In a group online, a few colleagues wondered about what to tell their children and how to tell them about what has been going on in the world, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the question of what we tell our children and when, and how to protect them and give them hope. I’m not much worried about what to tell my 15-year-old — she sees it and gets it. We talk about what happens. I had an on-the-way-to-school chat with her about the Stanford rape, reminding her about the issue of consent, and she politely listened and let me know that she knew all of that already. We’ve been in grief over Orlando, and have talked about that, too.
At some moment, though, I had a flashback to myself as an eight-year-old standing in the hot sun while my mother walked with a picket sign in her hand along with 15 or more people, asking a Virginia apartment complex to change their policies to allow open housing. “No Negroes need apply” was their policy, and she was a real activist for civil rights. I remember feeling fear when the Klan showed up that day, and more fear when the police did. We watched the dogs and the fire-hoses on TV and talked about it. I knew about the 4 girls who died in the bombing at their church.
At age 11, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, I watched Washington, DC burn on the television while my mother made calls to the parents of the preschoolers she was supposed to take to the National Zoo on a field trip the next day. MLK was a hero in our house and we all wept. That same year, my mother took us with her when she went to Resurrection City, the tent city erected next to the Lincoln Memorial, where she was volunteering. We marched in the Solidarity Day March that took place in the weeks after King died in support of the Poor People’s Campaign. Hundreds waded into the Reflecting Pool, holding hands and singing on that hot day. I have a picture of me there.
Hope comes from taking action, I think. Hope grows from not looking away. Our children are more resilient than we know. Sing the songs with them — We Shall Not be Moved, and Gentle Angry People and We Shall Overcome, and whatever is out there that lifts your heart and spirit. Go to the vigils. Light candles. March. Remind them that they can have an impact on the world and it’s important for them — and for you — to be part of making a difference.
During times like this we need all the resources we can get, so here’s something more that will, I hope, help.
Robin McHaelen, Executive Director for True Colors, a nonprofit serving sexual minority youth and families in Hartford CT shared some useful advice that we share here with their permission:
The average age that LGBTQ youth are coming out is 11 – 13 years old. Think about it. Put yourselves in their shoes. Would you be scared to come out to others? What would happen if your family rejected you? Would you lose your friends? Will people bully you? The world is so much better now, isn’t it? But, what is it isn’t?
Now imagine you are that same 11-13 year old and your social media is blowing up with images and reports of the mass shooting in Orlando. Over 100 LGBTQ people murdered or wounded in their own special space. What might you be feeling? Who could you turn to for support?
Or imagine you are a Muslim child discovering that someone who ‘shares your faith’, was the perpetrator of the violence? Like the LGBTQ child above, wouldn’t you be terrified of the responses of your neighbors or your classmates? What if they equate the actions of an individual to your entire group? Will you be safe at school? On the street? In the community?
Each of these children is blameless. Yet, each is a victim of the violence that bias, prejudice and discrimination creates. It is time to turn Compassion to ACTION.
What can you DO? Here’s six ways you can make a difference. Pick one or devise one of your own. DO SOMETHING.
• Check in with the children in your life. Whether you want them to or not, they have heard about what happened. Talk to them; reassure them. Let them know that they are LOVED and that they CAN talk to you.
• Give up denial. You are biased. We ALL are. It is in our nature to create groups who are US and groups who are THEM. The “us’s” and the “them’s” differ from family to family, group to group and community to community – but we ALL have them. The first step to letting our biases go is to admit that they exist.
• Move TOWARD those you have ‘othered’. The most effective form of prejudice reduction is face-to-face interactions over a period of time. Don’t know any lesbian or gay people? Never met someone who is transgender? Attend a pride event. Ask an LGBTQ co-worker for coffee or lunch. Don’t know anyone who identifies as Muslim? Visit a Mosque. Ask a co-worker about Ramadan. Invite someone you never talk with to sit at your table. You get the idea…
• Hear mean? Intervene. Everywhere and every time. At work, at play, at home, within your community of faith, across a holiday table… Biases are passed from generation to generation in all of these places. Consider: every time you don’t say something, you HAVE said something. You have said it is okay with you. Practice ways of gently intervening: Say “OUCH”. Say, “Grandma, I see that very differently.” Say, “Dad, please don’t use that word around me or my children.” Say, “Sir. I respectfully disagree.” Say SOMETHING.
• Volunteer. Identify a community you want to learn more about and volunteer. So many nonprofits need help. So many non-profits need someone like you. Support a candidate that shares your values. Encourage Congress to ban assault rifles so no civilian has the means to create such carnage.
• Make a donation. Support a cause in your community. Pick a charity or a non-profit that works with a community you don’t know much about. Their newsletters, annual reports and thank you notes will teach you a lot about who they are and why you should care.
Thanks to True Colors for sharing these ways we can connect, and for giving us permission to repost these ideas with our community. We’re all better when we work together and are standing on the side of love. Find them at their website: http://www.ourtruecolors.org/