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I’ve been a mother for 14 years. I have a teenage son and a young daughter. Being a mother is a great honor that brings an indescribable joy. I marvel daily at the ways my children are growing and developing. I am also humbled at how parenting has made me a better human being. At night, I often gaze at my two precious children sleeping and am filled with gratitude and warmth.
But being a Black mother is also a heavy mental load. At times, it is both physically and emotionally exhausting. My need to protect my children from all types of dehumanizing attitudes and actions in the world around them takes a toll. I feel the stress in my jaw when I get angry over an unjust situation and then realize I’ve been clenching my teeth. My neck and shoulders tighten as I worry about their well-being when they’re out with friends, and realize I’m unable to truly relax until I hear them come in the door. My heart aches and my eyes sting from holding back tears when we discuss an injustice carried out against a child who looks like them.
Having “the talk” in households of color isn’t just that discussion about sex. It’s also the talk about what to do when someone calls you a racial slur. Or what to say when a teacher tells you they don’t expect you to do well in their class. Or how to respond when someone disrespects you by touching your hair, your clothing, or your body because it’s “different.” Or how to behave in the mall so you don’t get accused of stealing. Or how to engage with police officers so you make it home safely. These are talks I wish I didn’t have to give, but they are necessary to keep my children safe.
Every day, I look at my precious son, who now towers over me, as he gets up and prepares for school. I pray that his mind and spirit are well as he faces each new day. I think about how the opportunities to thrive for boys and young men of color are obstructed by the day-to-day indignities they face in our society. The historical treatment of people of color, and the current laws, practices, and social conditions in communities in the United States continually send a message that it is okay to degrade, shame, and devalue our boys and young men.
The weight of these messages, and the trauma it creates, is a heavier burden than a boy should have to bear. The work of humanizing the injured heart and mind of a boy of color happens through protection, connection, affection, direction, and correction, as coined by my friend and colleague, Dr. Howard Stevenson. So, as a fiercely determined mother to a boy in this predicament, I work daily to liberate him from the weight of this load.
I protect his heart and his mind by affirming him each day. I call him “scholar,” and “prince,” and “world-changer.” I protect him by offering a counter-narrative to the harsh characterization of his people, and giving him the knowledge of his ancestral history that reveals the legacy and power that lives within him. I protect him by connecting him to media that tells positive stories about boys like him. I send him stories of triumph and tenacity to invalidate the oppressive stories of hate.
“I protect him by offering a counter-narrative to the harsh characterization of his people, and giving him the knowledge of his ancestral history that reveals the legacy and power that lives within him.”
I connect him to the rich history of his immediate and extended family — the men who came before him and worked tirelessly as laborers, entrepreneurs, pharmacists, teachers, chefs, and nurses. I connect him to a tight-knit circle of friends who are like family that we have created to be a part of our village. I connect him to community institutions that pour into him — our church, his martial arts master, his basketball coach.
I pour affection onto him like running water. Even when we are in disagreement, I want him to feel love in my words. It sets the tone for his day when the first words he hears before he leaves our home are words of love and positivity. I also shower him with physical affection. Even as a teen, he still accepts my wet cheek kisses and warm hugs. That affection beats back the harshness of the world around him. Proximity and touch do wonders for the heart.
“Affection beats back the harshness of the world around him. Proximity and touch do wonders for the heart.”
I direct him by listening to his dreams, and pushing him to develop the skills to support the fulfillment of those dreams. I point out for him abilities that he may not recognize yet in himself, and I encourage him to build on them. I direct him by helping him to conceive how seemingly disparate skills come together to form a vision for his life that is fulfilling and rich.
I have high expectations for his behavior, his treatment of others, his honoring of elders, his respect for women, and his work ethic. I correct him when he falls short, and I hold him accountable. I want him to understand what it means to walk strongly in his manhood — with a sense of purpose, responsibility, and grace. I correct to foster understanding and changed behavior. This requires a lot of conversations, examples, and sharing of my own missteps in life.
“This is how I show my love. To liberate his mind from the chains of dehumanization that threaten to drag him down when he wants to soar.”
This is how I show my love. To liberate his mind from the chains of dehumanization that threaten to drag him down when he wants to soar. To transcend the negativity, and instill a hope that stirs up in him the strength to thrive. I don’t always get it right. And, I don’t do it alone. I am held up by the power of the ancestors, my own mother, his fathers, and the village that wraps its loving protection around us. This is my child, and I see this as my charge as a Black mother. And to all the mothers of beautiful boys of color who embrace this as their duty, I see you, sis. I see you.
A mother’s love liberates.
