“Now you shall have no pie.” Or will you?

three-little-kittensI know that plenty of people will be writing think pieces based on their expertise and lived experiences over the next few days. There will be plenty of posts about how to resist and be in solidarity. I will read those pieces. But something happened this week which made me empowered to write my own piece. For the first time in many years I paid for my new license plate sticker BEFORE it expired and  better yet AFFIXED it to my license plate thus avoiding fines and fees and tickets. I am feeling competent and proactive. As such, I am ready to share this post about another accomplishment I attribute to my age and wisdom and steadfastness.

I have now had the same pair of mittens for NINE weeks. Again, I have not lost my new fuzzy mittens for NINE weeks. So here is my lived experience/advice for you to not lose your mittens or gloves. And from henceforth when I refer to mittens, I mean that to be used interchangeably with gloves.

First, I have been collecting lost gloves and mittens for some time now. The gloves on the left are all gloves I have LOST. The ones on the right are all gloves I have found.207 Lesson: You are much more likely to lose your RIGHT mitten. Take extra precautions when removing it!

And by extra precautions I mean this:  1) NEVER put your gloves in your pockets. I promise you that one will always fall out. If you must take it off for a short period of time to unlock a door or check your phone, or pick up something from the ground – try 206this – unzip your coat just a little bit and tuck it inside.  That way your chest will be extra warm and you will still have your glove.  This applies to getting in your car too. How many of you have taken off your mittens in a car only to discover it fell out when you got out of the vehicle? I found a pair of gloves in the street by the post office this week!

2) When you come inside a place that is not your home use the tried and true mother’s advice to put your gloves inside your hat and then put your hat inside your sleeve. It NEVER will fail you. Seriously. Make it a habit.

3)As a third piece of advice I truly believe that it could become super cool for adults to start using the old fashioned mitten clips we all had when I was a kid. We could put our little catch phrases and symbols on them. BL Matter, F12, We have nothing to lose but our mittens.   https://www.amazon.com/Elastic-Mitten-STURDY-Snowman-Comfortable/dp/B00DV55INK

4) I know there are a lot of makers out there.  Knitters and crocheters.                              When my gramma knitted my mittens she included a string which was  mitten-stringattached to each mitten and which you threaded through the sleeves of your coat so your mittens were permanently attached.                           Adults – I say do it!

 

Since beginning this post I have become obsessed with making sure I didn’t lose my mittens while writing this and I have also been trying really hard to follow my own advice. It is working. I have been thinking of what greater meaning this has for me. It’s a simple beginning to changing other negative habits that I have spent a lifetime perfecting. Procrastination. Parking tickets. Lack of boundaries. Not standing up for myself. Not putting the cap back on the toothpaste.  There were/are other forces at work that have made seemingly simple actions more difficult – bigger things on my mind crowding out the thing that needs to be taken care of right now. But the truth is I rarely get a parking ticket anymore. I am better at standing up for myself. I still procrastinate about a lot of things but I am not as afraid.  I no longer choose to say, “I can never change.” I guess its about mindfulness and practice makes almost perfect and where there is a will there’s a way. And about growing older and finding more peace and distance from trauma.If I can work on one small challenging habit at a time maybe I can also create a step by step game plan about how to tackle the bigger ones.

Let me know if there is anything you are working on – and if you find success with this advice!

Firebird

Firebird_MC1With the new year underway and some additional projects added to my plate I was trying to decide on my classroom theme for the next month. It would have been much easier to sift through my many years of lesson plans to decide what to teach but I want to share what I am excited about and what is currently on my mind.  It helps my lessons feel important, and timely.

