Monday, November 24, 2014

Reposting these two posts because they are salient tonight.

Had to turn the news off. It got too depressing. Instead I just sat and looked at pictures in silence. Wishing the whole world could see what I see when I look at them: Cherished boys and men whose lives matter.

After a football game and a tough loss.

With the love of my life.

With their Auntie on Christmas

With their godbrother

Snow day with my favorite sons

Chilling. But chilly.

With my favorite football coach.

Leaving church with my favorite sons

Hanging out with Uncle Keith (Zach's godfather)

Does he realize the world he's growing up in?

With my favorite older son.

With my favorite brothers who aren't suspects.

These two reposts:

This first one was originally posted on August 25, 2014. But this right here explains what's so hard about being the parents of black manchildren and the extra stuff that we are forced to be concerned with that many of our friends will never, ever have to consider. This also gives insight into the added stress and fear I must register along with all of the regular fears that every wife has for her husband. Because my husband happens to be a black man.


If this makes you kind of uncomfortable? Just know that you aren't alone. And if you never have to think about this stuff for your spouse or your kids? Thank God . . . or your "lucky stars" or whomever or whatever you like to thank when you get dealt a good hand. Because in this instance? You're fortunate. 

Thanks for letting me unpack, y'all.


Nor is life.

This past weekend

Harry and I took the kids to this really amazing restaurant in Savannah over the weekend. I don't mean amazing as in "ah-maaaazing" like the foodies say. More in the sense of it being an adventure--like nothing they'd ever experienced.

Anyways. This place was very family friendly and actually had this cool pond built into it where kids could buy a $3 bag of bait and go "fishing" right inside of the restaurant. On this particular evening, we were with a few other families which meant lots and lots of kids having lots and lots of fun.

As the kids fished, the parents enjoyed adult conversation and humor. All of it was wonderful and a great time was surely had by all from the lap babies all the way to the oldest in the group. Laughing out loud and stopping only to occasionally give a kid three more dollars or to take our turns at checking to make sure none of our kids had jumped into that man-made lagoon which, fortunately, no one did.

Finally, we realized that it was getting really late. Even for a Saturday night, we were pushing it for kids this age to be out in a restaurant. We squared up bills and prepared to go and get our respective children.

Zachary was already off and sitting on a bench with some of the other kids as Isaiah and one or two more stragglers held on to their makeshift fishing poles for whatever few seconds they could squeeze out before the bell tolled. Since the other parents were also there preparing to retrieve their own children, Harry focused only on getting Isaiah's attention.

"Isaiah. Let's go."

Harry's voice was firm. Not a yell or even a plea. Just a simple statement with a military man's intonation that said "order" and definitely not "suggestion."

Isaiah and his friends were still in their fishing pole la la land. We'd already given them all several "ten more minute" warnings--probably as much for us and our fun as it was for theirs. But either way, it was late and now, it was time to go.

It really was.

"Okay, okay, okay, Dad. Just let me do this one. . . last. . . thing!" Isaiah quickly grabbed the edge of the line and began to hook another new piece of bait on the end. "Dad, just this one--"

Harry interrupted him before he could even finish. This time his voice was a little more firm than that first time but still very controlled. "Isaiah. Now. It's time to go." The finality in it was clear. I've been at this with him long enough to know that Harry wasn't going to repeat himself--nor would he have to. Isaiah immediately laid the pole down where he found it, said, "Yes, Dad," and began walking toward Harry.

And that was that.

Isaiah scuffled ahead to join the rest of the kids all of whom were now crammed together on a swinging bench, cackling out loud and probably a few seconds away from costing all of us some money, some embarrassment and maybe even an emergency department trip. Harry turned to walk toward the front of the restaurant and just as he did, an older man who'd been watching the entire exchange spoke to him.

"I don't envy anyone who has to get kids away from all of this fun. Especially boys!" His tone was friendly and genuine. He had twinkling blue eyes and the warm, patient body language of a grandfather, which I'm willing to bet money he was. His skin was a sun kissed olive tone with deep crows' feet bursting like fireworks from the corners of those same happy eyes.

Harry chuckled and nodded to him in response. All of it amicable and easy. And that was that.

The man stepped a bit closer and spoke to Harry again, this time more directly. His voice became serious. That said, you could tell it was still well-meaning and non-threatening, especially because of the sparkle that remained in his grandfatherly eyes.

"Mind if an old man gives you a little bit of advice? I mean, just from an old guy who's been around the  parenting block a few times to a younger guy?"

Harry noted his age--I could tell--and paused deferentially. He raised his eyebrows and faced the gentleman to let him know he was listening.

I silently cringed and hoped this wouldn't take a wrong turn.

And so the Grandfather-man spoke:

"You know? If you say 'please' to them now, they'll respect you a lot more when they grow up to be men. Take it from me." When Harry didn't say anything, the Grandfather-man added this, "Just some advice coming from the heart from an older man who's raised up some sons of his own." He smiled at Harry again to make sure that it was clear that this was all goodnatured kindness and nothing more.

