loving day 2017

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Today is Loving Day! A celebration that honors the courage of Mildred and Richard Loving, who boldly fought their way to the U.S. Supreme Court with a legal case against the state of Virginia for its racist laws banning intermarriage between whites and non-whites. The Lovings may not have initially imagined that pursuing personal justice — the right to have their marriage acknowledged and validated in their homestate without the threat of jail — would result in a landmark civil rights victory of far-reaching proportions for generations to come. But the Supreme Court’s decision, on June 12, 1967, overturned anti-miscegenation laws in 16 states, decriminalized interracial marriages, and set a precedent for the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015! 

On a personal level, June 12th is also an auspicious date for us — not only as an interracial couple, but for the chance encounter at a gas station one Saturday afternoon in 2004 that led to our reconnection after meeting briefly as teens more than 10 years prior.

Thirteen years later, we are parents to a child whom we are nurturing and teaching to understand and embrace himself as a black boy with multi-ethnic, multicultural, interfaith roots.

On the wall above his bed are a map of the world and of North America. I’ve finger-traced lines from all the places both our families have originated, across the many miles and borders traveled, to the city where the three of us were born. K tastes his Caribbean heritage in the meals I prepare and touches it during visits with my heavy-accented and dreadlocked Calypso-musician father and has learned of his German-Canadian ancestry from my maternal line and our visit to my late great-grandmother’s birthplace in Ontario. His connection to his dad’s maternal Czechoslovakian ancestry is less substantial because, for many reasons, we don’t encounter it those same embodied and sensate ways (especially since the death of my husband’s grandmother)…but there’s time to learn.

While the more complex discussions of affinity groups, intersectionality, and race as a social construct rather than a biological reality is a ways off, I’m curious to see how fluid or fixed his sense of ethnic/racial and cultural identity will ultimately become. We live in a town we jokingly call The Interracial Capitol* and are surrounded by bi- or multi-racial cousins (all on his dad’s side, by the way), friends, and neighbors, so his lens is very brown. And, his use of black, blackish, brown, brownish-white to describe himself (and to identify the similarity of our complexions while distinguishing the differences between ours and his dad’s) seems to be evolving from the basic capacity to articulate the concrete variations of skin tone toward a liminal and nuanced understanding of shared cultural experiences. Take this morning for example: As we learned about prefixes, K suddenly stopped to point out that seeing the word “multi-colored” reminded him of the books we read about segregation. Yup, those were the words that came out of his 7-year-old mouth. A total kiss-your-brain moment!

Despite all the interracial couples I know (of which, surprisingly, almost a dozen are black women married to white men), I’ve never heard nor seen any mention of this historical day being observed as a privately-hosted celebration or community event in our area. First steps: talking about the importance of Loving Day with my husband and son during dinner this evening; and adding our family’s story to the expansive legacy of love, hope, bravery and freedom that inspires us to keep fighting against injustice 50 years later.

*(To be very clear, having intimate, interpersonal relationships with an individual and a handful of their family and friends is not necessarily correlated with folks being “woke” and anti-racist. Receipts must be checked!)


bodhicitta bookshelf: The Case for Loving, co-created by husband + wife team Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, was among the books we read this winter as part of our exploration of social justice, civil rights, black cultural icons, and U.S. history.

the golden time of day

he crawls into the empty pre-dawn space daddy made, flings his legs over mine, and quickly drops back to sleep.

waking hours later, he speaks to me of colorful video-pixeled dreams.

reflections in the 7th year of #motherhood

i was initiated into “mothering” by practicing (with much fumbling + failing) on the many littles in my family who arrived before i became a parent 7 years ago.

then, on my son’s 1st birthday, it suddenly dawned on me that the celebration was not singularly for him, as culture and industry have dictated. it was a day for us to honor the blessing of our journey as parents, our vision for ourselves and our child(ren), and the circle of loved ones who support us in the process.

the day my son took his first breath holds most meaning for me and is what i officially recognize as mother’s/mothering day. it is when i became the mother that was seeded and nourished in the wombs of countless generations. through teresa, gene, sylvia, mary, dora and all the mothers before them, i bloomed into being. and it is this very specific moment in april 2010, that cord of memory, and those bodies that i wish to connect more deeply to — our collective labouring and birthing day.

and less and less to what feels fabricated and complicated by the realities of internalized grief and trauma, interpersonal strife, unjust institutional policies/practices that create inequities, disparities and barriers for children and caregivers/parents, and distorted gender-biased ideologies about motherhood that upholds a narrow vision of who can lay claim to the experience of mothering.

so i arrived at this day with mixed feelings for many deep-seeded/emerging/evolving reasons.

nonetheless, as always, i continue to celebrate:

mothers + all others who love, advocate for, educate, empower, inspire, nurture, and protect children. 

while also reflecting on the ways that consumer culture + commercial industry dictates who, what, when + how we celebrate. 

