I asked a friend, Aja Favors, to respond to the “current moment” and to reflect upon two of her roles in the world, those of mother and lawyer. I’m grateful for her wise, pointed words.
I’m a lawyer. Not long ago, I received a called from a friend asking what she might tell her son as it pertains to getting pulled over by the police. Her son is a freshman in college.
Before going into my normal response to such questions, I thought for a moment. I thought about being a mom. Even more than that, I thought about being the mom of an African American boy in a city that has been rightly or wrongly renamed “Chi-raq.”
My son is a baby—only nine months old. Still, the question I was being asked begged a response congruent with the mindfulness a young man’s mom might give.
After pausing far too long, I said…
“He should pull over. He should keep his hands on the steering wheel. He should be deliberately courteous and compliant. He should accept the citation (if issued) and go on his way. If they ask to search his car, he has the right to say, ‘no.’ There are a few reasons why they may be permitted to search it regardless. If he is asked to get out of the car, he should do so. And yes, the officers may pat him down if they have a reasonable suspicion that he could be a threat.”
I spouted out those instructions the way I had been trained to. Still, the justice-seeking, card-carrying NAACP member in me wanted to “beat my chest,” and talk about Sandra Bland, and Eric Garner, and Michael Brown. However, the mom in me wanted her son to make it home—to live to tell the story.
As a staunch supporter of “the struggle,” I believe and know that Black lives matter. I live in Black skin everyday. I’ve wrestled to elevate myself in a system flanked with those who have proven to themselves that I don’t deserve it…simply because I’m Black. Notwithstanding that reality, as a parent I believe and know that my son’s life matters.
I know that in order to protect him, in order to continue to lay my eyes on him—he has to be smarter than the system that makes it acceptable for him to be shot on sight, hanged with a trash can liner, or gunned down with his hands up.
He has to be smarter.
I’m not in favor of a world that makes Black men more docile, more compliant than their White counterparts, or more at risk because of their Black skin. But, I am in favor of a world in which Black children outlive their parents—a world in which one can be Black and die of old age and not from a police officer’s bullet.
Admittedly, what we tell ourselves as parents often contradicts what we tell our children. It’s true. I’d tell my son exactly what I suggested my friend tell her son.
All the while, on the inside I’m telling myself, “If anybody touches my child (police officer or common citizen), I will hunt them down. I will be neither deliberately courteous nor compliant. I will be vicious and vigilant. And, yes, at any cost there will be justice.”
In no particular order:
- People die everyday but I want you to live a long, full, gorgeous life.
- Don’t believe that there aren’t safe spaces for you. We will find them together, protect them, and play in them.
- Slow down and be as small as you can for as long as you can, because I only see big things in you. When those things mature, you will turn the world upside down.
- Turn off the TV and listen to the words of Jarena Lee, Ida Wells, Booker Washington, WEB DuBois, Benjamin Mays, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Renita Weems, Louis Farrakhan, Michael Dyson, and your pastor if she or he has courage to speak to right-now-issues.
- The news does not define you and neither does the pain that envelopes our people. We include the pain in who we are, but we are more than our pain.
- I want the best for you, and though I will make mistakes in pursuing that, I commit to you that I’ll live with you in mind for the rest of my life.
- Your skin is precious, so precious that it can get you into as much trouble as death if you’re black, free from accountability for your actions if you’re white. This is still the country we live in.
- The unmistakable print of God’s finger is on your life and people may not call it that because of their own faith differences, but know deep down that you were made by the most fascinating Creator to live a most fascinating life.
- Talk to your oldest relative about the way they make sense of the bottom parts of life, and then write down what you hear and how you feel and how it makes you want to be better.
- You are beautiful, you are brilliant, you are beloved. This a benediction I pronounce over my son and I gladly share it with you for your children, for your revision.
- Obey those who have rule over you. This is a biblical warrant, so listen to your parents when we tell you “how to act” in public.
