Is Today the Day?

From the day my son was born I have had a sick feeling in the bottom of my belly. Truthfully it began while I was pregnant. Pure unadulterated fear and anxiety of knowing that black mommas don’ t have the luxury of knowing the day nor the time that our sons transition from being cute to a threat in the United States. My son is coming up on his 8thbirthday. He’s an avid reader, takes Tae Kwon Do, loves to swim, has the absolute sweetest spirit and demeanor. But he’s also in the 90thpercentile for height, which means most people think he’s older than he is. That alone scares the living daylights out of me.

17-year old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a white vigilantly neighborhood watchman in his own neighborhood on February 26, 2012. At the time my only son was 7 months old. I remember the resounding fear that I felt for my son. I don’t know another chocolate mom that has not lived with this unsettling angst every day of their son’s lives. I understand this is a concept difficult for our vanilla mommas to comprehend. Each day when my husband and son leave my home I say an extra prayer for their safe return. Why, because 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot by a policeman playing in the park across the street from his home for playing with a toy gun. Well guess what, my son likes toy soldiers, Pokémon’, slime and toy guns too.

Today my son participated in an away swim meet. I was there and volunteered as a turn judge. Now volunteering as a judge is a shared responsibility for swim parents. It requires concentration on the match which sometimes means you leave your own children for other team moms to look after in between events. This is the second year my children have participated on this mostly white summer swim team. Our families see each other a total of four days a week. You can’t spend that amount of time and not become loosely familiar with one another.

During the meet I glance over at a table and see my daughter, son and one of my daughter’s teammates sitting at a table sharing a bag of pretzels. I smile at the kind gesture of my daughter’s friend to share her family’s snacks. A few moments later the young girl is beckoned by the coach for her event and my daughter follows to cheer her on. This meant the bag of pretzels she’d brought was left on the table with my son.

Now remember, I’m judging so I have to watch the match, which usually takes anywhere from :45 seconds to 1 minute. When the race is over my son tugs my right leg and says “momma, I think so and so’s mom is mad at me and thinks I stole their bag of pretzels.” So I ask for more detail and he says that during the match the mom and her son approached the table, snatched the bag from the table and told him “these don’t belong to you, they are ours.”

At this moment, the next match is about to begin and I can’t address it. So, I tell my son to go get his sister and I’ll deal with it when the meet is over. This is a teammates mom. So she at least knows we are on the same team. And here’s where there’s a divide and difference among mothers in this country. I am now concerned on a level my Caucasian mothers wouldn’t have to be. It would be nice to think of this as a misunderstanding without consequence. But I don’t have this luxury. See there are Permit Patty’s out there waiting for moments like this to call the police and proclaim my son a thief. This type of implicit biased could cost my 8-year old son his life. Yes, it’s just that serious to me.

By the end of the match her well meaning daughter had explained that she offered my children the pretzels and the mom has apologized to my children. When I approach, she says “Your children are so sweet. I’m so sorry, I just looked up and saw our bag of pretzels on the other table and went to get them. I think I frightened him when I took them back.”

I accepted her apology and remind her that my children are not thieves and leave. In the car on the 30-minute ride home, I have to explain to my children why they cannot share things the same way their other “friends” can and how dangerous situations like that can be. Plus, it’s totally unnecessary because my children need and want for absolutely nothing “so if someone offers you something, just politely decline.”

So here’s my question, would the mom have reacted the same if my son looked different? Some would think I’ve put too much thought into it, but what I know for sure is that I can’t afford not to.

Tomorrow I will bring that “team mom” a super sized bag of pretzels with a bow on it.

But maybe today’s the day that my Hershey has gone from cute to a threat.

Chocolate Mothers everywhere pray for our sons

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Ripple Effect of Kindness

Corrie ten Boom said “Every experience God gives us….is the perfect preparation for the future only He can see.”

I took my babies to Walmart today for a budgeting exercise. In short, they wanted out of the house and to spend money. They have a monthly stipend for such excursions. It’s amazing how selective they are on choosing items, when it’s their money versus ours. When we got to the checkout, there was a Caucasian woman, her mom and two kids in front of us. When it was time for them to pay, it exceeded what was available on her card. She immediately removed a box of pop tarts to deduct from the bill. She then rummaged through her bags trying to figure out what else to put back. Her daughter, who looked the same age as mine looked but didn’t say anything. I tried to think back to what I’d seen on the conveyor belt. It was nothing crazy. I remembered seeing a family pack of hamburger and a loaf of bread.