My daughter Tasha gave me a gift recently – a no reason gift – a beautiful children’s book by dancer Misty Copeland called The Firebird. It gave me the creative boost I needed and so I set about finding a way to create some Early Childhood and Early Learning lessons centering this book.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/excerpt-misty-copelands-firebird/

I researched the origin of the Firebird story itself and read one of the versions of this old Russian fairy-tale. I then read about Igor Stravinsky and his decision to bring the story to life in his piece The Firebird Suite which led me to listen to the music over and over. It’s beautiful and evocative and with that I decided

my theme for the next month must invariably be dance – beginning with ballet. When I asked the children, “what is ballet?” most were not sure. A few of them said the word dance. And a few more automatically put their arms up over their heads or spun around.

We began by mirroring – I brushed up on my basic ballet steps – plie, releve, arabesque, leap, pirouette. When someone would call out, inevitably, that boys did not dance ballet, I was prepared with images I have collected of very strong men and boys dancing ballet and we all tried to copy the moves. I also shared photos of different women including my friend Alana Wallace who is in a wheelchair dancing ballet. Alana worked with me for many years in the hospital with her mixed abilities dance company Dance Detour. I know that 3, 4 and 5 year old children already have entrenched bias and I came prepared to share images that would contradict that bias.

Dance-Detour-

And then we free danced to The Firebird Suite.

Next up – I read Ms. Copeland’s book/poem to them while continuing to play the music. They especially loved the pictures of her in costume as the Firebird. To finish our session I told them the story of the Firebird ballet – which includes a prince, a magic garden, a firebird, 13 dancing princesses, an evil magician, monsters, stone statues, and a happy ending. We all acted the story out while I narrated on my feet  playing all of the parts together until the music reached it’s tremendous crescendo and we all took a bow.

When I leave a class and do not return for a week I can only hope a part of my lessons will be remembered. Will the teacher extend what I’ve done and share videos of the Firebird ballet?  Will they challenge each other in the dress up corner to wear whatever clothing they want rather than conforming to old gender norms? Will they go home and ask for more, more, more? Will they repeat our classroom mantra “we’re all different but the same” under their breath when they see someone moving through life in a wheelchair ? When next asked “who can dance ballet?” will their imaginations take them to a beautiful brown-skinned woman who had to convince an entire nation that she could.

This week also brought with it a national battle to make sure that teachers and parents are not sharing stories and lessons that contradict all of this good intention. Teaching for Change posted a link and review to a controversial book “A Birthday Cake for George Washington”. After several days of public outcry on social media, including a petition started here in Chicago by educator Atena Oyadi, Scholastic pulled the book.

http://www.npr.org/2016/01/22/463977451/controversial-picture-books-surface-struggle-to-help-children-understand-slavery

This is anti-bias work. This is the work of a multi-disciplinary teaching artist. This is important work. I’m grateful it is my work.

Stay tuned for Part II.

 

 

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No better Know BETTER

Tamir RiceOne year ago today Tamir Rice was shot and killed in a playground. It took two seconds from the time the police rolled up to when he lay bleeding next to the squad car. He did not receive any medical help. His sister ran screaming to him and was tackled. It took me a long time to choose to watch the grainy footage with no sound on. It haunts me.

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/tamir-rice-shooting-one-year-after-cleveland-boy-was-killed-n467031

Tamir had traded his cell phone for a chance to play with his firiend’s pellet gun.  He should have known better. Should have known better.

I’ve heard that phrase “should have known better” a lot. I heard it when my son and his friends were illegally stopped in DesPlaines. What was he doing in DesPlaines? He should have known better. I heard it when his friend was tazed and locked up after the first Cubs win in Wrigleyville a month ago. Why were black kids in Wrigleyville? They should have known better. Why was he riding his bike through an ally in a nice neighborhood west of us? He should have known better. I’ve even picked up the mantra myself. You know better. My oldest son in his senior year at St. Olaf college should have known not to sit inside the student center of his residential school watching a hockey game in a hoodie.  Four squad cars and seven police and school security screeched up, surrounded him and interrogated him. No apology was ever issued.  My eight year old daughter should have known better than to walk to McDonalds before we set off for our vacation.