- Disobey authorities when necessary for goodness sake and do so for a worthy cause. You won’t be the first to “go down” for justice, and when you do, your blood will join the saving stream of God’s heroes.
- Make noise in life and be a bit irreverent because the people who’ll complain about your noise will be those of us who have lost our throats, who need you to inspire us, and who will, surprisingly, follow your lead.
- Take the helm of something that stirs the hearts of people, challenges the fixed impressions of others, and helps you practice your best values.
- Love the women in the world because they will be more reliable than the men and they will support you harder than the men and in your love, you will continually lift them.
- Love the men in the world because your love will correct and heal our broken places, places we’ve spent years covering, hiding, avoiding, and convincing ourselves aren’t there.
- I do not want you to die, but you will die as will I. Live with that end in mind, and move the world toward something more beautiful, more compelling, more attractive, and more whole while you’re here.
- Give something away and get into the habit of giving. It will save you when the world takes and takes and takes because you will have defined yourself and your needs and your hopes in a generous way.
- Be a messianic force for peace, tolerating no violence, even the violence in your own soul because that self-control is the strongest grace, the most Christlike offering you can give the world. It may save us.
- Tell me what I should have said and feel free to update me as we go along.
As your mother told you–and as I’ve said to you before–when we put you into the hands of someone else, that’s the person we trust. So that’s the person you listen to.
Be it your teachers or other relatives, if you don’t listen to the people we give you to, you’re also not listening to us. And for now, you have to listen to us. You don’t get to not listen. And not just because we’re bigger than you. We actually know more than you.
We know that when you do your own thing, that thing is still so underdeveloped that it makes no sense in the world. One day that will change. One day you have more choices than you do time. One day you’ll pick the menu and the shoes and the time we leave and return. But you don’t drive. You don’t know the city’s grid. You don’t understand the nuances of roasting a chicken, even if you’re a good sous chef.
So, hear me, hear your mother. And we’ll let you stay with us. If you don’t listen, you’re only a quick walk from the Swansons, a short drive from either of our mothers, the full house with your cousins and my brother, a spot next to Champ’s cage at your other uncle’s, or slightly longer commutes to your aunts. I’m sure even Grammie will take you if we call her and say you’re on a flight. But I’m also certain those lovely people will have similar expectations. And they–though they may fight me on the point–will not love you nearly as much as me and your mother.
It’s not surprising that well-intentioned parents cultivate cognitive intelligence and individual achievements as assiduously as we do. These are, after all, such important markers of success in modern-day America. But our focus on outcomes is leading us to look at milestones all wrong — as a series of boxes and achievements to check off a list on our way to a goal. We focus on our kids’ ability to read when they are at an age when we should be focusing on their kindness and character. We worry about overburdening them with chores because they have to do their homework, when we should be cultivating self-help skills that will make them self-reliant, and sending them a clear, unambiguous message: yes, academic achievement is important, but becoming kind and responsible is, too. These are all milestones we don’t want to miss.
See Christine Gross-Loh’s full piece here.
We went to Bryce’s parent-teacher conference the other day. After I got over the fact that daycare centers require such things, I felt my chest swelling as his teacher said how well he was doing, how he, as their oldest child, was helping and getting special jobs and relishing them in his own way. She asked what our concerns were, took notes as we (Dawn really) said what she wanted to them to focus on. It was brief. I almost wondered why we had set up the meeting in the first place. It was short and short things get short-changed in my mind. It took reflection time for me to appreciate that short meetings can be meaningful, that they can shape the way we approach the long marathon of fatherhood.
After the teacher left, we looked over his binder which captured in pictures and notes and forms his track record over the last year. I’m not one of those parents—at least not yet—who says, “Time has moved so fast,” because I’ve taken this experiment as slowly as it’s come. But that book was another reminder of my boy’s growth, of my wife’s growth as a mother, and of my own. Maybe someone should require Parent-Teacher conferences where us parents are the subjects of discussion.