I then interjected and told her to pay what she could and I would pay the rest. She asked me if I was sure. I re-assured her I was solid in my decision and then asked the cashier to give her babies their pop tarts back. And before someone says, that was a want and not a need. My children like pop tarts and so do a lot of other folks I know. She said “ma’am I only have $100 on my EBT card and the bill is $142.” I replied “that’s fine.” The mom and the grandma cried and hugged me and asked if they could ever repay me. I told them not with money, but I have no doubt her children would one day be in a position to do the same for someone else.

Her son who was slightly older than his sister asked the mom why she was crying. She didn’t respond. The grandma made sure to tell me how God would bless me. Little did she know how very Blessed I am already.

See, I didn’t help her to expedite her transaction. I didn’t help her for blog content. I helped her because I remember being in that very spot as a child and my mom having to make tough choices at the register. I remember being embarrassed and wanting to cry. I remember how hard I know my mom worked at two-part time jobs trying to provide for me and my brother on her own and thinking people would make a snap judgment about her at the register. They’d assume she didn’t work. They’d assume she was lazy. They’d assume a whole lot of stuff that just wasn’t true. So, I helped her because I wanted to grant this woman’s children a little relief. I helped her because it was an opportunity for me to sow a seed in her children.

Little did I know that one act of kindness would have such a ripple effect. See, my children were also watching. When we got to the car Morgan said “mom, you are a really nice person. That was an awesome thing to do.” In that moment I shared with them how I felt as a child in that same predicament and how important it is for us to help others when we can and to not take our Blessings for granted but use them to help uplift people. I gave my children a charge and reminded them that whom much is given, much is also required (Luke 12:48).

I’m mighty grateful for ALL of my experiences, both good and not so good and I’m grateful for moments that remind me of God’s goodness and His perfect timing.

“Every experience God gives us….is the perfect preparation for the future only He can see.”

 

Black Flight

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What happens when America’s best and brightest African Americans feel unsafe, unwanted and disrespected? They leave. Oh sure, for years white supremacist have been spewing “go back to Africa,” but what will happen to this country when we really do? Okay, so not all of us are landing bomb jobs in the motherland, but I know quite a few highly educated African Americans that are choosing to give those racists just what they asked for.

So exactly how many of us are working and living abroad? It’s a tough question since the United States doesn’t formally track how many Americans leave the US either temporarily or permanently. But I do know that a number of people of color in my circle are teaching or in school administration abroad. Some are starting businesses and taking their families with them. I personally know folks that are working in Japan, United Arab Emeritas, and South Africa.

Every time I have to say goodbye to a friend, I am thoroughly happy and excited for them. I’m excited about the surge of African Americans becoming global citizens in every sense of the word. And I totally get it. It becomes more and more difficult to fight the same fight with the same folks either denying a problem or straight up shooting people of color in the streets.

When I was younger I remember my dad talking about how African American soldiers were treated so much better in other countries. And I remember asking then, “why didn’t they stay?” The truth is, some did. Now this is not to say that people of color do not experience racism abroad. Of course we do and to be honest it has a lot to do with how our own country treats us. Those fallacies about us being lazy and uneducated perpetuates across country lines. The bigoted television programs and storylines that America has syndicated don’t help. Writing us out of storylines can be just as harmful. But what does help and is when African Americans visit, work and live in other countries and introduce our culture.

I got love for the United States of America. It’s my home. It’s the country my husband, daddy, uncles and countless other family members signed up to protect, fought for and died for. It’s where we raise our family and give back to our community. But America is hardheaded and refuses to deal with real issues that have infected it like a cancer. Racism in America will be its downfall if not dealt with head on.

Kudos to all the talented African Americans choosing to use their genius where they feel safe, wanted and respected even if it means using their passport to get there. I ain’t mad at you and we are certainly not opposed.

 

 

A Mother’s Plea

Image.jpgWhen I was in the third grade, way back in the 80s, I won my first city-wide writing award. It was for a paper about Dr. Martin Luther King’s Jr. famous I Have a Dream Speech. I didn’t keep the paper, but I can imagine my rendition had something to do with how I wanted the world to give me an equal shot. Life experiences taught me very quickly that “equal” was a dream deferred for children of color in the United States.

I held out hope though that making good decisions and life choices, may bare equality for my future children. As my ninth mother’s day approaches my heart is heavy with the weight of reality that my children are NOT safe and still will not be treated equally. I’m also hit with the reality that this is an exclusive burden that mothers of color in this country share. But it’s one I hope all mothers can imagine to be absolutely heartbreaking!

