Wednesday, May 14, 2014

This week, I did something remarkable for my soul.  I established Celebrating Black Boys, a social media presence dedicated to the celebration of positive images of black boys.

It started as a Facebook group.  In October 2013, with the government shutdown looming into perpetuity, I sat with my three-year-old son outside of our house in the warm fall breeze and wondered what the future had in store.  He was fascinated by a worm that had emerged from our grass.  He could stare at it all day, and all I could do was stare at him.  In addition to my indefinite break from work, I had just removed him from his preschool.  Despite only spending three weeks in his new three-year-old classroom, his teachers had unleashed on us a litany of “concerns” about his behavior.  In an email from his teachers, they noted he was having trouble “pulling up his pants” after using the bathroom (he needed help with buttons), “sorting items into trash, compost and recycling,”  “zipping his lunch box,” “staying behind the same person for the entire walking time,” and “doing an activity to completion.”  As a result, they gave us a choice: have him evaluated by the state or remove him from the school.

He was 3 years and 2 months old.

He was also the only black boy in his class.

We removed him.

The decision did not come easy.  My eldest son had just graduated from that very school.  We trusted their input and diligently took heed of their criticism throughout the years, despite how many times it came up unfounded.  With our little guy, however, it was different.  He was so small, and they had only known him three weeks.  How could they have made such sweeping assertions about his character in such a small window of time?  And based on completely age- appropriate behaviors? How could they have decided his needs required professional intervention without even taking the time to know him?
 
(c) Matt Small
 
So, I observed.  I sat quietly in a corner of his classroom and watched.  The boy I observed was not the son I recognized.  He was shy, withdrawn, fearful and reluctant to interact with his teachers and peers.  What was even more troubling was the hyper-vigilance with which his teachers seemed to treat him.  If he so much as moved the wrong way, they were calling his name, correcting him, reprimanding him… meanwhile, other children talked out of turn, played with their shoelaces and fidgeted relentlessly, and it went completely unnoticed.  It broke my heart.  This was not the little boy who bounced through my home – verbal, eager to assert his independence and full of love and light.  This was a child who was told he was a problem and had started to believe it.  Even at three.  In spite of all the love my husband and I had committed to giving him. 

Sure, there were probably a litany of experiences and reasons those teachers targeted him.  But whether they were conscious of it or not, race was one of them.
This I know.
However, suddenly their reasons were the least of my concerns.  I was more concerned with how he saw himself.  I never wanted how someone else treated him to impact his sense of identity again.  Watching him staring at the icky worm, I felt fiercely protective.   I needed to protect his curiosity.  His creativity.  His intelligence.  I needed to protect his self-worth.  There was no limit to his abilities and the contributions he could make to this world.  He needed to know that.  He needed to know it so they next time someone tried to tell him differently, he would know they were liars. 

I started the group with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes.  I wanted to connect with other mommies and daddies who knew their brown children were remarkable. Mommies and Daddies who fought each and every day to make sure they remembered it…

I am back at work now, and he is in a school that is a MUCH better fit.  However, I have no doubt my sons’ journeys to adulthood won't include more challenges.  Celebrating Black Boys is for the love of black boys.  It is for Trayvon, Jordan and Emmett.  It is for my boys, my husband, my brothers, my cousins, and all the black boys and people who love them.  It is to remind us all of who they are, who they can be.  It is to counteract article after article of damaging statistics that do not have to be predictions of the future.  It is to counteract every mug shot, suspect sketch, music video and reality show that denigrates the black male image and works as a vehicle of white supremacy.  It is to serve as a forum for important discussions and a celebration of what is positive.  So when you kiss your beautiful boy and tell him the sky is the limit, there is not a doubt in your mind that it is true. 

And one more quick note, Celebrating Black Boys is not about the exclusion of black girls.  As a proud black woman, I am invested in the well-being of black girls just as fiercely as I am in the well-being of black boys.  I believe the missions are not mutually exclusive.  Black boys are brothers, cousins and eventual fathers and uncles of black girls.  It is crucial to the protection of black girls that we raise boys that make us proud.  Boys who say no to violence, rape and disrespect of womanhood.  Boys who recognize their importance and worth to their families. We all have something to gain from encouraging self-worth in black boys. 

 
So check us out on:
Twitter @CBBoys
and

 
Oh, and no worries, I'm still writing too :-).

Love and Light,
Faye
 
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