Monday, July 15, 2013

Seeds of Justice: what parents can do for Trayvon

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My 18 year old niece was the first to text me about the verdict. She was shocked and upset at what was to her and many of us, a slap in the face and the rearing of the ugly head of injustice we receive all too often.  We ended our texting by agreeing that a lot of work needs to be done in this country and that we have such a long way to go. Long after my fingers finished flying across my phone sending text to her my thoughts on the matter continued. I began to feel frustrated and helpless, I'm tired of signing petitions, wearing hoodies and liking statuses.  I'm tired of being kicked in the back for believing there is hope for this country in which my three black boys live. I'm tired of holding the weight of the reality that the country I live in sees no value in what I cherish the most, my boys.  This verdict had set heavy on my heart trying to crush my spirit but I kept coming back to my conversation with my niece and our last agreement, there is a lot to be done. I realized I was looking at things wrong.  I am not a politician, nor a lawyer, nor judge and so I have no strong influence in that area, but what I am is a parent. My circle of influence lies with other parents like myself and here is where I can do my part.

As parents one of the most significant things we can do for victims of injustice everywhere is to raise our children to be just.  Intolerance, be it racism, sexism, homophobia or the like, is not something we develop when we hit 18 and leave our parents' home.  These are ideas that can be planted when children are very young and be it at home, in school or throughout the community, they are nourished and take root. Neither of us can bring Trayvon back, but we can all work to plant seeds of justice within our children and outrage when they witness injustice. We can strive to do all that we can to make sure our children are not lead by their fear or ignorance of "other". We can actively teach our children that just because someone looks different, acts different or has different ideas doesn't make them better or worse than they are.  Do not wait for the school, the religious group or social media to introduce your child to the idea of justice, start at the dinner table tonight.

The simplest and most effective way to teach your child is to lead by example. Don't just have quiet conversations with your significant other, or post your FB status or tweet about this verdict.  Show your children how you feel. Let them know you are upset, sad, outraged or shocked by what happened. Use whatever vocabulary you feel is appropriate but say something. I know many parents don't like to talk about topics that are unpleasant with their children because they want to protect them from the harshness of reality for as long as they can, but if I had to talk to my 5 year old and explain why a security guard would watch him as he walks through the store and suspect him of stealing simply because he is a brown skinned boy then you can talk to your 5 year old about people who don't like others simply because of the way they look. Then hopefully neither my son nor your child will have to talk to their 5 year olds about the same topics.  

In my home we are going to say a special prayer for all those involved in the trail. I'm sure this will raise questions and I plan to allow the discussion to flow freely after that making sure they have an understanding of where I stand and why.  You can try the same approach or any of the ones below.

1. Over a meal or during a commute share the verdict with the family making sure to share how you feel about it and why. Ask your children for their opinion too.

2. Have the whole household have a moment of silence.
After the silence discuss what you did and why. Make sure you allow your kids to ask plenty of questions so that they fully understand the issue.

3.  Search the web for information about the issue when your children are present and talk out loud about how you feel. Invite them to look at the information with you as you discuss how you feel about it and answer any questions they have. 

4. For younger children you can simply say "Daddy is feeling sad today because I am really disappointed with something that happened."  Let them ask questions, explain it how you see fit and let them know you thought something more should be done and you don't think what happened was fair. 

These ideas can be used for any injustice you witness or read about. The most important thing is that your children see you reacting to things. They learn that things do not always happen in a just way and when that happens we are not ok with it. Your actions show them how to act, so that when they see injustices even on a small scale they will not be passive. If you continuously tell them why you are upset, for example because it not right to judge a person by their appearance, they will learn what intolerance is and strive not to be that way.  In these ways we plant the seeds of justice in our children, leading them by our actions and our words. 
I hope you have found a renewed sense of your own power to create justice in reading this, and beyond that I hope you teach your children. 

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