Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dear Sugar: Teaching Through Travel

Dear Sugar,

Happy Black History Month! 

Last week our family traveled to Indianapolis.  We only live three hours from there, but we'd never ventured there before.  Our initial motivation for the visit was to meet Rachel Macy Stafford (the Hands Free Mama), but as we researched Indy, we found that there were some great cultural opportunities!

Everyone told us we just had to visit the Indy Children's Museum.   Our kids enjoyed the giant chocolate slide, the princesses and pirates room, seeing a Darth Vader race car, visiting "China," and many more.  But what go to us was the room where kids and parents could get an in-depth understanding of the stories of three people:  Ryan White, Anne Frank, and Ruby Bridges.  This was appropriately named:  The Power of Children.  

My girls are familiar with Ruby's story.  In fact, Ruby is one of the ten females featured in my first children's book Black Girls Can: An Empowering Story of Yesterdays and Todays.  She's also in two poems in my second book Poems for the Smart, Spunky, and Sensational Black Girl.  I feel a connection to young Ruby, knowing she was so close to my daughters' ages when she pioneered integrating an all-White school.   Unlike many other equality-warriors, Ruby fought for rights as a little girl, as a child.   

Our family walked into a school room to learn more about Ruby.  Surrounding the entrance were cutouts of angry White people holding signs of protest, and an overhead speakers, voices chanted, "We won't integrate!"   Inside the classroom were workbooks from Ruby's time, alongside the pages was a question:  How would you feel if you never saw someone who looked like you in a book?  

We saw a "whites only" water foundation, mini models of the KKK, and much, much more.

I was an emotional mess the entire time.  

There were warning signs, stating the displays featuring the three children and their stories, were most appropriate for ages eight and up.   I questioned if I was doing the right thing, letting my kids meander from room to room, looking at pictures and objects.   

Then I asked myself, did Ruby, Ryan, and Anne have a choice at what age they faced their battles? There was no "age suggestion" for them.   They were making history.  They were history.  

I want my kids to know their history and respect and honor those who fought for the freedoms they, as people of color have, and our family as a whole has.   I want them to be proud of their culture, their skin color, their history.   

It's hard to swallow, though.  Knowing people who shared my skin color were the ones trying to scare sweet Ruby into not attending the school, one woman even stuffing a Black doll into a coffin and thrusting it into Ruby's line of vision to intimidate the little girl.   

I shared on IG and Twitter the other day that my daughter had been reading a biography on MLK, and one night she said she didn't want to read the book again.  I asked why, and she said because of the "devils."  She showed me an illustration from the book:  a sketch of the KKK standing by a burning cross.


I told her the KKK was/is a group of cowards who hide behind their costumes.  They are evil people who don't like Black people.   

And I thought about when my oldest was a baby and we took her to Memphis.  We saw the hotel balcony MLK was standing on when he was shot.   And then I also had this moment where I wondered if I should really be taking my infant daughter to a place where so much evil culminated.   Where MLK's life was stolen from him.

I have to remind myself that the story isn't about the ending or the beginning.  It's about the journey.  It's about Ruby walking into her school, day after day.  It's about MLK marching and speaking and writing.  It's about the choices these individuals made:  like when Ruby said that her reaction to the "haters" who screamed at her was to pray for them.   

We will continue to take our children places so they can learn about the people, locations, and objects they read about in the many books we own and borrow from the library.   We will continue to show them what making a difference means.  We will continue to empower them as people of color, deliberately, no matter how uncomfortable and terrifying it can be.   

We won't choose silence.  We won't sugar-coat.  We won't shush.  We won't hide.   

We will teach the babies.   

 As you continue to celebrate Black History Month, may you have the courage and dedication to teach, to learn, and to listen to the heroes of the past.  

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