I realized that much of what I have learned was because of what I was exposed to coming up and while we are a conscious family, I have strived to keep my kids young as long as I could.
As we reflect on the month of October, I must share with you a parenting mess that we had to turn into a message. So, every year my girlfriend who is in love with Halloween creates a theme and wants her friends to participate in what she calls a Glamoween photoshoot and Ladies’ Day Lunch. Well, this year’s theme was The Black Panthers, so you already know I was pumped! I couldn’t wait to get online and order my stuff not only because I would finally be in town for one of these after many years living out of state, but come on now you know that this has me written all over for so many reasons!"
So we do our photo shoot and lunch tradition and I get home and show my 12-year-old daughter the pictures of me and her aunties in The Black Panthers photo shoot that she was highly anticipating. She looked at a few of them and the puzzled look on her face told a whole story, so I asked her about it and her response literally pierced my soul. She looked at me and with all seriousness said, “Mom, y’all look good and all that, but you’ve got it all wrong. That’s not how they dress in Wakanda.” Lord help a sistah out because in that exact moment I saw my black card being revoked and felt the pang of failing as a black parent. All I could do in the moment was look at her, with that familiar look of confusion, disgust and lightweight embarrassment when our kids say some mess we didn’t expect? Yup, that look…and it lingered long enough for me to realize I was making “the face” as the kids call it and still did not care. She earned that look in my mind, but then I had to pause and ask myself…did she earn it or did I earn it? How could my daughter, of all kids, not know about The Black Panther Party for Self Defense? About the way they completely humiliated the American government into ensuring that all students are provided healthy breakfasts? How could she not know about the originators of the Women Infant and Children feeding program that is now known as WIC? Why are names like Hugh E Newton and Stokely Carmichal not part of her everyday vocabulary like so many others? (Sidenote CoryxKenshin on youtube may very well be the newest celebrity I learned about from my kids a few weeks ago. They know him, but not Bobby Seale…ugh!!!)
But back to the point, how could she not know and really think that the only Black Panthers are from Wakanda, which I no doubt love, but still.... I had to redeem myself, because I already knew better. We know that our history is our responsibility and we can’t expect people, especially white educators in Michigan, to teach something they don’t know, at least not well. As I began to come back to reality with my daughter still there perplexedly looking through my photos, which were pretty awesome if I do say so myself, I had to stop her and ask again, just to make sure I heard what I heard. She then reiterated and expounded…”I mean look, Mom, y'all aren’t dressed like big cats, no one has their arms crossed and…” Yeah, I had to go on ahead and stop that nonsense, because obviously she had no idea and therefore, I had only one choice to tell her and ensure that she followed up on this ever so important task. I grabbed my phone, gently touched her shoulder, looked her in her eyeballs, and with every ounce of seriousness I could muster proudly told my daughter to “google it” and we can talk after you and google have had a conversation. Now this is where we turn this mess into a message, this test of my parental will into a testimony, because you would think that was the end. Nope, not with my kids, they keep things poppin’ around here. She returns about a half an hour later wide-eyed and mouthed at what she has learned. Don’t you love it when you tell your kids to look something up and they come back to tell you about it like you didn’t know what you told them to look up? Okay, I digress… I knew from her face this was going to be a good one… ”Mom…did you know that black people formed a political party and the FBI and CIA squashed it and shut it and them down.” My first thought was damn Google…not bad for 30 minutes…then of course my sarcastic brain went to yeah silly that’s why I sent you to look it up But the mommy in me responded…”Really, tell me more” She then went on to tell me about how the kids dressed differently than the adults and about all of the different fashion and accessories that everyone had on, because of course that is what she would have to get out first. She then talked about them being a political party that was founded on October 15, 1966 and how their influence spread quickly due to their focus on the people in the communities that have long been forgotten and mistreated. She was impressed by the prominent role of women and we proceeded to have a great conversation about the influence of The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. (You can read more of what she did and we discussed at this link, yes I go back and monitor what links they went to, just to make sure). Our conversation went so well in fact that like most children she wanted to follow in the footsteps of those they see as inspirational and admirable. She decided for her upcoming modeling shoot that she too wanted to represent The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Those are some of the pictures you see there and let me tell you, this mama couldn’t be more proud.
While there were several lessons to be learned from all of our experiences with our children, this one reminded me of how important it is that we are all intentional about PERSONAL LEADERSHIP with our children. Keeping them connected to their history, heritage and culture is what helps them find and express their own unique identities. It helps them to see and normalize the struggles they will need to overcome and develop a resistance to outside or inside forces that may tell them they are less than or not enough. I realized that much of what I had learned was because of what I was exposed to coming up and while we are a conscious family, I have strived to keep my kids young as long as I could. Well, there comes a time for them and us to grow up and learn some of the empowering and ugly parts of history. I had help her put her frustrations with the acts of the US government in perspective, while at the same time not sugarcoating or flat-out lying about what was done. My job was to help her manage her emotions about the history she was learning, not shield her from it. This is what all of us as Courageous Families will need to do on a regular basis as our kids get older, learn more about the true history of this world and what people have done to one another.
So now it is your turn to reflect and as leaders of your family answer these questions for yourselves first, before engaging with the youth… How do or will you share your heritage, history and culture with your kids? What parts of your heritage, history and culture are appropriate to share and at what ages? In what ways do you help them to manage their emotions when they realize the world isn’t all unicorns and rainbows? How will you explain the perspectives of those they may not view in a positive light? How will you help them not see themselves or their cultures as victims, but as survivors? If your ancestry involves colonizers, as my Scottish heritage does, how will you balance what was done by people here in early America to what that culture is and represents from its national origin? (I.e. differentiating between the history of Scotland and Scottish history there vs. history of Scottish people here in America; it really is two different stories) How do you help them understand what happened and grow from it, rather than stay in the spaces of being upset by it? How are you raising your kids and family to be intentionally Courageous? If even getting to these questions is a struggle, then we can help through our courses, retreats, tours and experiences we help you to be able to address these matters as a family leadership team so that when you have conversations with your kids and family you can do so with confidence, clarity and an in-depth knowledge of history and culture you can be proud to share. Feel free to reach out to me personally or a member of my team, we can help you have these hard conversations.