A Letter to My Children

 

Recently our country has erupted with news stories, staggering across the bottom of our tv screens, and finding their way into our news feeds, police brutality, another shooting of an unarmed black man or woman, Black Lives Matter rallies, violence against police. And my children have begun asking questions.

My eight year-old son Demetrius keeps asking me “ Mama, are they going to start segregation again?”

I have avoided his question for a long time. And I think the reason I’ve avoided it is because if I want to be honest, I have to answer him, “It never actually ended bud.”

 

And how do I begin to explain that dark history? How do I begin to explain that what they’ve taught him in school is not the whole story, or even an accurate portrayal of part of the story?

 

I feel super inadequate as a white woman, trying to communicate to my Black and American Indian son that the history of our country is full of darkness and oppression for his people.

 

Yet my avoiding his question, my unwillingness to feel uncomfortable and inadequate is problematic in this goal I’ve set to be a stone catcher. It speaks volumes of my privilege. So I am starting today, while sitting on the airport floor in Chicago, after binge listening to my hero Bryan Stevenson, I am feeling like I have to begin somewhere. So here is my letter to you Demetrius, and to all of my children:

 

D-D,
You know how we’ve been talking about what is going on in America, about why police have been shooting black people who didn’t have guns? You know how I’ve talked to you about how you need to act around police? You know how sometimes I yell at you when you loose your cool, and I start crying and I usually say something like, “Demetrius! If you act like that out there, you will get shot! You have got to learn NOW how to be respectful, because you don’t have the luxuries that Tre has.” And you always scream back at me, “That’s not fair!”

 

And you’re right!

It’s not fair.

 

And yet it is still true.

 

D-D, you keep asking me if they are going to start segregation again. But I want to tell you something. Something that th
ey haven’t told you in school, something that makes people uncomfortable. D-D, segregation hasn’t really gone away. We can call it different things now, it looks different than water fountains and schools. And yet it doesn’t at all. Because black people still don’t get the same water (Flint, Michigan) or the same access to education (http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2015/01/28/us-education-still-separate-and-unequal ). And although we don’t have signs that hang outside of restaurants any more, we still have restaurants where you wouldn’t be served, just based on the color of your skin.

It’s awful. Really really awful.

 

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Here’s what I haven’t told you:

 

  1. There is a politics of fear and anger in America. Our leaders have fought to keep us afraid and angry for a long time. And when people are afraid and angry they will tolerate injustice, abuse, and cruelty. I don’t want you to be afraid and angry. I as your mom want to make sure you are a man full of hope. Because where there is hope, there is no longer a place for fear and anger. And then truth can reign. It is important that you, even as a little boy, begin to understand that identifying the ‘bad guy’ isn’t as clear as the news, our president, or your teacher makes it out to be. If we become afraid of a group of people, we will begin to make decisions that don’t represent our God.
  2. All people are equal. They aren’t treated equally though. And that is not what God wants. In my opinion, the worst part of slavery was that white people acted as if they were different than, better than, and superior to, black people. And we aren’t. And unfortunately that hasn’t much changed. The slaves were freed, but white people in America have continued to treat Black people as if they are inferior. It looks different than indentured servitude these days, usually, but it isn’t.
  3. Terrorism isn’t new. Terrorism has been occurring in the United States since the very beginning, it began with white people committing acts of terror on your American Indian ancestors. Terrorism didn’t strike in America for the first time on 9-11. Terrorism has been woven into the history that blankets our land. And without us being honest about what we, as white people have done, our country can never heal. The lynchings of black men, women, and children were acts of terror that infiltrated our country since the end of the Reconstruction in 1877 up until the 1950s. Muslim’s aren’t the first terrorists on this dirt. We are.

 

Buddy, I know that when we talk about these things you cry. I don’t ever want you to loose that. I want you to forever feel how awful this is. I want you to forever feel the weight of injustice. I pray that your dad and I can encourage you to not run away from what feels hard. I pray that we will teach you through our own broken paths, that you, D-D Luke, were made to do hard and holy things. Please be brave brave brave.

