Helping our children regain certainty

Like many other people, the day after the election, I was feeling shock, fear, and despair about the outcome.  I was en route to a conference on equity in Detroit with a colleague who works with me in education justice. She is also a 10th grade English teacher, and I could tell she wanted to be with her kids. She talked about the lessons she had reviewed with them in class, including Sojourner Truth’s speech, “Ain’t I a Woman” and checked their twitter accounts on her phone. They missed her too. They tweeted her, asking, “Where are you?”  One messaged her about music he was playing to comfort himself, “Black Boy Fly,” which has been described as a song that “celebrates the successes of a couple boyz n the hood who were fortunate enough to make it out.” When she told me this, I thought of the yoga class I had taught the day before. To set the election-day theme of the class, I told the students to send love to themselves in any moments of uncertainty.  At the time I didn’t know how much all of us would need the advice. After the elections results, it was becoming clearer.

For me, the scariest part of the election outcome is the uncertainty of the future, and that includes the future of our children.  It’s the reason why each time I’ve heard a post-election story about children asking if they should pack their bags, I am nearly in tears.  Children are scared, and we as adults, as parents, as aunts or uncles, as teachers or mentors do not have all the answers. We don’t know what will happen or what is to come. It is difficult for us to assure protection against the unknown.  

The media is already reporting a rash of racist, anti-Muslim, and anti-Semitic bullying incidents in schools. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, of the 400 allegations of election-related intimidation and harassment, one-third of these incidents took place in schools.  When I first read a news story about children in Michigan chanting, “Let’s build the wall,” to a Latina middle-school student, I was immediately transported back to the days when I experienced taunting and harassment in my own school. Kids called me a number of racial slurs, and the teachers looked the other way. I felt betrayed that the people in power would not help me. Even though racism and bigotry are a certainty in the life of any person of color in America, there is a new tenor of legitimacy that my generation has never experienced. Now, our President-Elect is the bully.

Admittedly, since the election I’ve considered a number of worst-case scenarios.  Some of them seem to be coming true with the selection of cabinet leaders and department heads, as well as threats to abolish the Department of Education.  But I keep thinking back to one of the most comforting moments at the conference. Looking around, I saw Native Americans, Latinos, Asians, Arabs, African-Americans, and Whites who had all come together for a cause. One panelist reminded us, “Our ancestors have survived worse, and we will survive this.” The strength and resiliency of the human spirit has overcome these trials before and we will continue to overcome them.

In this moment of uncertainty, I feel our path is clear: to love stronger, deeper, and more purely. We must teach our children to do the same.  We can learn from my colleague and her student and find ways to help our young people lift themselves up and remember their own value. For one teenager, it was listening to “Black Boy Fly.” For each child, there is a song, a poem, or maybe just a few words of praise that might make all the difference. As the role models to young people, in this moment of uncertainty we must help our children know what is certain: they are loved.

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