Why, when my son was 11 did he not know better when he shouted at the gym teacher who had just made his friend cry, “You can’t do this to us. You can’t treat us like this!”. He was taken to the principal’s office still overwrought. The assistant principal, from across the office, told him “You just don’t like rules”. He pointed at her and shouted back, “I just don’t like you!” That is when the large security guard swept in, grabbed him, threw him up against the counter, pinned his arms and restrained him while he screamed and shouted for them to stop. But really – he should have known better, right? They later said that the finger pointing constituted a threat and so they were justified in the attack.

In a recent media debate about why all the solidarity with Paris and why none with Beirut I heard we care about people who look like us. We care about places that are familiar to us. We believe that some people like those babies in a Beirut neighborhood or a Cleveland neighborhood deserve to die. A BB gun justifies an attack. Running justifies an attack. Shop lifting justifies an attack.  Talking to your friends in a park justifies an attack.  Jay walking justifies an attack. Living, breathing, loving justifies an attack.                                                                           This week they will release the  dash cam video of a Chicago police officer shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times. There is much speculation and frantic calls for Peace and ramping up by the PD in fear of what protesters will do when they see the truth.

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This is what family looks like

039It’s 1:00 in the afternoon on Sunday. I got back from the police station with Tasha and Ethan at 4:15 am. I am feeling like a character in a video game whose energy has been depleted but who does something great and then gets to be all filled up with new golden energy or who has a bunch of golden coins come raining down on them from above. That’s what yesterday felt like to me. That’s what jail support felt like last night. Sixty six people were arrested yesterday in an action that involved hundreds of people, hours and hours and hours of planning , prop building, social media strategizing, coalition building, and fund raising.

So for this one action yesterday on one day I would like to thank the following people – My son Nathaniel and daughter-in-law Hannah who marched for two hours chanting and drumming with several hundred other folks and who were my eyes and ears on the ground while I…

was at The Chicago Freedom School helping to co-facilitate the third week of a training for white folks looking to figure out their complicity in and and ways to dismantle white supremacy. We(Naomi M., Jennifer A., Sarah B., Irina Z.)managed to get through the day while anxiously listening to sirens zooming past the building on their way to people we loved.021

Thanks to the parents who came out calm and strong to wait for their kids and for the parents who stayed at home worried but supportive

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To those who gave rides, walked dogs, did the laundry,offered reiki treatments, came in from Oakland, New York, D.C. and Boston to support the action. Thanks to the partners and room-mates who made signs and gave hugs and said “Ok then, take an arrest”. Thanks to those who honked horns in support. Those who took videos and photos. Those street medics, and Lawyers Guild people and legal observers keeping them safe. Thank you to those who left a positive text, tweet or Facebook post. It might not seem like much but when 400 other people are silent it means something.

Thank you to those documenting,cheering and keeping a song going while friends and strangers were placed in handcuffs. To those chain wearing, flag pole climbing, hand holding, lock box creating young people – ALL SO BEAUTIFUL.

To those dozens who marched into the police station last night(including my sister Laurie)with bananas, sandwiches, cases of water, chips, home made chili, granola bars, blankets and so much freakin love I could barely stand it. Love that extended to the homeless people who were also gathered at the station last night and shared all of that goodness.Thanks to those who donated $5, $10, $20 or more to the bail fund.033

And so when this one action on this one day is over what side are you on my people? What side are you on? Because if you are not at least in line, I may have to close the door.

#WeChargeGenocide #BlackOutCollective #BYP100 #StopTheCops #FundBlackFutures #AssatasDaughters #LiftedVoices #ChicagoFreedomSchool

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Candles on Cement

Last Saturday I attended an event at the Museum of Contemporary Art facilitated by the Teen Creative Agency.  My son Ethan had been working with them on their latest “living room project” which seeks to engage museum goers with the youth while tying it back in and around to a current exhibit. The newest exhibit is a retrospective of Doris Salcedo – a Colombian sculptor.  ” Salcedo grounds her art in rigorous fieldwork, which involves extensive interviews with people who have experienced loss and trauma in their everyday lives due to political violence.”