April xx, 2019
Workshop Title and Description
by Rhonda Bryant
The issue of access to afterschool programs is one that is deeply personal for me. When I was 9 years old, my family lived in northeast Washington, DC. We’d recently moved there, and we didn’t have family or friends living close by. I was in the 4th grade, and my brother was in 2nd. We attended LaSalle Elementary, our neighborhood school that was just a block from our home. My mother would see us off and we would walk there every morning. But after school, she was still at work. There was no free or affordable afterschool program in or near our school, and that was an extra cost that my mother simply could not afford.
So my brother and I were “latchkey kids.” We would walk home together and then call Mom at work to let her know we were safe. Then I’d make us a snack and we would read, do homework, and watch tv until Mom made it home. But my mother hated this and, secretly, I did too. I mean, really, look at that picture — does that little girl look like she can care for herself and a younger sibling for 3 hours a day? I’d never complain though because I knew my mother was doing the best she could.
A few weeks into the school year, the newly-built Lamond-Riggs Library opened in our neighborhood. My mother, being the resourceful and creative woman that she is, paid the librarians a visit. She was determined to figure out something so her two kids weren’t unsupervised each day for 3 hours. She worked out a deal with them so that, as long as we were quiet, we were allowed to stay there until she got off of work. A few other desperate parents had the same idea, and so a group of us walked together to the Lamond-Riggs Library every single day after school. And there we’d be — our little crew — doing homework, reading books, and playing games until one by one, our parents arrived to pick us up.
My mother did this for eight years. As we moved through middle and high school, she would just get to know the librarians at whichever library was closest, and that’s where we would go. She could not afford anything else. The fact that a responsible mother with a masters degree and full-time professional job could not afford the cost of afterschool child care on her salary is an economic issue in itself, but that’s another post entirely. She was not alone — many of her friends were in a similar predicament, feeling stuck and scared with nowhere safe for their children to go when school dismissed at 3pm. Those librarians gave my mother a precious gift — a free, safe place for her children.
The nation’s 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) program wasn’t created until I was a college student. The program was started, in part, because America recognized that the hours of 3–6 pm, when children were unsupervised, were the most dangerous hours of their young lives. Organizations like Fight Crime, Invest in Kids threw their full support behind programs like 21st CCLC because they recognized the need to invest in solutions that kept kids safe and productive. Since then, millions of children whose parents otherwise could not afford it have had safe places to go after school. Two-thirds (67%) of participants in 21st CCLC qualify for free and reduced lunch, and more than 70% of participants are children of color.
Research compiled by Afterschool Alliance shows that students who participate in afterschool programs have better academic performance, better attendance, and are less likely to drop out of school. Schools have decreased behavioral incidents, and kids are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. More than 8 in 10 parents agree that having children in afterschool programs helps parents keep their jobs and gives parents peace of mind about their children while they are at work. The demand for afterschool services, however, far exceeds the amount of services available. About 19 million parents report they would use afterschool services for their children if they were available. Hispanic and African-American children are currently at least two times more likely to participate in an afterschool program than Caucasian children, and the unmet demand for afterschool programs is also higher for Hispanic and African-American children.
With outcomes and demonstrated needs like these, it is unfathomable that the Trump Administration is proposing to eliminate this program in their 2020 budget proposal.
Eliminating 21st CCLC will hurt working parents of color, who are less likely to have flexible work schedules or paid leave. It will increase their level of worry about their children, and also make it more likely that they will lose their jobs in the event their child has an emergency after school. It will steal opportunities from students of color who need these programs to support their academic success. It will impair the work of teachers, who will have to do so much more to help their students learn. It will also increase policing in communities of color, because a lack of afterschool programs practically guarantees an uptick in risky behaviors, as idle young people make mistakes and get into trouble. Knowingly creating these adverse conditions, particularly for those who can least afford to have opportunities and options taken away from them, is simply inhumane.
My first job after graduate school was working in a community center that offered afterschool programs to neighborhood children. My enrollment was 100% students of color. The federal funding we received allowed us to serve children for a nominal cost to parents. I literally saw hundreds of students each week. For those precious afterschool hours, they were MY babies. I collaborated with their parents and their teachers to pour into them everything I knew to give. I taught them how to read, practiced math drills, helped them create elaborate science projects, taught them about other countries, ran an SAT prep program, and helped them complete college applications and essays — all while their parents were hard at work trying to earn the money necessary to support their families. When my students excelled, my heart soared. They are now adults, and many of them have shared with me how the seeds sown in our afterschool program made a difference in their lives.
We know that afterschool programs work. They work for all students and, quite frankly, fill a particular need for students of color and their families. We must ensure that 21st Century Community Learning Centers don’t go away. Afterschool Alliance, a national leading organization working to ensure that all youth have access to affordable, quality afterschool programs, has developed an interactive map to show how this proposed cut would adversely impact students in each state. Check out the tools developed by Afterschool Alliance to see how you can make your voice heard and save funding for afterschool.