Today, December 6, 2013, the morning after Nelson Mandela’s passing, I posted the following to Facebook:
“When I heard of Mandela’s transition, I was deeply saddened. Yet I was consoled by a memory of [my] Dad taking us to see him in Boston after his prison release. What an amazing opportunity and blessing! Just last week, I hung pictures of Mandela and other elders who have given their lives for us in my bedroom and my 3 year old asked about each one. We talked about where they are from and what they did and the examples they gave us to follow. So inspired by this historic moment, by my own Father’s gifts to me and Our Elder Mandela’s gifts to the world. Let’s be like Mandela and spread love, and work to free all who are still not free. Let’s tell our children so they have powerful examples to guide them…”
I learned about Nelson Mandela, and numerous heroes and heroines from throughout the African Diaspora, from my parents. On many occasions, when I was faced with racism and despair as a child, teen and young adult, those icons uplifted me and gave me courage. They created a powerful cord of resilience in me, based on the knowing that I am an extension of a long line of ancestor warriors. I have inherited a legacy of overcoming. Now, as a parent—a mother of a three-year-old boy—and educator, I often ask myself what my son is learning about this legacy. Have I done enough to show him models of the world his ancestor’s helped create? Indeed, in this age of the US school-to-prison pipeline, in the midst of “stand your ground” politics and all of the other injustices that plague the world, how do we arm our young ones with the weapons of cultural pride and knowledge of self? When our children are bombarded with a bevy of Disney/ Pixar images that seldom reflect the real, diverse, complex beauty that captures who they are, what is enough to counteract mainstream messages?
My parents used black history playing cards, comic books, documentaries, concerts and visits to cultural history sites and events such as the Mandela tour visit to Boston, in order to counteract the negativity in the mainstream of our generation. I try to follow their examples now in order to prepare and empower my own son. I watch cartoons with my son (trying to choose the more educational ones), and I am saddened when I see so few faces (or hear so few voices) that are not the “typical” ones. Mandela’s Centre of Memory (www.nelsonmandela.org) released “The Madiba Legacy Comics” beginning in 2005. I’ve added these to my son’s repertoire. I want him to see faces that look more like his own, and to know that he doesn’t have to conform. He stands on sacred ground and he can resist, knowing that traditions have been set and continue to unfold. Looking forward to sharing with other parents who are thinking of the same things…