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My Children, Our Country, Your Children

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These are the children of our Nation, and we ALL have let them down.

Mine lies sleeping in the back room that used to be my office, then my bedroom, now her bedroom, of our small Brooklyn apartment.  She is just two, the age of the magical wonder.  Perhaps that continues, I think, but I am amazed at the awareness and cognitive abilities, at the aptitude and grace of her personality, at the sheer determination, independence, even feistiness manifested at times in the "terrible twos." The perceptiveness, the tender pats and soft eyes of compassion that most adults have lost.  

"The innocence," a woman tells me yesterday when we are discussing the age of discovery at two, and I utter "yes" in agreement, but I am thinking to the contrary. I am thinking of the knowing, the consciousness, the way my daughter took my hand and led me to the other side of the dinner table to sit on the bench beside her father, with her between us, the day after her dad and I had gotten into a fight.  

She is only two, I was thinking.

I vowed that I would never yell at her or slam doors or yell at her dad. I have almost kept that promise, but my human flaws have taken over my intention, as they do the best of us, I guess.  I didn't want to subject her to the stress and inconsistency of expressed anger or frustration. I  have rarely yelled at her, only when I have been pushed fiercely and have not had a break. And now and then I have risen my voice at her dad, once or twice slammed a door, and in both cases I have apologized to her and told her I was frustrated.

I so want to garner her trust and allow her to feel safe in her home, even under the most stressful circumstances. I know that it is the inconsistency, the sudden bursts of anger from adults that can confuse children and cause retreat. These bursts can confuse anyone, for that matter. But children cannot rationalize, "oh, mommy is just exhausted and me and daddy have not been very kind to her today."  

My daughter will have her crosses to bear, and I feel adamant that I will not be one of them.  

My daughter is black, and I am white. Her father is also white. We shall try, always, to honor her culture, allow her to break from ours, as she wants, and encourage this separation of selves and color. I want her to be proud of her African ancestry. Proud of her beautiful, kinky hair and brown skin. I want her to know the heroes of her past, not just Martin Luther King, but also Fred Hampton, Ted Corbit, Huey Newton, and Nina Simone, to name a few.

I want to write theatre and books that incorporate the struggle of the African American, and I, myself, want to continue to educate myself so that I might help educate her to these pasts.  

Not only will my daughter have to deal with the pain of difference in our home, or the loss that comes with adoption, but my daughter will have to deal with being black in America. We shall try to celebrate this and not allow the prejudice and ignorance to let us fray. Nonetheless, I know there will be a time in the ugliest parts of our country's soul when my daughter will be faced with ignorance and unkindness. My heart breaks to think of her fragile spirit having to bandage these wounds that will cut her unexpectedly. Luckily, she is surrounded by love and encouragement, by support and acceptance, as family, friends and neighbors welcome her into their smiles and conversation.

I think about all the delicate hearts of black children who must face the cruelty of our world. Then I think about the other obstacles and injustices handed to these children that my daughter will be spared. 37.9% of black children in this country lived in poverty in 2012. This is atrocious. And when I think about this statistic and what our country is doing to the next generation of blacks in the United States, I feel sick.  These are the children of our Nation, and we ALL have let them down. 25% of all children under five in this country live in poverty.  One quarter of our future generation are being brought up in poverty.

Do you know what living in poverty means? It means that children are raised with poor nutrition, in tough neighborhoods, have a ten times greater rate of school drop out than children from higher income families, are more likely to have a parent in prison and themselves to wind up in prison, and are subjected to stress due to all of the aforementioned.

This burden they shall carry with them while struggling to become adults in our society. What, then, becomes of these adults? 

Have I digressed from my daughter's future identity struggle? I think not. Our nation perpetuates this cycle of poverty, prison, and ill-health for a large percentage of the black community. These are my daughter's people. Her other family, her ancestors, her future children. Ignorance says, "they want to be there," but Knowledge shows those of higher income and privilege, primarily white, put them there. We have never made amends for the fact that most blacks in this country are descendents of slaves, and we continue to oppress them in their "freedom." We have not given the black man and woman a fair chance at education and opportunity. We have allowed prejudice and ignorance to isolate, marginalize, and blame those living in poverty, rather than making a leap of change to give all children in this country a chance.

How might we help give a brighter view to our children?

Advocate that public schools are all funded adequately if not equally. 

Tell your congress to invest in public preschool programs that are free to all for at least a year pre-K.

"Rigorous, longitudinal studies of both the Perry Preschool Project and the Chicago Child Parent Centers have projected a return of seven dollars to every one dollar of public investment in high-quality preschool programs."

In a recent issue of New York Times, Nicholas Kristof has a very informative op-ed about the one state in the country that is offering free pre-school to all children: Oklahoma. There are several studies quoted, and the proof is out there about the efficiency of this spending in terms of breaking the poverty cycle.

To allow children and young adults the opportunity of education is one thing we can do as a society that we know will pay off in its return on investment. In this vein, we can also help push legislation that certain state university education be affordable or free to all.

On a very local and personal level, create an environment of knowledge and nonjudgmental awareness, starting at home. We really never know the burdens that another man, woman, or child suffers unless we are them.  

The truth is that we all owe our black brothers and sisters of this country. It starts with the children. We owe reparations, apologies, jobs, education, and a chance.

And that's the Shameful Truth.

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