I was very moved by her pieces especially after watching the short film showing many of her site specific installations.  I was shocked that this program had been in the works for over 5 years but it opened this month in this year when Chicago and the U.S. is experiencing so much trauma due to violence by the state.  I worked my way down interacting with the young people stationed in the stairways and ended the afternoon participating in an open discussion facilitated by Ethan on The Prison Industrial Complex.

The afternoon gave me a sense of introspection and community at the same time. I was especially touched by a moment in the film that described her piece Acción de Duelo.  In 2007 Salcedo and her team were working on a large project at the Tate in London.  She learned that 11 Colombian assembly members, kidnapped in 2002, had been murdered by the guerrillas. She said to her team they must go and do something. And so they placed, in order, 24,00 candles on the plaza in Bogota to represent the mass murders continually taking place.

http://www3.mcachicago.org/2015/salcedo/videos/#salcedo-accion-de-duelo

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Just a week earlier I had been out on another cold evening to attend a vigil at the Village Leadership Academy. It has been three months since 12 year old Tamir Rice was killed by police in Cleveland. A small group of people gathered. We had candles too.

Stop killing Our children

I went to listen and make eye contact and hug and hold hands and greet friends and acknowledge strangers. We were there to mourn that little boy and the other children murdered. I hope his mama and sister find some small moment of peace knowing that people all over the country were gathering to remember Tamir. I hope she knows we know his name. Most days my own site specific installation is to just show up.

And still that remains too hard for most people. If it is too hard for you to come let us come to you. I will come to your church or book club or gathering. I will share what I know. I will lead a discussion or a peace circle. Or maybe you are ready now. Maybe you are lighting your own candles and having difficult conversations. Maybe you are speaking out. There is still so much to be done.

If you do want to come here is a list of opportunities happening in March. There are many others as well.  niastories.wordpress.com

And if you would like to see the full video of Salcedo’s work here is the link.

http://www3.mcachicago.org/2015/salcedo/videos/publicworks/#documentary

PEACE

Celebrating Black Future

It is February – Black History Month or as I have seen in print and prefer to now think of it – Black Future Month. This winter season has been dotted with protesting and speaking up and out and marching with all of my kids through snow and cold and wind. It has been a season of loss in my family and redefining the roles we play. It has been a season of purposeful work that allows me to share my gifts with very young children and many adults as well. I am a teaching artist who uses music and story and movement. For pre-schoolers I use an arts framework to focus on lessons centered on anti-bias. http://www.naeyc.org/store/files/store/TOC/254.pdf

I have chosen to spend these last eight weeks re-imagining lessons to share with the youngest people I work with – those 2 to 5 years old.  I have extended the time I spend celebrating skin and eye and hair color. We have celebrated curly, straight, long and short hair. We have celebrated families of all configurations and have begun dismantling gender and the stereotypes that children have already internalized. We have been honoring who we are and reveling in who we are not. And when we recognize unfairness we are learning to call it like we see it. I sometimes reflect on my life experiences that got me to this moment in my work.  Sometimes I can pinpoint a particular experience – other times it is cumulative. There is a moment though that stands out to me. I am a fair skinned white woman. My children are bi-racial.  My ex-husband is black and the kids are varying degrees of brown. When my daughter (now 21) was in kindergarten I volunteered in her classroom every week as a drama teacher. Kindergarton Tasha

I had already learned that people were/are confused about our different skin color.  Children would vocalize their confusion in sometimes astonishing ways.  For the most part adults were just uneducated, rude and sometimes dangerous.   So I created a lesson for her classroom directly addressing our different skin color.

