My daughter and I have been talking about black history lately. She just started kindergarten and sometimes I worry that she’s too young to hear about so much pain. That thought is quickly followed by this one: “What a privilege. How nice to be able to protect her from that because she’s young – and white.” More importantly: “How misguided.”
I recently attended a fundraiser for Mel Trotter Ministries. It was a purchased luncheon in a packed ballroom with a magnificent keynote speaker. You may know the keynote speaker, Bryan Stevenson, for his law work, his book, perhaps his TED talk, for the Equal Justice Initiative he founded, or maybe from the upcoming movie about his life. (Aside: It stars Michael B. Jordan, it’s based on Stevenson’s book Just Mercy; it looks so good!).
In his speech, similar to his TED talk, Mr. Stevenson spoke about our history. He talked about mass incarceration, a conversation I have just recently started to unfold thanks to The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. He talked about lingering hate and fear. And he made a point to mention Germany and Rwanda and how they talk about their history. You will not find a statue of Hitler in Germany; Germans want you to visit the Holocaust memorial. Rwandans want to talk to you about apartheid. But what about Americans? It would seem, based on our remaining statues and lack of memorials to the victims of racial violence, that we don’t really want to discuss our history.
I consider myself to be a good person, albeit incredibly flawed. I’ve said terrible, hurtful things – sometimes on accident and sometimes on purpose. I’m judgmental and aggressive. I am a sinner to and from my very core. But I’m also an advocate for a change – in myself and in others and in our society and in the world. A believer in grace. I’m an avid learner, capable of being taught. So I’ve been reading books about black history and also about our present. I’m listening to Podcasts and skimming blogs and articles and social media content. I’m reflecting on where I’ve failed as a white ally and where I’m improving.
And I’m starting the dialogue with my young daughter about our heartbreaking history. Our American history. I believe that my job (in part) is to open my ears to the stories passed down. And in opening my ears and the ears of my children, I am opening my eyes to truth. A truth that I believe will reshape our future.
If you have a young child who is capable of grasping some big topics, I recommend picking up Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine. It’s a true story from the Underground Railroad about a man named Henry who lost his family and found freedom from a big wooden box. Based on recommendations, it’s geared to first graders and above but it generated some great conversation between my kindergartner and me!
For a little lighter read, I recommend The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson. You’ll need to explain the backstory of the long fence that separates the town but it’s a beautiful story of friendship.
What are you reading? What books can we add to our list?