Often we refer to our second coming or our second wind as the rebirth. We constantly hear about how something needs to be remade or redone. This weekend I saw ‘The Birth Of A Nation’ and indeed it did reflect what so many of us know and what so many others wish to deny. A nation built by the ancestors of our brothers and sisters. A nation that reflects the true Queen and King status of each and every one of us.
As brothers and sister we stand side by side with one another and face to face with adversity.
She bore us all. Brown skin of all shades, strong bones and tough hair. Kings and Queens from birth. We built and grew a land all our own. We had become one with our land and others grew jealous. With force and weapons they stole what has always been ours. With shackles upon our feet and whips across our backs we continued to preserve and make beautiful the land that they said did not belong to us. Slavery was determined to be a weakening of the black mind, body, and spirit. But not all. Some ran through dark forests and swam through treacherous waters to escape the devastation that had fallen upon them and their families. Running not only for freedom but for inspiration. With the intent to encourage others to see that hope is as real as night and day. She bore us. And with our birth came the birth of a nation. We need not be reborn for we have always existed.
I had the pleasure of reading a fellow blogger’s post titled “The Plight of the Safe Black Man” and with her many well made points there is one in particular that stands out to me the most, “All too often Black men (boys, girls and women as well) are criminalized. Criminalized at work, in school, in the neighborhood and on the news.”
I see this everyday in my place of employment. I’m a behavioral health worker in an urban school in Philadelphia. The school demographic is primarily Black and Latino students and a small percentage being non Black or Latino. Many of the parents of the Latino students use their children as translators when it comes to interacting with school staff. I watch as staff belittle these students and their families due to a lack of understanding.
I have worked in urban schools before and I saw the same treatment of Black and Brown students in contrast to their non Black peers.
As a behavioral health worker I observe and analyze the treatment, triggers, and behavior of not only my students but any students that I come in contact with. There is a pattern. When Black and brown students misbehave they are left to roam the hallways and rarely is action taken to redirect or encourage the student to turn back to class. In many cases they are deemed a lost cause. This being the case, teachers are giving students the boot at the first sight of a student’s disruption and have little regard if they complete classwork or learn that day.
In a much different scenario non Black or brown students are approached by one and sometimes two teachers at a time. School staff list out the rewards and learning opportunities that children will miss if they do not return to class. The staff use bargaining and whatever it takes to make sure these students properly transition back into their classes. Black and brown students are criminalized in the most shameful ways. I have a class of 11 “behaviorally challenged” boys. The second that a few of them step foot in the school their every step is repeated across walkie talkies with staff being warned of their arrival. They are either bombarded by staff who look for myself and my co-worker to “deal” with the students or completely ignored because no one wants the responsibility.
The treatment that Black and brown students receive shares little similarity to those who are non Black. It sickens me that even from a young age they are criminalized and degraded and given up on. These reactions are not uncommon. These students are taught that they do not belong in general population and sent to ES classrooms or SpEd classrooms. They have little to no engagement with their peers for recess and stay in one class for 90% of their day. They are taught in schools that they are different. Their classrooms are contracted out by companies like mine because no one wants to interact with these children or has the training to do so. They are seen as aggressive and pose a threat to non Black staff who do not possess the social competency to interact with the urban students or their families. The system seems to be a setup for black and brown children.
If you can’t tell, I grew up Black. I grew up with 7 siblings. I spent my entire childhood sharing a room with my older sister in a cotton candy pink room. I didn’t get my own room until I was 18 during winter break and I was home from college. I only got the room because three of my older brothers had moved out. Even then, I felt like I was sharing my room because my niece was born and one of my nephews moved in and he refused to stay out of my room. But, that was family so who’s complaining? My nickname was Bighead. My cousins, aunts and uncles all gathered for holidays and pretended like it wasn’t awkward at some point. I was an honor student and a band geek. I went to neighborhood schools and was a neighborhood kid. A daddy’s girl and a brat. Sometimes we ate syrup sandwiches and sometimes we ate steak. My mom worked every single day and still cooked on her days off. She would come home yelling at us about how we tore up her house. On Sunday mornings our house smelled like bleach and incense. Oldies music or Quran blasting through the speakers. And as kids we all used to wonder “who’s coming over?” To which my parents would reply “somebody gotta be coming for you to clean?” In the winter we ate oatmeal or cream of wheat for breakfast.
Growing up Black for me meant hearing things like “pass me the remote, get me a glass with ice, go get my slippers, don’t be rippin’ and running through my house.” All phrases that we knew meant “this the last time I’m gone say it.” Growing up Black for me was being in the house before the street lights come on and taking your sibling with you to your friend’s house or the park because otherwise, you can’t go!
Growing up Black for me meant school shopping, layaway, and hand me downs. “You get what I give you or nothing, don’t touch nothing in this store, I brought y’all some so you bet not touch mine!” It meant “come outside and help me with these bags, wash the dishes and you better do the silverware.” A lot of my friends had Black childhoods similar to mine and many did not.
Words could never summarize the greatness that was my Black childhood but that’s why I have memories. Growing up young and Black taught me struggle, love, discipline, kindness, courage and everything that makes me who I am today. It was never a bad thing. We weren’t poor but by some measures we weren’t rich. But it damn sure taught me life lessons I’ll never forget.