 

I love you to the moon Bub.

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(This letter was spurred after listening to a talk given by Bryan Stevenson at All Saints Church in Pasadena, California.)

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Just Mercy

This year a lot has changed in our lives. And I knew going into this year that because of these amazing changes I would HAVE to grow. If I stayed where I was at on a personal level, I could not do the things God was asking of me. And with growth comes growing pains.

As a part of this process I decided that I would take up reading again. I love to read, but had lost that over the ten years of little kids ruling my brain and sleep patterns. So I made an easy goal, I want to read 12 books this year. So far I am ahead of schedule. But one of the first books I read this year was Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.  (This link is the first chapter and where you can purchase the book!)

I don’t plan on writing about each of the books I read, but this book is life changing.

Just Mercy is a non-fiction book. I really love fiction books. And I am reading those too. But I am trying to add to my list of books, non-fiction books. This was a non-fiction book that I couldn’t put down.

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Just Mercy is written by one of my heroes Bryan Stevenson, a public interest lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative. He and his organization are responsible for helping to overturn some of the most cruel and unusual things that have happened as a result of our justice system in America. “Mr. Stevenson has successfully argued several cases in the United States Supreme Court and recently won an historic ruling that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional.” In my social-worker point of view, he is doing an amazing job of changing systems at a macro level, while also helping people at a micro-level and has won reversals, relief or release for over 115 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row.

He is a hero.

I have blogged before about the article he wrote in The Smithsonian Magazine, I read during Christmas break 2012 in my in-laws kitchen. This article started me down a path of discovery, both of self and of history. This is the first time I heard the idea of being a stone catcher. This idea has become a central focus for me, helping to guide our family and our decisions. In the book he tells the whole story of meeting this elderly black woman, and her version of being a stone catcher. This idea is pivotal for me living out my faith.

He quotes to me from the Gospel of John, where Jesus says of the woman who committed adultery: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” He tells me an elderly black woman once called him a “stone catcher.”

“There is no such thing as being a Christian and not being a stone catcher,” he says. “But that is exhausting. You’re not going to catch them all. And it hurts. If it doesn’t make you sad to have to do that, then you don’t understand what it means to be engaged in an act of faith….But if you have the right relationship to it, it is less of a burden, finally, than a blessing. It makes you feel stronger.

In chapter 12 of this book, entitled “Mother, Mother” Bryan tells a few stories of some of the women he has represented. I couldn’t read this chapter. I stopped after angry tears so thick began spilling onto the pages, and I couldn’t make out the words any longer. But then I realized even skipping over this chapter was an exercise in privilege. I literally can’t fathom living these stories, so heavy and unjust, so I just skipped it…  That isn’t what a stone catcher would do. So I forced myself to read the chapter. It took many many tries. And left me feeling angry and saddened for days. But ignoring this, sweeping it away, or pretending it doesn’t exist is not an option for me any longer.

This book is life changing. It isn’t “a good read” or “enjoyable”, it’s none of those. It is gut-wrenching and sobering, and eye-opening, and essential, it is the definition of an interrupter to those of us living lives of privlige. Especially if you believe yourself to be a person of faith. Because fighting for the vulnerable is what we’re called to do. And that fight begins, for many of us, by opening our eyes to what the vulnerable are experiencing, in our back-yards.

Personally, I believe that God has put me here- on this earth, and on this little place of the world wide web- to fight for vulnerable children. Children who have been used and abused by adults and systems. And a part of that fight is understanding our justice system, because the trauma that these vulnerable children experience, often puts them in direct contact with our justice system. And until we can right the way we deal with children who have experienced trauma, we can not call ourselves just, fair, or free. And ultimately for me, I cannot call myself a disciple of Christ without helping to fight for the traumatized and vulnerable in my midst. I do this every day as a mom, I do this every day as a social worker, but there is more I can do. There is more we can do.

Read this book.