With our national celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 18th and Black History month coming up in February, now is a great time to talk to our children about race relations and our country’s history.
I have always been candid in talking with my 12-year-old daughter, Morgan, about these issues but I know the approach may be different for other parents. And while I am hopeful that we will continue to make progress and recognize that my serving as Mayor of our great city demonstrates how far we have come, I know there are still some persistent negative attitudes. I never want Morgan to be surprised by someone who may expect less of her because of her race (or her gender!).
She has already watched “Roots” and a variety of other movies recounting aspects of the American Civil Rights movement. I try to explain to her why things were that way, though I hardly understand it myself. I teach her the Biblical principle of treating others the way she wants to be treated. And I seek out opportunities for her to be exposed to and learn about Americans of all kinds of ethnic backgrounds.
As a Christian, I teach her that hate is not an acceptable response to hate and that since we have been forgiven, we must forgive. I try to point these things out when we hear disturbing stories on the evening news. I also try to nurture her forming identity as a young Black person, recognizing that being different can be stressful.
Morgan’s early years were spent in private schools with few other black students. When she was about 6 or 7, I was tucking her into bed one night and she said, “Mommy, I am tired of being the only black student at school; I feel like Ruby Bridges.” Part of me was thrilled that she had been paying attention to Black history lessons and knew who Ruby Bridges was (Ruby was the little girl who desegregated the New Orleans public school system and is depicted in the famous Norman Rockwell painting), but mostly I felt really motivated to find her a more diverse environment so that she could feel at ease.
I try not to let my own experiences or “personal baggage” influence her, but I also think its important for her to know my story, my mother’s story, and my grandmother’s story as women of color in America. Since I grew up in a racially segregated neighborhood, almost all of the kids at my elementary and middle school were black. We had a big emphasis on these issues during February and I learned things that I know Morgan won’t learn in school.
One of the things I learned as a child that I really want her to learn is the words to a song which is referred to as, “The Negro National Anthem.” I think it is one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry written by James Weldon Johnson in 1899.
I won’t necessarily recommend my approach, but I encourage everyone to take time to think about it and tell your kids something. They need context for stories they hear on the news and they need to know how important the Civil Rights movement was for America and that it goes far beyond one moment on the mall in Washington with an amazing speech.
Until next month,
Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson
Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise,
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us March on till victory is won
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee,
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.
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