Afterwards her teacher thanked me and wanted to share something that had happened earlier in the year that she had never mentioned.  A boy in class told this teacher that “Tasha must have been in her mommy’s belly too long because she came out burned”.  The teacher laughed as she told me this.  She thought it was funny what misconceptions children have and how they make sense of it.  I did not think it was funny – then or now.  I find it to be a horrifying image.  Tasha’s skin is not burned it is beautiful and brown.  But I have discovered there are no children and very few adults who can actually tell me why we are the color we are.  Over the years I have had adults who have been present during my lessons with the children and will afterwards share with me their own misconceptions regarding dark skin – including that “If you leave your child in a hot bath for too long it will turn their skin dark.”  We carry with us our cultural bias and folk tales.  We are seldom given facts.

Almost twenty years have passed and children are still not given facts.  There are still very few books that celebrate differences or that simply feature characters that are not white.  There are a very small number of books that include multi-racial families and fewer yet that do not have their multi-racial identity be the focus of the story. In 2013, out of 3,200 children’s books published 94 featured African-Americans, 69 featured Asians, 57 Latinos and 34 American Indian. http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp

So this month I have been celebrating differences.  I am never sure how the adults will receive my blatant discussions about skin color and eye color and discrimination and MLK day. I was fired from a Montessori school years ago for discussing race in a way that made some parents uncomfortable.  I was told, “We pay a lot of money to keep our children protected.”  As such I was I was moved to tears this week by a note passed onto me by one of the parents at a center I work in.  She said, “I hope you can pass on to Jennifer how great I think the topics she addresses in drama class. Sandy and I had a wonderful conversation the other night about fairness, inclusion and diversity. These are things that are very important in our family and it was just so fun to build on the colored scarves metaphor he had been exploring in class. We talked about Martin Luther King and our gay friends, friendship and his mixed race background all in this wonderfully accessible way”.

Today I feel proud that the 200+ children I work with can now clearly articulate “It’s not fair!”  They will observe and state (in rhythm no less) “We’re different – but the same”.  They will hold hands with everyone in the class. So we persevere in 2015. We love one another. We march in the cold.  We try and change what we can.  We still try and envision a different future of freedom.

There are more books than there were. I own and use most of these in my classrooms and a few more. https://samkanescorner.wordpress.com/2013/08/20/10-books-to-talk-about-skin-color/ http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2014/06/26/14-childrens-picture-books-exploring-race-racism/

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“If someone steals money do you punch them?”

I work in or have reason to be in the spaces of half a dozen preschools. In these settings there has been a positive move towards Project Based Learning. At its simplest, this means you find a topic that the children are interested in learning about.  You ask them, “What do you know about this?” and make a list.  The second question and list is, “What do we want to learn more about?”  You make a plan for how you will go about discovering the answers to your questions. The third and final list will be “What have we learned?”

I have done project based learning this past year. I am a teaching artist who weaves learning standards into music and story and movement. I choose themes that I am personally interested in and that I think the children will be interested in. We have learned more about rabbits and the wind and rocks.

As an example – When asking PBL questions about rabbits many children wanted to know, “How does a rabbit hop?”.  We watched a slow motion video of rabbits hopping and compared that to one line in the story of Peter Rabbit, “He went lippity, lippity not very fast.”  We learned that rabbits place their front paws one at a time but hop with their rear paws at the same time. We practiced going “lippity, lippity”. We sang songs about rabbits and learned what they eat. I shared several folktales from different parts of the world that feature a rabbit and also an important lesson like – Be a Leader not a follower, Slow and Steady wins the race, It’s not right for one person to have so much while so many have nothing at all.

There are so many things about our environment that kids are curious and excited about. So imagine my surprise when the Project Based Learning chart that was on the wall at one of the centers was about the police.