You see, as I examine the world we live in, my reality is my children are NOT safe in school and I’m referring to disparities of expulsions particularly of African American boys. I’m sure the parents of the 12-year-old boy suspended in Ohio for staring at a female caucasian student understands. My children are NOT safe in their home and I’m referring to 7-year-old Aiyana Jones who was shot in her home and 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was gunned down in the park across the street from where he lived. My children are NOT safe in cars like 17-year-old Jordan Davis who was shot in a car because of loud music. My children are NOT safe to walk in their neighborhood, just think about Trayvon Martin. It’s NOT safe for my children to go shopping just think of Nordstrom Rack, where three black teens in Brentwood had police called on them while they shopped for prom. They are NOT even safe at college, just ask Yale graduate student Lolade Siyonbola who endured police questioning for sleeping in her dorm’s common area or my female assistant who had an officer pull his gun on her during a routine stop while in graduate school. They are NOT safe from civilians or law enforcement. They are NOT safe inside or outside. They simply are NOT safe.

I’ve never understood Dr. Martin Luther King’s plea that his “children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” more than I do on this very day. I wholeheartedly pray that our children will have unending Favor, Grace and Mercy and that they will be Blessings to others and be committed to carrying out their God given assignments without interruption from those that mean them harm. On this Mother’s Day, pray for your children and pray for mothers of color who carry this extremely heavy burden each and every day, including Mother’s Day.

 

Sincerely,

Chocolate Mother

 

 

Photos by Laura Saavedra

She’s Human, Let’s Just Roll With That

I’m a working mom. That means I juggle a lot, but I still pick up our babies each day after school, help with homework, talk about their friends, set up playdates etc.. Now don’t get me wrong, my husband is one of a kind and he’s very involved. However, last week I spent three nights away working and don’t tell them, but I missed my children. Yeah I know the same babies that I’ve prayed would give me a minute to myself. It’s funny how that works.

So while away, I found a play that I was sure they’d enjoy and I’d get to spend some much needed quality time. Grace for President was playing in Raleigh and although about an hour drive, we were up for it and they’d read the book so it was a perfect way to spend a Sunday evening. In the play, Grace Campbell realizes we haven’t had a female president. The lack of females in the White House, sparks her idea for a school election.

After a great performance we headed to the lobby for cast autographs and I ran into one of my work colleagues that lives in that area. She was there with her transgender daughter. Her daughter, which outwardly appeared male, identified as female. So she introduced her maybe 9-year old as her daughter Leah. I quickly shook Leah’s hand and told her I was happy to meet her. But then came time to introduce Leah to my two children.

Let me preface this by saying, we’ve never had this talk. We’ve never really had a reason to, plus my children are 8 and 6 and I really thought I had more time. This was my first experience meeting a transgender elementary age person and while I faced this new adventure intrepidly, I was nervous as hell to think what my children may say or how they may react. But I also thought it as a wonderful learning opportunity. So I introduced my daughter who’s 8 and wise beyond her years first. “Morgan, this is Leah.” Without hesitation or making a funny facial expression she reached for Leah’s hand and said “nice to meet you” with a warm smile. Next up was my 6-year-old son who missed his sister’s introduction because he was getting his last cast autograph. “Garrett, meet Leah,” I said. He drops his head and says “hi.” I asked if he could shake Leah’s hand, but it really wasn’t a question and he knew that. He slowly raises his right hand to meet Leah’s right hand.

I stand and make pleasantries for a few minutes about dinner plans, profession updates etc.. and I slip up once and refer to Leah as he but immediately catch myself and self correct and her mom is gracious enough to remind me gently “she.” We leave with parting hugs and go our separate ways.

When we’re beyond earshot I ask my children if we need to discuss meeting Leah and how they felt. My daughter says “well, to tell you the truth, I was a little confused. I mean she looked like a boy but she’s a girl. She’s a girl right?” “Yes she was born a boy but identifies as a girl,” I said.

“Well, does she have a penis or a vagina?” She asked. “I certainly wouldn’t know that,” I said “but I think the important thing is that we respect her wishes and refer to her as her girl.”

Insert uncomfortable pregnant pause.

“I figure it’s really none of my business,” Morgan said and to tell the truth the only thing we know for certain is that she’s human. So let’s just roll with that.”

I pat her on the back and say good that’s how I was hoping you’d look at it. I then turn to my son who’s two years younger and intensely listening. I asked him how he felt meeting someone like Leah and he said “I don’t know, I was really confused.”

“Well there’s no need to be confused,” I said. “She was introduced by her mom as a girl and so that’s what she is.” “I know that mom,” he said. “But …my eyes said she’s a boy.”

