Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I just looked around and he's gone.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Weldon Johnson.

"How can you know where you're going 
when you don't know where you've been?"

This mama was very proud.

Warning: I'm in the mood to unpack some thoughts here. . . .

Okay. First, this. As promised, I've uploaded the clips of Zachary and Isaiah from their black history month presentations last week. This was a part of the "Living Black History Museum" that the kids participated in as a part of the Atlanta Chapter of Jack and Jill of America. It was seriously one of the coolest things ever, man.

Confession: This might have been one of the proudest days I've had in a very long time.  Therefore I should give the disclaimer that while it may not seem earth-shattering to you, the mama in me was over the moon.

Over. The. Moon.

Let me tell you why:

See. . . . it's really important to me that my children are comfortable in their skin. I want them to be accepting and welcoming to all people regardless of their ethnicity, orientation, or socioeconomic status. But I also want them to be equally as accepting of who THEY are. I think it's possible to create a space for everyone without divorcing yourself from who YOU are. Or at least where your people have been and what it took to get you where you are.

Jackie Robinson and W.E.B. Dubois

You know? Sometimes minority kids fight so hard to assimilate with the mainstream that they look exhausted. Like really, truly exhausted. Then there are some others that don't seem exhausted with assimilation at all. Starting from the earliest age they morph so beautifully into the majority that every trace of their cultural heritage becomes invisible. And then habitually ignoring who they are culturally to fit in becomes the default. 

Yep. 

This is common, too. And while it may not be really egregious and is more pervasive, it happens a lot. So if no one is reminding them about the "where they've beens" then it eventually disappears. Again, in subtle ways. Like drifting so far away that your eyes can't see someone like your mother or your grandmother as the beauty standard. Or reaching a point of feeling paradoxically uncomfortable in situations where you aren't the minority.

It doesn't have to be that way. It doesn't. But stand by idly and it will.
 
I feel so fortunate to have been exposed to things growing up that didn't put me in that camp. I know it makes me a better doctor at Grady and a kick ass liaison for those cultural nuances unique to the patients I care for with our residents and medical students. If I wasn't okay with the similarities I share with my patients, imagine the teachable moments I'd miss! The Grady elders and their Jim Crow struggles are my uncles and aunties. The woman talking on the phone in the hallway was one of the girls I double-dutched with until the street lights came on. And the music rattling the speakers of the hooptie driving by the front of the hospital? That was from the block on which I grew up. So no. None of that is foreign to me at all. And it sure as hell doesn't make me feel uncomfortable. I thank my parents for helping me with that. Helping me to be alright with me and the "where I'm from" as well as the "where we've been."

Look--I'm all ears when you start telling me your story, too. I want to know all about the state your parents came from in India. I am interested in the stories your grandmother told you of her time escaping persecution as a person of Jewish faith in Europe. Tell me all about your celebration that you'll be having at the end of Ramadan and describe what it means to eat halal meat. Oh, and please, my African sister--don't hesitate to explain the differences between what it means to be Igbo or Yoruba. Break it down for me how even though you are Nigerian, that those distinctions still matter to you because that better describes who you and your family are. And you know? Even if you think your background is more American vanilla than ethnic sprinkles and you can't think of any unique features culturally--know that I still want to hear about it. Talk all about the pies your mama made on the weekends or better yet, the TV dinners you had instead. Whatever it is, I want to know. Because all of us have culture and things that make us who we are. And all of us should be able to hold on to a piece of that without hiding it behind the shadows of what seems standard.

So share it and I will listen. I will.

Frederick Douglass

But please. Sit at the same rapt attention as I speak of my people in months beyond February. Welcome my children to embrace you and yours but offer them plenty of room to stand tall in their heritage, too. Their rich heritage. I never want them to shrink. Or know more about Miley Cyrus than they do about the Middle Passage. Or even worse, just become completely indifferent altogether to all things that aren't culturally nondescript.

Yeah.

Dominique Dawes, gymnast


I don't want that. I really, really don't. And no, this doesn't mean that I take issue with families filled with mixed heritages or that I'll shun a future girlfriend who doesn't look like me. Actually, quite the contrary. But that said. . . .I just don't want my boys to grow up counting their own people out. Looking through certain girls because that's not a part of their "beautiful" definition. And that happens--it does--so, so much with some of our beautiful brown boys. It's like. . .I don't know. . .they don't even see the girls that look like their sister as viable options. And I'm not making a sweeping statement about ALL brown boys in primarily majority settings, but I am saying that it's not too unusual for that to happen. I guess I just want my kids to grow up seeing everyone--and counting themselves in that number of who they see. I mean, why shouldn't someone like your own mother have a fighting chance at being seen as your ideal?

Sigh.

Anyways. I guess I just think the world is so much more interesting when people celebrate their differences instead of hiding them. Or worse--just ignoring them to the point that they have no idea how to even begin to celebrate them.

See? This is some complicated shit. And since we are all thinkers here, I think it's a good dialogue. It kind of brings me back to "The Nod." I guess I'm just hoping my boys grow up instinctively giving it.