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I am not going to argue that children are not interested in the police. They know they have weapons.  They know weapons give you power.  They know that they get “the bad guys”.  You can look at a small piece of this indoctrination in my previous post.

https://howperfectlyremarkablystrange.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/who-are-the-people-in-your-neighborhood/

And while 3, 4 and 5 year olds might express an interest in learning more about the police it is certainly not a topic I would choose as a theme for a number of reasons – the major reason being the third list.  What have I learned about police officers?

I believe in being truthful with children in a way that is developmentally appropriate.  So how do I answer their questions?  Because this year I have learned firsthand that police officers will arrest you if you are young and of a certain color for putting your initials in wet cement.  Once arrested you will sit in a jail cell for five hours.  It will cost $150 to bond you out of jail and you will have to get a lawyer to go to court with you.

If you are young and a certain color the police will arrest you for riding your bike on the sidewalk.  When you are frisked and told you are being arrested and you get upset you will be additionally charged with resisting arrest.

If you shoplift from a drugstore and are of a certain age and color the police will arrive on the scene.  If you run they will shoot you with a tazer.  You will fall to the ground but on the way down hit your head on a light post.  They will take you away in a coma.  You will die.

I have learned they will laugh and mock you while you march for justice.  I have learned that someone is killed by the police every 28 hours.  I have learned that it doesn’t matter if there is videotaped evidence of  someone being murdered by the police.  The murder will still be justified.

I have learned that if you are in preschool and brown your chance of being expelled from said preschool for being a “bad guy” is triple that of white children.  I know that as you get older this initial act leads to more interaction with those in authority and ultimately to our School to Prison Pipeline and Mass Incarceration.  http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2014/03/21/292456211/black-preschoolers-far-more-likely-to-be-suspended

I also know that I walk into these sites and am absolutely horrified when I see this learning going on and that for the most part others think I am over reacting and “here she goes again” and that the children’s curiosity about the police is innocent and cute.

And so, at the end of the day, what I know is that there needs to be Project Based Learning experiences for all educators on race and policing and attitudes and injustice.  That’s what I have learned.

Lessons from Sydney

My dear dog Sydney is nine years old this month.  She was a rescue from Chicago Canine Rescue. http://www.chicagocaninerescue.com/

 IMG_0708 My sister found her picture on the internet,  we went to meet her at an adoption event and fell in love. But I found out that the adoption cost was more than I could afford.  So, the kids each took a picture of her to school and they asked their friends and our family to chip in to help us get this puppy.  Everyone did and we raised $100.

I got Sydney for the kids but she’s my dog now.  She loves us all an awful lot but I’m the one who takes care of her.  I’m grateful because I’ve learned a lot from Sydney.

 

One of the important things I’ve learned is to Get out of the house.  Many people have and continue to say “Looks like she’s taking YOU for a walk”.  True.  Thank goodness.  Left to my own devices I would stay curled up in my Barack Obama fleece throw.  She does take me for a walk. Three times a day, rain, or snow, darkness or light.  When I’m sad or tired I still have to get out. Sometimes we go at a fast pace and I imagine I’m getting in my 20 minutes of brisk exercise.  More often than not, though, it’s a leisurely walk.

One where I can  Pay Attention.  I’ve learned that stopping suddenly on a walk to just listen, look and smell will allow you to see things you weren’t paying any attention to – a golden cat on a fence, a red cardinal in a tree branch, a lone goose honking in desperation. And treasure – lots and lots of treasure. Sydney has alerted me to a life size cloth horse head, a pair of shoes in just my son’s size, a homemade bow(as in bow and arrow), a little cloth doll.

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We watch the squirrels a lot.  She has taught me how to stand still without moving a muscle…and to wait…sometimes balancing on one leg (She on three). 038

My heart beats in anticipation and then the LEAP!

After 9 years of 3,000 walks and twice as many squirrel chases she has only caught one squirrel(which fortunately survived) but she doesn’t quit.  She has never NOT chased a squirrel or said “what’s the point”.  She teaches me  Don’t Give Up.

