History as the Great Teacher :: One Mom’s Story of Claiming Generational Change

History as the Great Teacher:: One Mom's Story of Claiming Generational Change | Houston Moms Blog

As a child of the 80s, I feel certain that February in my elementary school was more than Valentine’s Day and hearts, but I cannot recall with any certainty the presence of Black History month as a curriculum focal point. Sure, we learned names like Martin Luther King, Jr and Rosa Parks, but I failed to understand the impact of these stories on my friends and neighbors. My limited understanding of racial divides was symbolic at best. As I grew in my understanding of history, I faced a reality that is not uncommon in my generation. We were not experiencing for ourselves the first hand accounts of the Civil Right Movement – that was the job of our parents – so for many of us, simply not using derogatory or racial charged slurs was evidence enough that we had overcome “the past.”

Secrets Have Power

That dangerous phrase lulled me to sleep in the early 90s. I wrongly assumed that with my parent’s move from small town southern roots to big city rearing of open minded city kids, we had progressed beyond the legacy of generational racism. In the spring of 1998, my fiancé and I drove though a north Mississippi town and the reality of my existence came into focus. Having just attended a family funeral, we were headed out of town in a shiny red Pontiac Grand Am. I took a wrong turn and in missing the highway, I found myself lost. Almost immediately, lights and sirens pulled me to a stop. As the officer approached, he said, “Ma’am, you should not be on this side of town.” With no ticket, or even a reason to stop me, he quickly gave me an escort. I have spent more than two decades thinking about that afternoon. I have watched countless traffic stops that have ended in shockingly different circumstances simply because of the skin color of the driver. I did nothing to deserve that treatment. I was born to a white mom and dad with grandparents of resource. That’s it. And because of my skin color alone, my story is one of privilege. 

Naming the Truth

With my own family’s story comes the reality of our place in the racial crisis that we find ourselves in decades later. As hard as it is to face the realities that I know to be true of my family’s place in history, what is even harder for me is not whitewashing our history to my kids. I have a 13 and 17 year-old. All they have to do is look at a map and a family photo and they can easily see that we have a part. Not long ago, we watched the 30 for 30 film, The Ghosts of Ole Miss. Much like the stories that Wright Thompson shares as he narrates the film, I have found myself torn to know the pieces of history that involve my family. In one of the last conversations I shared with my grandfather, we talked about the day that James Meredith was escorted onto the Ole Miss campus. He recounted his impressions of driving to Oxford to watch the event. As I told this story to my girls years later, it was so tempting to take the sting out. I wanted to explain that the grandfather that I loved was there to advocate for desegregation. That was not the case. So, I had to say that. Just like I have had to say the many things that are true about belief systems that I know I am called to change. 

Pointing the Spotlight Into the Dark

I have learned in many areas of my life that the only way to take the power out of a secret is to open the door on the darkness and let in the light. As a mom, I have to take responsibility for the truth and the words and the actions that show my kids {and the world} that we will not live in darkness anymore. Where I desire to cover up the harshness of the truth in favor of protecting the memories and affection I have for my grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles and beyond, my kids remind me daily that we can grow from our history. The answer is not closing it off in embarrassment and shame. The light comes in when we, instead, listen to the way that the past has shaped ALL of us – even if knowing that our history has played a part in the great pain of the present. 

Our Pain Can Be Our Motivation

I have found a beautiful place of peace with discomfort. It is from this place that I have great motivation to make change. When I feel a sense of failure or displeasure, I am forced to look at my part and do something different. If there is one thing that my privilege has taught me is that I have a great responsibility to actively engage and leave a new legacy going forward. For me, that is done in the hard work of mental health advocacy, recovery and speaking boldly for those who feel voiceless.  One of the most transformative paths to growth has been when I have stopped explaining my story and instead begin listening to the stories of others. In taking responsibility for my own legacy, I have been transformed and challenged to be passionate about action for healing. And I need you to know that I am not the only one. Just a few weeks ago, I was scrolling through Facebook when a post from my cousin appeared. He was with his friend and mentor James Meredith at the 50th Anniversary of the Marks Mule Train. Together, learning side by side, they are transforming a community from darkness to light. We have so much work to do, but we are at our best when we do it together. 

 


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One Response to History as the Great Teacher :: One Mom’s Story of Claiming Generational Change

  1. Avatar
    Lee Ann February 4, 2019 at 7:26 am #

    This! Thank you for being a voice that, as you say so well, “doesn’t take the sting out.” And love this inspiration as well: “I have found a beautiful place of peace with discomfort. It is from this place that I have great motivation to make change.” Thanks always for the way your life and your words let the light in.

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