Wow I'm rambling. And majorly unpacking.

Man. Sorry about that. But what better time than February, right?



Okay. Let me get off of that soapbox and onto my proud mama soapbox instead. I was so, so proud. My Isaiah can get nervous speaking in front of crowds. So for him to choose Martin Luther King, Jr. and then knowingly put himself in a position to have to talk to person after person like that was a huge deal.


And as for Zachary? He wanted to learn "Lift Every Voice and Sing" so that he could sing it to his class and during this presentation. That was his idea. And you know? It's one thing to sing it once for your first grade class--which still took a hell of a lot of courage--but it's an entirely different thing to stand next to a presentation board and sing it over and over again to all who came to visit your station. Not just adults either. Kids, too. And we all know how kids can be. He must have sung that song fifteen to twenty times. And each time, he sang it like he meant it, just like his Grandpa told him he should.

He messes up a few prepositions. But otherwise? It was perfect. A perfect way to honor the "where we've been." Isaiah stood right by encouraging him each time he had to sing. Giving him thumbs up and smiling. You can even catch it in the video if you pay attention. And Isaiah did that each time.  (Unless, of course, somebody was looking for their old friend Martin.)

Heh.

So here are the clips which I assure you are short. I'm glad I uploaded them because they will remind me of a promise I made to myself today. It's my goal to try to keep my sons so aware of the "where they've beens" that it never even occurs to them to ignore or forget it.

Or allow anyone else to make that part of them so invisible that they start believing that they should too.

Yeah.

***
Happy Monday-almost-Tuesday.

Zachary's Lift Every Voice and Sing from Kimberly Manning on Vimeo.

Isaiah as MLK Jr from Kimberly Manning on Vimeo.

And this, for those who are so young that they don't get the references to "my old friend Martin." Or to the reference in the title. This is my favorite version.



This version is for Sister Moon. It's my second favorite. 


BOB DYLAN - Abraham, Martin And  John (1980) by giemmevu

37 comments:

  1. You are doing such an amazing job with those wonderful handsome loving brilliant boys. The videos are breathtaking, no, breathGIVING. This post is the whole truth.

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    1. Thank you, my friend. It was a very proud mama moment. You know about those.

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  2. Oh my goodness. This is just amazing. I had tears in my eyes while hearing your boys sing and speak with such passion and conviction. Just a reminder of how precious our little brown and black boys are- and how much potential they carry. This really blessed me this morning!

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    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Erin! I love that word -- "potential." Yes. That. You blessed me, too.

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    2. Yes. And you're right- the Marvin Gaye version is the definitive one but the Dylan one doesn't suck at all.

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  3. Simply Beautiful.You and Mr. Manning have two amazing, future leaders. Many Blessings.

    -Cassandra

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    1. Y tu tambien, Cassandra. 'Preciate you.

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  4. Those boys are so beautiful they just make my heart want to burst out of my chest. You have every reason to be proud of them and of the parenting that you and Harry are giving them. What a great idea this is for Black History Month, a way for all these kids to embody their history. Hugs from the oldest daughter of 10, with English/Dutch German bible belt Baptist mother and a French/Boston Irish career air force father. x0 N2

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    1. And hugs to you--the oldest daughter of 10 with your English/Dutch/German bible belt baptist roots and your French/Bostonian/Irish military roots, too. I know your story is a beautiful and rich one. Just that statement alone tells it all and you know what? I'd want to hear all about it.

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    2. Thanks for taking the time to give such wonderful replies to all of us this week. My heart is warmed once again. x0 N2

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  5. I had two discussions yesterday about how incredibly difficult it is to be a young black man in this country (and especially the state of Florida, I am ashamed to say) these days. One with Lily, my daughter, and one with my husband. We spoke of the fear that all mothers of African American sons must carry with them all of the time. Lily, especially, with her two sons, gets it right in the heart.
    And sometimes I just feel like nothing ever changes. Like racism and fear are too tightly woven into the fabric of this nation to ever come unraveled so that the pattern changes entirely. And then I see this- your children, so brave in their speech, their song, their heroes. You and your husband and your family are doing it right. You are giving them not just words and songs but you are giving them every-day life affirming lessons in your own lives.
    With all that you do, Kimberly, for others in this world, this may well be your most important accomplishment.
    And I can feel the love.

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    1. I love that you and your family give things like this--as Harry says--"airplay." You give "airplay" to concerns that you could actually completely ignore if you wanted. But you don't. And I have always adored you for that. And we both know that we don't always get it all right but dammit, sometimes we do. That day? Seeing my manchildren feeling proud of who they are and putting those posters together with them with pictures of heroes who looked like them? That--as Harry also says--was "what's up."

      P.S. Did you see your Bob Dylan??

