these young men and let them know they can remove their masks in your classroom, because in your classroom, masks are not required.