“I’m sure son, but remember that our brains tell our eyes what they see. So, like Morgan said, she’s human.” “Yup, the only thing I know for sure is she’s a person,” he said. “So let’s just roll with that.

These are not conversations my mom had to have with me, it was a different time. But there a few fundamentals I picked up as a kid that I was happy to pass on.

1) God makes each of us uniquely in His image.

2) Treat people like you want to be treated.

3) Love thy neighbors as ourselves.

I sincerely wish my colleague and her daughter the absolute best as I know first hand this world can be cruel. But I also know there’s a lot of love in it and those with it are responsible for teaching it to our children.

 

 

No Longer a Tumbleweed

My husband often uses the analogy of tumbleweeds to describe the importance of history. Tumbleweeds dry out and detach from their roots and stems. They just blow in the wind. It’s hard to find your purpose and more importantly ride out a storm without having roots. In fact, there’s a Malay Proverb that says “A tree with strong roots laughs at storms.”

Years ago I had a unique opportunity to visit east India. While there on a Rotarian sponsored trip I stayed with different families. The first family I stayed with was that of a prominent businessman and his wife who was a teacher. When the driver opened the door, the very first face I saw was a young girl about 10 or 11 with a cocoa complexion. Her smile was warm. Her eyes glowed and she immediately shook my hand. My host introduced her as Rocky, a farm girl they had adopted and brought to live with them to provide her with an education and give her a better life.

Rocky only spoke Hindi and I only speak English. Our communication barrier was no secret, but in a world where complexions matter it was obvious that Rocky was thrilled to see and touch mine. Every time she spoke to me, I smiled and told her how sorry I was that I only speak English. After a few minutes, Rocky’s eyes filled with tears. She hung her head low and walked away silently. My host was kind enough to translate as I am sure I had a look of confusion.

“Rocky was asking you to teach her your secret language,” he said. “What secret language?” I replied. “The language of people that look like you and her in your country. She was hurt because she promised not to tell anyone, but she feels as though you don’t trust her.”

If only Rocky knew that many of my people, people of African descent are like tumbleweeds. We don’t have a secret language. It’s a consolation prize from years of bondage during slavery. We don’t know the language of our ancestors because we don’t know where we are from. It’s a tough conversation and difficult for most people outside of our unique circumstance to understand.

I grew up in small city in upstate New York with one of the largest refugee centers in the nation. I had the privilege of learning about so many different cultures. I had Italian friends whose grandmother’s only spoke Italian and had secret family cannoli recipes. I had Laotian friends whose grandparents only spoke Laotian and had home made temples to worship in their homes. When children grow up around children from different places they learn their geography, their religion and cultural differences. However, most Black families were one generation removed from migrant farming. So when you ask us about our roots, the answer is usually a southern state. That’s it. That’s about the extent of where we can say we are from. We don’t have a language all our own and we don’t have recipes from before our involuntary voyage.

A few months ago my husband bought me an Ancestry DNA test. No, I didn’t run to take it. In fact, it sat on the table for about two weeks. I was curious, but I’d seen several friends do it and come back with a gazillion different ethnic regions and still walk away feeling incomplete. Plus, it requires fasting before you take it and well, I like to graze. I can’t remember when I did it, but I certainly remember the day I got my results; Wednesday October 4, 2017.

I wasn’t sure I’d feel different knowing more about my ancestry. But there’s an unexplainable sense of peace in feeling connected to a people and a land. Even if you don’t know anything about it. My results came back over 30% from Togo, which is a pretty high. So, this is the beginning of a discovery phase for me to learn as much as I can about its’ history, culture and people.

I wish I could find Rocky and tell her that my secret language is more than likely Ewe’ but French will do. I wish I could tell her that my region is much like hers, filled with farmers and huts, but has over 30 miles of coastline on the Gulf of Guinea. I wish I could explain to her that at 42 years old I am just now beginning to take root.

Togo

Longest 11 Minutes of my Life

It was a lazy Sunday. All of us were tired. No one rushed to do anything. My husband made oatmeal for breakfast. My son walked around in his favorite Spiderman costume all day. My daughter was comfortable in her leggings and favorite t-shirt. The babies watched two movies, I watched a Little League World Series game and my husband tinkered away on a ‘Do It Yourself’ project. I mustered up the energy to start dinner; baked barbecue chicken, mashed sweet potatoes and some veggies. The only problem was I was missing one ingredient. Don’t you hate that? I mean, you’ve prepped the kitchen and the meal. You’ve pre-heated the oven and can now taste this meal only to figure out you’re missing an ingredient. In my case it was evaporated milk for the mashed sweet potatoes.