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  6. From the Deck of the Poop,
    Can you imagine a 70 year old blackman sitting at his desk in his learning center reading this piece? Written by his daughter and about his people and seeing the two little boys that has spent several summers with him using some of the things that he taught them. Him knowing that they are in great hands with Kimberly and Harry, and supported by Shuge, Uncle Will, and a cadre of cousins, aunts and uncles... My chest heaves as I try to hold back the tears.
    One of your better efforts.
    Poopdeck.!!!

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    1. Thank you for being such a key part of their village. You are "where they've been."

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  7. Hey Dr Manning, it really, truly is wonderful what you're teaching your boys. Being comfortable in one's own skin is so divine, while at the same time remembering that we are more alike than we are unalike. *sigh* how amazing is it that you're open to other people's stories? Amaaaaaazing! Hugs from this African sister, sending Kenyan love your way and to all people who are comfortable and open to others.

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    1. Hugging you right back, my beautiful Kenyan sister. Come back and come back often. And yes. More alike than not. But the more of the not alike parts we embrace the more permission we give others to let us into their worlds.

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  8. Oh, my god. This whole post -- what you've written, your thoughts, our own thoughts and responses, your boys, your boys, your boys. Thank you. I have linked my own post to yours because I just think it's amazing.

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    1. Thank you, friend. 'Preciate you--for real.

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  9. OK, you don't know me, but let me tell you that your post and especially your beautiful boys brought me to tears. I'm a middle-aged white woman who grew up in Detroit (yes, the city, not the suburbs) in the 60s, so what you write is both familiar and unfamiliar. Anyway,I just want to say, again, that you are doing a wonderful job.

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    1. I'm glad you stopped by and also commented. I'm happy you're here.

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  10. I just spoke to my MochaMoms group this morning about doing something like this for our young people. I'm going to share this with them. Thank you

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  11. And yes I cried a bit as a read this post.

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  12. What gorgeous, wonderful kids, filled with radiance.

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  13. Just jumped over from Paddington lady and this swells my heart with pride. Every single thing you write I know, understand, feel.
    And then your sons. I get the pride and unbelievable love you felt. They're amazing, smart, sweet boys and I can see the amazing men they'll grow up to be. I hope I'll achieve half of that one day.

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    1. I am starting to believe that. I'm seeing the little men they are becoming. I always ask God to let them hold on to the good things I give them and release the bad things. I also ask for Him to protect them from monsters, including the monster in me. Parenting is complicated and scary. That's what I think.

      One other thing: Toni Morrison asked in an article once a simple question of parents. "Does your face light up when your child enters the room?" I wasn't sure about that so now I try to make sure that every day they see that from me. My face lighting up. . . .kind of like the way their grandpa's always does when he sees any of us.

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  14. They did such a great job!! No wonder you are a proud Mama!! I don't know if you know about Connected Classrooms or not, but this was part of our school day yesterday.

    https://plus.google.com/u/0/hangouts/onair/watch?hid=hoaevent%2Fckcr4dgldg01keuls9q1tb3j5bs&ytl=Z6yoPa59yeM&hl=en

    Here is the description of the topic: King Center CEO, Bernice A. King joins Civil Rights icons Willie Bolton and Doris Crenshaw to speak with the youth about the civil rights legacy and how they can Dream Forward and #Choosenonviolence 

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  15. I was directed here by a friend and author of another blog, A Moon Worn as if it Had Been a Shell, and I just wanted say how much I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. What a refreshing writing style you have, so open and real. And you take your time saying what you want to say, and with my dismay at this age of Tweets and everything condensed down into such shortened bursts, you just gained a new reader. Very cool indeed.

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    1. That's such a kind thing to say. Thank you. I always call posts like this "unpacking" because that "open and real" thing you're talking about gets a little out of control. :) I am happy to know that someone is okay with it.

      I'm glad you're here. I like that name "blogzilly."

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  16. What a wonderful post and it brought a smile to my face and tears to my eyes. Zachary has a most gorgeous and rich voice and I'm so pleased to see he is using it. That Isaiah is strong in character and a selfless supporter of his brother, that is joyful. I'm glad to hear that Camille is not completely out of the running for daughter-in-law, but I'm sure she will not be able to get through the sea of beautiful brown girls that will eventually swarm those delicious babes of yours.

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    1. Oh woman, you know that any man lucky enough to have Camille's hand is a lucky one indeed. Just think of how organized my life would be if she were my daughter-in-law? Ha ha. (Wouldn't Isaiah and Camille just die if they knew we were saying these things?)

      Real talk--my issue isn't brown boys who date non-brown girls. It's when they stop seeing the brown girls altogether. That is, seeing them as potential mates.

      Case in point: I had a med student I advised once who was a bright young brother from one of the most prestigious universities in the world. He was bright, personable, attractive and adored by his peers. And you know? Once he once told me that he not only felt more comfortable in majority caucasian settings, he also admitted just "not being really attracted" to black girls. At all.

      Broke my heart. And still does whenever I think of it.

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  17. Your sons are going to do amazing things because you not only are helping them grow to have such a strong sense of self and are also reminding them that you are not only their mom but also their point B (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=387xDaK_VAo)
    - D.A.

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"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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