A place where Black Mothers can celebrate excellence and motherhood.

10:42 AM

I show up for other people kids, I have to show up for mine.

by , in

As many of you know, I am a restorative practices specialist. I work for a Baltimore based non-profit agency Community Conferencing Center (come April will be Restorative Response Baltimore). My non-profit offers conferencing, an alternative to a justice system that does not operate in favor of People of color. Through conferencing we pull together people that are in conflict and provide space for them to try and get to the root cause and hopefully come up with a resolution. On the proactive side of things (thats where I come in) I offer trainings on restorative practices, values, principles and important parts of the restorative practices continuum.

I work onsite with identified partnership schools weekly through community building circles, restorative conversations and observations to help the schools shift to a restorative culture. Restorative practices is important because it creates a space for shared power and for students (especially students of color) to have a voice. Its also an alternative to suspension, classroom extraction and power imbalances that once again largely impact students of color. I love my job, its my dream job and my office is well diverse; made up of mostly Black women (ya’ll the office always smells like sheabutter and incense. Every time you walk in the office you literally are walking down a soul-train line full of compliments.) I’m not joking ya'll, I’m blessed that my organization has a partnership with my daughters school. Since we work with my daughters school, I am onsite for trainings and give consultation on their implementation, offer feedback and suggestions. This has been going well up until one week ago when I gave our new training, restorative mindset to the staff of 60 in total. The restorative mindset training focuses on the mindset needed for successful implementation. We discuss Dweck ‘fixed’ vs. ‘growth’ alongside the restorative mindset and why we need to have ‘growth’ mindset alongside our restorative mindset. One would note, if we are speaking about mindset then we have to touch on bias, implicit bias at that.

The kirwin institute defines ‘implicit bias’ as "Attitudes or stereotypes that are activated unconsciously and involuntarily. They are not the same as biases that a person might try to hide because they’re unpopular or socially incorrect.” There has been much research conducted that shows the importance/dangers of how teachers implicit biases show up in the classroom and how we need to have a conversation around them.Back to the staff demographics, of 60 three of them are Black. I tried to make the ‘eye contact’ with those three before we got to a particular part of the training and two of them heads down or elsewhere but one sister (thank God for her!) caught my eyes and gave me the subtle nod. Cool. I’m safe, she got me. I figure the training would go well. Well meaning, some of the white folk in the room would nod in agreement, some would be stuck from shock and embarrassment and the others would be mad and play the but I don’t see race, I treat all of my children the same regardless of race, this doesn’t happen here bullsh*t. Heads up: very few were in the middle and very little nodded in agreement.

In fact, I ruffled some feathers when I brought up how Black and Brown parents have to have a particular conversation with their children in Elementary School about interactions with police officers. I wasn’t surprised at the pushback that would come from the data presented, I was surprised at who the pushback came from. Tatiyana’s teacher responded back with the data presented about how ‘all’ families should have conversations about how to behave when police approach civilians. His response started an echoes of ‘I don’t see color’ and ‘I treat all of my students the same.’ Yawn. Even after myself, one Black teacher and white S.T.A.T. teacher discussed how the conversation can be had and yet it is still different than the one in Black homes.
The training area was tense. Like T’challa claws couldn’t cut through it if he tried. Fast forward to the end of the week, Friday I picked Tatiyana up and she was off. Her aftercare teacher said, ‘something isn’t right with her. She was off to the side by herself today.’ Once we got in the car and before I could ask how her day was, I got a text: Is everything ok with Tati? She looked really sad when I saw her earlier. 

Red flags are popping up in my head, Did any of the teachers say something about me? Did one of the teachers do something to her?  I gently asked her, did something happen in school today? After asking her open-ended questions for what seemed like eternity, she finally spilled the beans. Her teacher sent her out of the class for talking. "He's lashing out on my daughter because I exposed his fragility as a white man." That was the first thing that crossed my mind. So I contacted a person that I'm close with at her school, 'I knew this was going to happen. This was my fear that the staff would retaliate through Tatiyana. Wrong parent, my work does not make her a target.' 