And, thank goodness, Harry received as such. No ripple in his forehead or clenching of his masseter; all tell-tale signs of when my husband is offended or annoyed. Nope. There was none of that. Just this inexplicable facial expression and searing eye contact.

Then Harry said this:

"Do you mind if I share something with you, sir?" The Grandfather-man turned his head a bit to the side to let Harry know his ear was bent. And so Harry went on. "I appreciate your advice, but I'm raising my two sons in a world that won't say 'please' to them. Unfortunately, this world just doesn't say 'please' to black boys and it definitely doesn't say 'please' to black men. My sons need to understand that. And they will understand that."


I wish you could have seen the complexity of the look on the Grandfather-man's face. His blue eyes became sad in acknowledgement of this very obvious difference in the worlds his sons (and likely grandsons) face and that of this younger man before him. His lips pressed together and his brow furrowed; the Grandfather-man's eyes were still trained on Harry's. And you already know that Harry kept holding that man's gaze as if it were some kind of staring contest.

The Grandfather-man finally closed his eyes and sighed, his entire chest rising and collapsing dramatically. Then he looked back up at Harry and nodded his understanding of the heartbreaking relativity of that lighthearted advice. Heartbreaking, yes, but an inconvenient truth that simply couldn't be ignored.

Especially these days.

And let me be clear:

This was not a negative interaction between a younger black man and an older white man. And this isn't some rant about some uncomfortable conversation laced with racism or any such thing. Quite the contrary, actually. That Grandfather-man came to speak a good word to my husband from the sweetest, dearest place. He did--and my husband (who is usually skeptical of every stranger) would tell you the same.


Without saying very much, you'd better believe that those men had a rich dialogue on race and inequality. Damn, they did.

You see--Harry didn't say it, but he said it:

"If my sons don't learn how to leave when someone says 'let's go', it could cost them their lives. And the chances of someone saying 'please' before beating or shooting them is, unfortunately, low."

And you know what? That's some real talk right there, man.

Messed up, yes. But realer than real.

Now. Do we think our sons deserve to hear pleases and thank yous? Sure we do. Do we also think that, as their parents, we aren't required to spin our rules into requests? You'd better believe it--with all due respect to the Grandfather-man (and to the future respect that could potentially be gained by doing so.)

Harry said he would reflect on that Grandfather-man's advice and remember to be tender at the time-to-be-tender-times with his boys. At which point I reminded him that he is quite tender at those times. Those time-to-be-tender ones, that is.


So you know? It sucks, really. It sucks that a black boy standing in the wrong place at the wrong time--even when he's innocent and doing nothing worth even noticing--needs to recognize that sometimes--no, most times--he needs to move on the first time the order is issued. He needs to get moving with as little protest as possible and with or without the "please" or the cherry on top.


Oh. And have we already been having these conversations with our seven and nine year old black men-children at our kitchen table? You're damn right we have. Not because we want to, but because we have to. And if this is something you will never have to think of for your son? Say a prayer of thanks. And if the thought of us and many other families being required to makes you sad? That's okay because it should.

Our kids pleaded to stay and hang out with their friends up until the last second when we loaded them into the car.

"That's not fair," one of the boys mumbled from the back seat.

"Nor is life," Harry replied.

Nor is life.


Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . as poignant now as it was when he recorded it. If not more. Listen and reflect on what is happening in the world right now. I'm too sad to specifically address it but know that, like Harry, I just did.


And next, this one from May 19, 2014 . . . . . which gives insight of how this sounds from the mouthes of babes.



And that's the way it is.

My boy at his bus stop

When you question me for a simple answer
I don't know what to say, no
But it's plain to see, if you stick together
You're gonna find a way, yeah
So don't surrender 'cause you can win
In this thing called love
When you want it the most there's no easy way out
When you're ready to go and your heart's left in doubt
Don't give up on your faith
Love comes to those who believe it
And that's the way it is

~ Celine Dion


She creates a space for those kids to talk about things. No, not just little kid things like Legos and Barbie dolls or Minecraft and rubber bracelets. She gives them permission to speak freely of more salient things affecting the world that they live in.

Yes. That.

So on a carpet in that room, last week she opened a dialogue with those children like she always does. But what that really means is that she carved out some time for an unplanned topic, driven by their first grade ideas and passions. Not so overly planned yet not so loosey-goosey that other things don't get done. Again, just a metaphorical window pushed up high enough for them to breathe and share.

Yes. That.

The "big Martin" he suggested they make. To which she obliged.

On this day, my baby boy raised his hand. There was something on his heart, gnawing at his seven year-old self that he needed to get out and into the open. And so, she gave Zachary the floor and, because of the magic she has already created in that room, he lifted his voice with all ears turned in his direction.

"There is this law in Georgia and in Florida and I a little bit think that it's a not good law."

That's pretty close to what he told me he said to open the conversation. And because this is not the first time I've been blessed with a child in her classroom, I know that she turned her head to him and raised her eyebrows, her nonverbal way of nudging him forward.