Sydney is afraid of a lot of things – loud unexpected noises, canes, rubber bands, thunder, puppets, fake spider webs on bushes, nerf guns, fireworks.  Maybe something bad happened in her past that she is just never going to get over.  Maybe it is just too hard to forget.  I don’t have to get mad at her but just let her take as long as she needs.  We don’t have to be alone with our fear.  We can be comforted and protected.  Don’t worry Sydney.  I will comfort you and protect you.  Take as long as you need.  It’s OK to be Afraid.

People might be uncomfortable when you show great affection.

041Most people just don’t know how to accept that kind of love and passion.  They might tell you to settle down and say you’re high strung and to take it down a notch. They might tell you not to take things so serious and not want to invite you to meetings and some such nonsense.

But some dogs and people just love company or get really excited about certain things and just DO feel that strongly and need to speak up.  Some dogs just have to cry and whine and bring you a little present when you walk in the door until you look in their eyes and tell them “Hello, Sydney I missed you.”

I’ve learned that some people might think you are ridiculous to jump and try and catch snow or water in your mouth.  Or that you’re too big to run around like that after you take a bath.  And it really bothers people when you find just that right rock to play with and pretend it’s a mouse and then you make the rock jump and pretend you’re catching it.  But sometimes play doesn’t have to make sense.  Sometimes gosh darn it you just have to

Act Like a Puppy even if your muzzle is getting a bit grey.

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 I’m asked often how old she is now and if she’s calmed down at all.  And really the answer is no.  I haven’t much either.  Hopefully, I am becoming more puppy like – more looking out for the unexpected, more observant.  I guess she and I will eventually slow down together.    Maybe.

 

Sydney teaches me that all animals are worthy of my love and respect.  They are sentient beings as am I.  Sydney lets me practice how to be with human adults when more often than not I’d rather be with dogs and children.

Thank you Sydney.

 

Last Lesson?  ADOPT.IMG_1678

We Charge Genocide

“We, in the civil rights community, need to recognize this as a wake up call.  WHAT WE HAVE BEEN DOING IS NOT WORKING.  It is often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  And so I wonder how many more times we are going to do this dance of sporadic protests, press conferences, lawsuits, demands for reform, and then…repeat.  I will not pretend to have the answers, but I think we need to ask some different questions, including:  If the reform dance fails again and again, isn’t it time we consider a more radical approach?”            Michelle Alexander  August 13, 2014

I attended a Peace Circle on August 13 co-facilitated by my son.  There were 25 people in attendance and it lasted 2 ½ hours.  My rose was that it was my birthday. My thorn was that my mom is dying.  During one go around I shared that it is not the young men in the neighborhood I am afraid of, it is the police.  It isn’t young  black men who harass and threaten  my son – it is the police.  It wasn’t “thugs” who held an assault rifle to my son’s head while demanding he get down on his knees – it was the police.

In the past 6 months my son and his friends have been detained, arrested, jailed and killed for: Riding a bike on the sidewalk,   Writing their name in the cement.  Driving (no charges filed and car impounded for a month).  Shoplifting.  That was the offense that resulted in a killing.  This young man was tazed for shoplifting from a Walgreens. On the way down he hit his head on a light pole.  He was taken off the respirator three days later.

I heard many other stories at the Peace Circle of black men assaulted, Recently.  In our neighborhood.  Incessantly.

We left the Circle for a beautiful birthday dinner with my family and some friends.  As we were driving home the road was blocked by several undercover police vehicles.  There was a young man on the sidewalk screaming for help and being restrained by 4 officers.  My son started shouting “Not Again. Not again.”  He tried getting out of the car.  I knew what would happen if he intervened.  I said, “I’ll go.”  I double parked, took my daughter’s phone and walked over to the scene.  My son followed.  As one of the officers approached us he laughed at my son and his anger. I don’t clearly remember what happened next.  I know I shouted,  “It’s not funny!” a few times. We got back in my car and I was shaking.  I tried joking that they were all probably wondering who was that old white woman in a yellow sari shouting at them.