I reached out to my mentor, her dad and my colleagues informing them of what happened and talking though how to approach the situation. Isn't it funny? The same woman who co-powers Black parents to advocate for their children is struggling to be vocal for her own.. The following Monday I emailed her teacher and the principal together asking for a meeting in regard to Tatiyana as I had a concern. 
I dreaded the entire week leading up to the meeting and 90-minutes before the meeting her principal called to let me know she had to step out of the building and could no longer attend the meeting. Cue Anxiety attack. At this moment I was so angry and embarrassed with myself and I kept asking myself How come I can show up for every one else child(ren) and suddenly I can't find the words for my own? Luckily, my amazing colleague and friend who is one of the most thorough Womanist I know had texted me just in time and I asked her What Would Alice Walker and Audre Lorde do? 

She sent me the Audre Lorde Questionnaire to oneself and I took twenty minutes to complete it. You can find it here: Audre Lorde questionnaire for oneself. I immediately felt better and what I realized after I completed the worksheet was that I was not afraid of speaking out I was afraid of what people thought of me and because I had this fear it was causing me to shut down and not speak up. Whats the worst that could happen though? If I do speak up,  I do advocate for my children and I can ensure their safety and well-being. If don't speak up I am making this about me and putting my daughter in harms way. Especially knowing that this is how its starts, Black children are punished for exhibiting normal child-like behavior, their spirit is broken, morale decreases and they become aloof. Just like Tatiyana did... 

So what happened?

The meeting went well! I explained to him why I was there and my fear of his choice to redirect her. I also bought up the training that I facilitated earlier that week and felt that he was lashing out at her because we had different opinions. I told him I was taken back by his comment especially since he and I had these conversations prior to the training. Getting the story is so important, her teacher explained how when he went home that afternoon he reflected on the incident and realized he was being hypersensitive in response to something in regard to his family and for that he apologized. He also apologized for making her feel unwelcome and sad by removing her from the classroom.  He said that moving forward because removing students from the class is ineffective he will use other means to redirect students. 

In reference to the training, he apologized as well on his half for the misconnection; the space where the training was facilitated  has poor acoustics and his hearing isn't 100%. When he made his statement it was from a place of all people should have these conversations however its not happening that way because everyone's lives are not threatened by police brutality i.e. Black people. He said in hindsight he wishes that he and I talked after the PD because the misunderstanding of his comment led to those in the training who don't get it to push back against data that he's talked about as well. 

When I consulted the schools champion team yesterday, I made it very clear that by definition they are a restorative school because they have community building circles, ask restorative questions/facilitate restorative conversations and use affective statements but by no means are you restorative until you are aware of your bias and how they show up. It is not a restorative school until parents of color excluding myself, feel comfortable challenging the school, its teachers and its practices. 
Her induction as RHOsebud Sunday March 18

Overall, I am happy that I showed up for my daughter and that I advocated for her. I'm happy that she is in a classroom with a teacher that is culturally aware and takes the time to reflect on his classroom management, teaching methods. Whats even more important, in spite of what he was feeling initially he still opened up space for us to have dialogue so that Tatiyana and I can be heard and things could be clarified. He is a restorative teacher  and I wish there were more like him.

My daughters know that they have parents, especially a mother that will advocate for them and make sure everyone is accountable for their well-being and their continued success. Especially in a world where Black girls and women are not given the space to feel and be.

9:00 AM

Where did my sweet baby go?!

by , in

Control is defined as, "The power to influence or direct people's influence or direct people's behavior or the course of events." For some reason, I made the mistake of thinking that my two year old, Jahara can be controlled.

I had this aha moment today as I sat in a circle with a class full of first graders and asked them, "who are you really?"

some said a friend, a big sister/brother, an athlete, a poet and Ms.Barb? She listened quietly as she stared a hole into her paper; the fourth line from the top -- Control Freak. 

Anxiety and control don't mix. I've struggled in the past few weeks trying to figure out which one I should deal with first. Since I can't get a hold on either, I hid from the strongest toddler I know. One who sees my need to control and dares every day to push me to my limit. When I say vegan for dinner she screams Mac and Cheese. A few times I have seceded and we went on to have a peaceful night and other times...well...we (she) screamed from the tub to the bed and it wasn't fun for either of us.

