This time last week, our country was honoring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King while watching the contrast as two large events took shape: the Inauguration and the Women's March on Washington. Without a doubt, it was an unprecedented time in our nation's history. As parents, it can be hard to put all the triumphs and tragedies of our nation's history into perspective for our kids. As much as we try to be "age appropriate" when we discuss various topics, our world has changed so drastically that access to information is fast and furious and we find ourselves being asked questions that never existed before.
Even during the toughest of circumstances, our goal as parents is to help our children feel safe and loved. And, something we often forget, is that they, our young people, are heard. That their voices matter. On MLK Day, Steve and I took the kids to Richmond to show them the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial (pictured below). It was important for our kids to see this memorial, a permanent marker that recognizes youth for their actions against civil and racial injustices. I stood there, trying to help my kids connect our expectations of them being kind and respectful to everyone to an understanding that injustice to one human being is injustice to all. Of course, it's going to take some time for their young minds to grasp these concepts, but we'll keep coming back to this memorial.
At the age of 16, "Barbara Johns and several fellow students led a strike to protest the deplorable conditions at their racially segregated Prince Edward County School." Read Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County by my UMW classmate and friend, Kristen Green for an in depth historical review and personal narrative.
As inauguration day approached, I was hoping for a smooth transfer of power and basically, that happened. The scattered violent protests that occured on Friday were inexucusable and repeating messages of non-violence to our children is paramount. I watched some of the coverage with my mother. She came to Washington, DC in 1962. Her view, regardless of political beliefs, was that we all should be watching the inaugural events as a means to support the process, recognize our democracy. That's really hard to do, especially when there are feelings of anger, fear, and confusion about our government. But, our kids may just need to see us rise above all that. Or maybe they'll show us how. Watch these students from Immokalee High School.
Whether you supported the election of our new president or not, the fear and tension in our country is palpable, evidenced by the marches that occured on the second day of his term. When the news was spreading that a women's march in DC would be taking place, I went back and forth about attending. While discussing my ambivalence and honestly, silly reasons for not going to the march, Steve was quick to encourage me to go. I realized it was important to me, so I called my mom and told her she'd have a housemate for inauguration night. For me, it was easiest to go to the march by myself; I needed to be free to explore all that the day entailed.
When I was walking down to the Metro platform on Saturday morning. I saw this young woman, wearing a t-shirt she had made herself with the march logo on the front and the quote on the back (pictured below). Her name was Amaya, she was 16 and had come from Allentown, PA with some friends and family, a few came all the way from Nebraska. Malala (the activist and author) is a hero of hers and she told me she felt strongly about fighting for what she believes in; she can't wait to get back to school to talk to her friends and teachers about what she learned from this experience. What struck me is that Amaya, at such a young age, like Malala, exuded such grace and peace. I was humbled to start my day talking to her. It was that feeling that made me realize these were the voices I wanted to hear during the march event.
While in the train, I met a couple of lifelong friends and their daughters, ages 12, 13, and 14 from California and Washington. The kids had never been to DC before and were very excited that their first time coincided with what became a historic day. The oldest told me that she's writing a paper about the experience for one of her classes while another is writing a piece for the local paper. All three of these young women told me about their activism at school and I just thought to myself, "Wow, I was so lame as a middle-schooler" and then one of them said something that really got my attention...
"You know, we go to different events and such, adults tell us to keep at it, we're the future. And I think, No. We Are The Now."
What a powerful statement. It really shaped my view of the day. At the march, it was pretty awe-inspiring to see the amount of people that had come to the event. By now, you've seen and heard the various reports that came out of that day (check out the pictures). I continued to talk to youth from all over the country about why they came to the march; they all felt it was important to be part of something and wanted to spread that feeling of activism.
About the time that Gloria Steinem took the stage, I walked up to a young man sitting on one of the federal building stoops, taking a break. He was 13, from St. Louis; he was holding a huge "Black Lives Matter" sign. The look on his face was a blend of fatigue and disgust. I said hello, asked him what he thought of all this (pointing to all the people) and he said, "I just think it is so dumb that we still have to do this." I agreed, then said to him, "Are you thinking about all your friends back in St. Louis, wishing they were here with you?" This young man gave me a look and an affirming nod that truly broke my heart, he followed up by saying, "I have a lot to tell them." We talked a little more, listening to Gloria's words, and then I shook his hand and thanked him for talking to me.
Our youth are dealing with such a complex tapestry of issues that we don't fully understand. I think we think we've been listening, but we really haven't. I know I didn't seriously discuss the election with any 12-18 year olds and now I regret not having done so, especially with first-time voters. This is what I'm taking away from the events of last week: that I have to do a better job at listening and giving our young members of society a place to talk freely about their hopes, their fears, and their dreams. We owe them that and so much more.