"Like, if you see somebody and you think they look like they might hurt you or you feel like they might be a robber or a thief or something, if you have a gun you can shoot them and you won't even go to jail. Just because you think they look like they could be a little bit, um, suspicious."

Yes. Suspicious.

He went on. "There was this boy in Florida. And he was just walking down the street minding his business and you know what? It was raining so he had on a sweatshirt but like with a hoodie. You know, a hood. And this man, he saw the boy and he thought that he looked like he was suspicious and like maybe he could be a robber or a thief. But really, he wasn't. So the man, he like chased the boy and attacked him and then they were like wrestling and stuff. But that man, he had a gun and so then he shot the boy and he DIED. And nothing happened. He didn't even go to jail."

It was raining on this day, too.

And, you know? She didn't have to say a word. Because those kids grabbed that topic and carried it right along on their own. Some were outraged and others were just sort of pensive and thinking. And, okay, we live in a fairly liberal area, but still. I love knowing that these children not only were thinking about important things but that, without having their ideas shaken or stirred, they could. So, yes. Zachary's topic grabbed their interest. Some asked questions that were quickly filled in by other children in the class who knew a bit about this, too.

"The boy, his name was Trayvon Martin," one friend said. And then she--also a first grader--commenced to let the group know a bit more about who Trayvon was specifically. All of which seemed to be accurate.

That wonderful woman who leads that wonderful space that my baby boy calls his homeroom was so in awe that she sent an email to both that little girl's parents and to Harry and me. She told us a bit of the important things our children had shared and how, from the mouths of babes, a rich discussion ensued.

Another bus stop shot

The following morning while standing at the bus stop, I asked my boy about it. I wanted to hear what he said with my own ears and answer any questions he might have. And you know? He repeated the whole story to me. He even said, "One person asked me, 'Why would they think the boy with the hoodie on was a robber or a thief?' and I just told them the truth."  And so I asked him what, indeed, that was. "That some people think that people with black skin might be a robber or a thief even if they're not. That's why it's a bad law because, like, somebody could look at my dad and think HE is a robber or a thief and just take a gun and shoot him. And they won't even go to jail."

Yes. That's what my son said. And so, like her, I said little and let him speak. And honestly, he didn't have a lot of questions, just mostly ideas that he needed to get out. "That's such a bad, bad law, Mom. And it's in Georgia, Mom. That's why I told my class because it's in Georgia where we live."

And I nodded because he's right.

"There's one thing I didn't say, though, Mama. Because I didn't want anybody to feel sad." He craned is neck to look for the bus and his little face grew serious.

"What's that, son?"

"I didn't say it but if Dad saw a man with white skin and he felt like he looked suspicious or something and then if Dad took his gun and shot THAT man then Dad WOULD go to jail. Even though that man who shot that boy in Florida didn't."

I am not kidding you. This is what my 7 year-old son told me in the morning haze as we searched for red blinking lights on a big yellow school bus. "Why do you think that, son?"

"Because," he said. "That's just the way it is."

And with that, he stepped onto Mr. Sanders' bus, waved goodbye and told me to have a great day. My eyes filled with tears as they pulled away. I'm still not sure if they were because of immense pride, immense sorrow, or both.



And thank you, Ms. R., for giving my son a place to share his truth that day and for being the same person who encouraged him to learn and sing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" in front of his class.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . "That's the Way it Is" as sung by Ms. Celine Dion. (Yes, she annoys me, but I've always liked this song and her voice.) I've heard this on my mental iPod ever since that conversation with my son.


  1. Thank you for these repostings. I can't express to you how important they are to read, and I will share them. Thank you. May your boys grow up safe and strong and true.

  2. Dear Dr. Kimberly,
    A friend and I share your posts. Thank you so much for everything you write, and especially today's post/re-posts. Here is what I wrote in response to my friend's email (I teach at Morehouse):

    Yeah, I'm on her list, so I read her all the time.
    And, yeah, babe, for the past twenty-five years, Kimberly's reality has been mine, too. No, of course not in the same way--even I can't be that much of an arrogant asshole. But the losses and the pain and anger and even fear in the hearts and minds and faces of the young men whom I've been privileged to call my little brothers, then sons, and now grandsons--those truths never, ever leave me.
    And that is as it should be until racism is no more.
    I plan to be downtown this evening.

    Thank you again. Your words and life make us all stronger.

  3. I'm sorry, I couldn't read the two re-posts. The introduction already had me in tears. When my oldest grandson was born, I showed a picture of him to a good friend at work. Ruth is a beautiful black woman who has lost a grandson to senseless violence. She very lovingly said to me "You know, he will be considered black." The answer that came immediately from my heart was "Why should it matter?" I wish I could still wonder why it should matter.

  4. Your sons are our future. Tears come to my eyes as I read again your posts. Let our future live to old age. LN

  5. I remember these powerful posts. Hold your boys close. They are beautiful and good. They are our hope and our treasure. But you know that. Thank you.


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

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