One of the best things about where we live is the proximity to stores. My grocery store of choice is in our neighborhood and about one mile from our front step. I can drive there in about 5 minutes. No stoplights, no major streets on the route. I have on a t-shirt, some workout shorts and a baseball cap and I have NO interest in changing. My daughter who’s 8 years-old, in the 4th grade and very bright loves any kind of shopping and was up for the quick run. For a split second I remember how often I went to the store independently at her age. I was 6-years-old the first time I walked to the corner store with a list of stuff for my grandma. I’m sure I will age myself when I tell you that I didn’t need any money. Mr. Sam was the owner and he knew all the neighborhood kids and our families. My grandma and granddaddy had a running tab.

But, this ain’t the 80s and our grocery store is a lot bigger than Mr. Sam’s corner store. So, no my daughter had never been in the store by herself. But when I mentioned the possibility, she lit up. “I got this momma.” I know exactly where it is. Let me do it. I can do it momma. You stay in the car and I can run in and get it.”

Now, to be honest I know she CAN do it. She goes with me all the time. She helps me cook and she’s very mature. So, I reluctantly agree.

In walks FEAR. We pull up to the grocery store and the parking spot right in front of the door is occupied. I look around and I see a spot within eyeshot, BUT I’ve decided I’m not ready for this and as I turn off the car, I renege on my offer to let her experience a small dose of independence.

“I’m sorry Morgan I’m just not comfortable letting you go, there’s a lot of things to consider. We’ll go together.” “Come on mom,” she says. “I got this. RELAX. We come here all the time, they know me.” I take a minute and remember that the same cashier works their almost every Sunday and has known my baby since birth. She asks about her when she’s not with me. “How’s your baby?” she asks. “Is she in dance this year?”

I look at my baby’s face and I reluctantly agree. I write a quick note: EVAPORATED MILK (Baking Isle). I hand her a $20 bill and tell her she can also get a bag of icees for her and her brother. I write on the note, Icees (Cheese Isle). I remind her not to talk to strangers and make sure she counts her change.

“Got it,” she says as the car door slams behind her. “Be right back.”

I see her walk away at 5:07 p.m. and in walks INSECURITY. People will think I am a bad mom. Lord, folks are going to think I have lost my mind. But before I could finish my insecure moment, in walks FEAR again. What if she talks to strangers? What if she gets kidnapped? What if she gets lost in the grocery store? What if I didn’t give her enough money? If she’s not back in 10 minutes, I’m going in. I roll down the window and what do I see? A fellow mom and community member coming out the same door she went in.

Lord, now it’s out. I’m a bad mom and I let my baby go into the store by herself. I wave frantically, cause I’m like at least let me let her know I’m RIGHT HERE. She doesn’t see me and keeps walking. The time is now 5:11 p.m. and I know I said I’d wait 10 minutes, but this must be a sign I need to go in.

I roll up the window, turn off the car and open the car door. As I am getting ready to jump out I remind myself how smart she is. That she makes good decisions. I think back to when I was her age and I grab my phone and begin to glance from the phone to the window, phone to the window and low and behold, it’s 5:18 and I’m out the car on my way in cause it’s now 11 minutes and who do I see sashaying out with a small cart with the biggest Kool Aid grin I’ve seen her with in a minute?

I don’t tell her I was on my way in, but I do ask “What took you so long?” She says “I’m sorry I had a little trouble finding the right brand. I grabbed one that looked familiar and then I thought let me hurry up, I know this is killing my mom.”

I tell her she did an awesome job and I am really proud of her, but I’m just not ready for all of this. She gives me a big hug and says, “well I was hoping you’d let me go back inside and get something sweet to celebrate my victory.” My face must have told her my thoughts because she immediately starts fast talking about how she wanted to come out and ask first because it wasn’t her money and not on the list. “I know exactly where it is and it won’t take me but a second,” she pleads.

I hand her $10 from the change and remind her to pick up something for her brother and I hold my breath for another 3 whole minutes.

I’m not sure there’s a magical age, where this would ever had been okay, but I can say that any second thoughts I had lessened when after telling me blow by blow what happened and what she witnessed she gave me a tight squeeze and said “Thanks for trusting me with such a big job mom. I know that was tough for you.”

She’s right, but I also know there are two gifts we should give our children, one is roots and the other is wings. Let’s just pray I don’t have a heart attack watching them learn to fly.

ME.Summer.17