With Tatiyana, at two; she was so sweet, quiet, inquisitive and just all around calm. Meet her younger sibling the raging toddler. Jahara is a loud, in your face, sweet as pie and sour as a pickled onion all in one breath ball of fun. There is no telling what you're going to get when Jahara wakes up, it's become the norm for my family to hold our breath when she stirs because we're never sure what side of the bed she will wake up on (Hint: It's usually the wrong side but more on that later.) Whenever I facilitate a Professional Development training and I ask participants to think of one word to describe their child(ren), students or maternal/paternal, etc. I always think of 'free' when I have to think of a word for Jahara.

Me and Jahara Circa 2015
Jamal and I always laugh to hide our weary when we talk about her being older. "She's so strong headed and I just hope that it doesn't get her into trouble." I have to remind him that I spent much of my childhood being a strong minded Black girl and a lot of times it didn't end in my favor. "No matter what, we just have to protect her and make sure no one including us breaks her spirit. She has made up in her heart who she is and it is our job to make sure she feels secure and loved." That's the best that I can give him because he knows my fear of raising two Black girls in this country, something we share with millions of other Black parents in the states, even as I recover at age twenty-five from my childhood.

To know my sweet toddler is truly to love her. One thing I realized about her this is evening is that she is my youngest, most challenging teacher. What has she taught me so far? That control has no room in my life or in our relationship. My colleague said something to me a couple months back and I never thought about it until then:

"People don't like to be told what to do...Children are people."

She's right ya know.

 Now, of course I know that children are people that isn't the point stay with me here. It was the fact that I wasn't able to make this equation myself. I am the same Black mother who will pluck as a last resort even though I can hear my grandmothers suck their teeth and roll their eyes while saying "I would've popped her." I am the same mother who will let my child have a meltdown in the store and wait patiently for her to collect herself so we can figure out what she wanted pre-meltdown. I try to be the most restorative mom I can be. What stops me is my need to control. I don't like to be controlled so how could I think that someone else would? Especially my child of all people. I often want to control things so badly that it usually ends in chaos.

 I tell myself when she nor I are our best selves that "I am adapting, I can be the one who surrenders this time."  Nothing beats the feeling of surrendering to the love of my two year old. Spilled milk can be cleaned, lost dolls can be found, my favorite shows can be recorded, bed times are meant to be disregarded (I shout a joyous praise if she's out by 9PM) but these days when they are no longer a baby but not too old to be smothered in kisses and hugs will go by quickly. I'll have plenty days for quiet time and days that adhere to my to-do list and small need to control. In the meantime, I find  peace and joy surrendering to my two-year who has a spirit that will continue to grow bigger than this life time.

I learned in order for Jahara to be her authentic self I have to leave my tendency to control things behind, that includes her. I can offer suggestions and ultimately she will decide what is best for her, even if I do not agree. My nine year old (for the most part) makes sound decisions for her age and I have to trust that Jahara will too. No, I do not let my baby just do whatever the hell she wants, I do try to give an environment that promotes well informed decisions and yes, even two year olds are capable of that.

The biggest lesson she taught me is to 'surrender'. It feels better and organic when I meet her in the middle. Toddlers are great negotiators if you are willing to work with a level three terrorist (kidding, they're not that bad). I have to remind myself that Jahara has a vocabulary that does not match mine or Tatiyana's. I have to remind myself that her world consists of all Jahara and the rest of it is for cuddles, chocolate milk, kisses, youtube kids and love. Even as I type this she is sitting in my lap and I have made a makeshift lap desk because she remained persistent to sit on me.

Another aha moment: My sweet baby is still here, she just gives me more homework and tests on things I haven't learned until her, which makes her even sweeter to me.

 I made a few more gentle requests none of which she listened to and then she looked up at me smiling at the same time I looked down to ask her to scoot over for a second. Her smile immediately softened me and I just shifted my MacBook to the side: for a chance to sit and cuddle with her, I'll surrender every time.


How do you surrender to your children?