If this is the point Jennifer Viets is at please try and consider what my son and his friends are feeling.  The only solace I could give him was that there were 25 people at the Peace Circle – more than there have ever been.   But while that is gratifying I just don’t know how much longer people can keep spreading the message of peace to others when your face is being slammed into the cement.

Do not fear or dismiss the anger you are seeing in Ferguson and at protests across the country.  It is righteous.  Join us.

I am not Trayvon.  I am Trayvon’s mother.  I am not Oscar Brown.  I am Oscar’s mother.  I am not Michael.  I am his mother.  They are all our children. Please check out http://wechargegenocide.org/  There is a form you can fill out to document unlawful(or whatever adjective you choose to use) encounters with the police.

Who are the people in Your Neighborhood?

kids-swat-team-costume-882086I know I’m tired and I know I said goodbye this morning to some new friends.  I know I am reaching a new level of stress and fatigue helping to care for my mother who had a stroke on December 20.  But I don’t believe I am being overly sensitive when I share with you how disturbed I was this week to find photos of every child in a 2 year old classroom I work in dressed as riot police. It is community helper’s week.  Do you remember the song ”Who are the people in your neighborhood…”  from Sesame Street?  Every year, everywhere I go pre-school classrooms will at some point have this as their weekly theme.  It generally covers mailmen, firefighters, docs and nurses, vets, garbage collectors and policemen. Every year I lobby that artists need to be included in this list.  I have a speech that goes something like, “If you were to walk around this community you would find dance studios and galleries and music centers and people like me offering classes which make our communities better.  Our country does not value artists the same we do these other “helpers” and so we need to be diligent about introducing the idea to young children.”  BUT EVERY year I give the same speech and surreptitiously write artist upon the board and nothing has changed.  Including the costumes in the dramatic play corner.    http://www.costumesupercenter.com/boys+costumes-police+firefighter.html What has changed about the costumes is the addition of a SWAT officer.  What’s even more egregious is if you look at the images on line to buy this costume you might notice that all of the models are white boys smiling and often holding some kind of weapon – like a billy club and even guns.  The costume I am referring to in the classroom did not include these – just the uniform and helmet with a shield.  But what do we want the children to pretend during their unsupervised drama making?  I can only assume they will pretend to get the bad guys.  Who have even the youngest children learned are the bad guys?  What do they look like?  What image pops into your head?  And what will they do when we catch them? I can guess what the answer is because in most of the pictures is another prop –  handcuffs that dangle from a front pocket.  We will handcuff them, maybe hit them with our club, point a gun at their head and send them to jail – forever.  In truth,  the United States has more people locked up than anywhere else in the world.  We are a violent, prison loving people.    Swat teams were instituted in the 1960’s by the Los Angeles police department following the Watts riot.   http://www.lapdonline.org/metropolitan_division/content_basic_view/849 “In 1971, the SWAT personnel were assigned on a full-time basis to Metropolitan Division to respond to continuing action by subversive groups, the rising crime rate and the continuing difficulty of mustering a team response in a timely manner.” The subversive groups they refer to were the Black Panthers.  So today you can buy a child’s LPD police officer’s uniform.   LAPD I try and offer alternatives by teaching peace. This week my lessons revolved around the word cooperation.  And yet we begin indoctrinating children in these subtle ways about who has the power and prestige  at such a young age it sometimes feels futile.  The purpose behind a dramatic play area is that children love to copy what they see adults doing and becoming.  Can we please rethink what is there?  Because  I would just hope this is not what we want a 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 year old or ANYONE emulating. riot gear So, if you are connected to centers that have dress up clothes think about what messages we send about gender roles, stereotypes, and what role models we want the children to pretend to be. And don’t forget that often one and the same are the peace-makers and the artists.

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