Dear, Sweet Friends.
This week, I cry for Baltimore. For the family of Freddie Gray, who lost their son, and who are waiting on details of his death. I cry for the business owners, whose livelihoods have been compromised, for the peaceful protestors, who are attempting to create change in a country where the status quo goes unchallenged, and for the rioters who seem to feel there is no other way.
Readers, six months ago, I was like most of white America—in disbelief that people would be rioting when Michael Brown was shot by police. I saw the video of him in the convenience store, and believed that he was probably killed in self-defense. I believed that if he had “behaved,” then he would most likely still be alive.
Then the killing of Tamir Rice happened in Ohio. A little boy, playing with what looked like a real gun, was shot by police officers within seconds of their arrival on the scene. Now, my original thought was “you don’t play with a real-looking gun and expect to be treated carefully.” but there was something I couldn’t shake about that. Tamir Rice was a little boy, who when confronted by the police, reached for a toy—probably to show them it was a toy—and was killed. He was a little boy. Not a grown “thug.” Not a violent offender. A little boy.
Tamir Rice’s killing was a game changer.
You see, friends. I don’t have a close relationship with an adult, black male. I have a couple of friendships with black women, who I laugh with and foster relationships with because we’ve hit it off. Outside of those friendships, most of my daily interactions are with white people. (I want to change this.)
But readers, I know and love quite a few black chidren.
We sat opposite one another on our first day of school. They were wide-eyed, eager to learn; wondering who I was, and if I was nervous, too. They wanted to know things about me, and I wanted to learn about them. They gave shy smiles, and frequent hugs. They were great artists and good at math.
When you’re a teacher, you begin calling your students “my kids” within the first few weeks of school. Not long after that, they become “my babies.” And, by the end of the year, “my babies” were MY BABIES. My Babies, meaning I would have laid my life down for them, brought them into my home if needed, fed them until they were eighteen, and then paid for them to go to college. I absolutely love every single student I’ve ever had the distinct pleasure to teach. Every. One. Even the most difficult of cases.
Over 50% of the students I’ve had the privilege to teach are black. A lot of them are boys. Those boys are not much younger than Tamir Rice, and less than ten years behind Michael Brown. They will grow up to be black men like Freddie Gray and Walter Scott.
Those are My Babies. I’ve invested my love, time, talent, and even my money into helping them succeed. I told them they could be doctors, astronauts, and the President. We worked together—learning to read, multiply, and name the planets in order. I cried with them when they said “Mrs. Yurisich, you don’t know my pain.” I have hugged necks, kissed the tops of heads, ruffled curly hair, and cried a lot of tears for My Babies. Their parents and I have worked together to make sure they are academically prepared to go out and be amazing. So you can imagine how disheartening it is to see what our society expects them to grow into. I literally can’t imagine the fears of their parents, who daily live with the knowledge that society expects their children to be a statistic.
How are we supposed to teach black boys to feel like they’re important, when all society has to say to them is “If you want to matter, pull up your pants, speak correctly, and act meekly.”
How are we supposed to teach them to trust, when anytime they walk down the street, they’re considered suspicious?
And, most importantly, how do we prove to them that their voices matter, when the majority of America refuses to acknowledge the struggle the black community faces in regard to equality?
I know exactly zero answers, to the questions above. But I hold fast to the Truth. The Truth that My God will never leave them or forsake them. That He has a beautiful plan to “prosper and not harm” them. “Plans for a hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
My Babies and I know racism didn’t end with the Civil Rights Era. They experience its effects. We know even though Ruby Bridges walked through the halls of William Frantz Public School, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched to Selma, that the door is still only half-open to them. As they grow, I hope we push against the door and open it wider and wider, until they’re free to walk through it the same way their crazy teacher and her white friends have been doing since birth.
The first step in helping My Babies walk into a brighter future is for us to listen. We need to listen to the needs of the black community. We don’t need to offer suggestions, or attempt to brush off the fact that systemic racism is alive and well. We need to listen to the concerns and acknowledge the pain others feel. When we say “I see that you’ve been hurt. What can I do?” instead of “Oh, it wasn’t that bad. Get over it.” we open ourselves up to be a part of the solution by hearing each other out. But we have to focus on being Listeners. Not Fixers, Suggestors, or Opinion-Offerers. Just Listeners.
I don’t know what it’s like to be black. I can’t say that I’ll ever fully comprehend what it is like to live outside the bubble of my white-ness. But I can tell you one thing. I want this world to be a better place for My Babies. I want all of them, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, or a combination of those, to feel heard, empowered, and important. They’re My Babies. I love them. And I can’t be silent when I know there is more to be done.
“We lay down our safe, comfortable homogenous ghettos, and in You will be strong and courageous to warrior for diversity, for racial harmony, for Kindgom community, because our God is not American, but our God is African, and Jamaican and Dominican and about Global Kingdom of God.”
-Ann Voskamp #pray703