especially when, under the influence of profit + politics, these same commercially-driven institutions fail to advocate for (or struggle to protect) the health, education + well-being of children, caregivers, and parents.

this illustration by mari andrew is the most authentic expression of my it’s-complex-and-complicated “reframing” of Mother’s Day/Mothering Day.

spring cleaning fever

​when the kiddo wakes up before us, and we come down to find him tidying up!

unprompted. with no previous convo about chores. just straight-up took the initiative to clean house.

guess somebody got spring cleaning fever, and i’m totally here for it! these are the precious moments that affirm our decision to homeschool — to see the seeds we’ve planted, and water daily, are blooming beautifully. our son is not only demonstrating responsibility and an understanding of the value we place on taking care of our home, but also his own emerging appreciation for cleanliness.

…at least in the common areas of the house ’cause his room is not tidy at all! baby steps though.

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a boy + his dog hat

We cleaned out closets today to donate clothes and shoes that the kiddo has outgrown. But he ain’t lettin’ go of this hat his nana gave him back in 2011!

Even though he hasn’t worn it in years, his dad nearly became his mortal by suggesting it go in the donation pile. He’s totally his mama’s child in this way — some things are too precious to give away! 

See how serious K was: he napped* in it. I took it off so he wouldn’t sweat and, sure enough, when he woke up he came bounding downstairs with it right back in place.

(*this ultra-rare event was a gift of quiet for me.)

family storytime | black history month

After attending the Children’s Social Justice Reading Group at East Lansing Public Library last month, I jumped at the chance to volunteer in any way to help broaden awareness about this much-needed program in the greater-Lansing community (much-needed and instantly popularthey initially anticipated 30 participants, had 150 register, and 209 attend). So I was geeked when the Youth Services Librarian contacted me a few days later to assist with a Black History Month reading for their Family Storytime.

It was such a pleasure to collaborate with Miss Eva on book selection and to share ideas about activities. In fact, I knew we were on the same page the moment she pulled out Be Boy Buzz by bell hooks from a stack of first picks. I was over the moon to get the chance to read it at storytime! It will always be one my favorites not only because it’s a celebration of black boy joy, but also for creating one of my sweetest memories of K when I read it to him years ago — inspiring my then-toddler to recite the words along with me unprompted for the very first time. Sharing this story with her, we both agreed that instead of focusing strictly on historical figures — who were either dead or old and less relatable — it was important to show black characters and real life black kids doing ordinary and extraordinary things. Simply living, enjoying time with family and friends, using their imaginations, building, playing, problem-solving, taking care of pets. Just like them. Just like their friends, classmates, and neighbors. Just like the little girl in another book on our list that I got to read: Lola at the Library! And just like brave and talented kids such as fellow Michigander Amariyanna Copeny, who wrote to President Obama about the Flint water crisis, and Robby Novak, the adorable ambassador of kindness popularly known as Kid President. Both were among the group of smart and creative kidtrepreneurs and big dreamers featured in the Who Is Your Hero? craft, which Miss Eva modeled after the Black Heritage Series stamps with blank frames for the kids to create portraits of people they admired.

Offering lessons specifically tied to Black History Month, we decided to open storytime with We March; let the kids get their wiggles out by playing the Stoplight Game, which was the ideal moment to teach them about its inventor, Garrett Morgan; and created a final interactive activity based on 28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World. The latter was too text-heavy for the age group, so I suggested we invite the kids to pick a number and have their parents read about the corresponding day (check the photo gallery to see how Miss Eva set it up). For Day 29, there’s a beautiful poem that I thought tied perfectly to the question Miss Eva would ask the kids and parents to consider — a question that we hope will resound beyond this moment — What Kind of Community Do You Want to Live In?


Today

What will today bring,
what will today be,
will today be the day you make history?

Will your thoughts evolve science,
will you skill earn gold,
will your life story be
one worth being told?

Will your questions change laws,
will your words inspire others,
will your name be passed on 
by fathers and mothers?

Will the fire in your spirit
spark a revolution,
will your actions advance
humanity’s evolution?

Will others follow you into battle
to defend liberty,
will today be the day
you add to history?

Today is the day,
today is to be.


 

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Family Storytime Reading List

See what else we’re reading:
bodhicitta bookshelf | not just black history

 

Other teaching resources:
ABC Me Flashcards
Buzzfeed List of 26 Children’s Books That Celebrate Black Heroes
9 Craft Activities That Teach Preschoolers About Black History + Culture

bodhicitta bookshelf | not just black history

I chose these books well before Black History Month to help answer my observant child’s questions and expand his understanding of social justice after we’d watched and discussed the post-election episode of our favorite show black-ish (“Lemons“). Though K had been plugged into the campaign from catching clips when my husband watched the news (for my sanity I opted to read articles when I was in the headspace to manage small doses of the absurdity), he only learned of the election results when black-ish aired them in mid-January. Even though I’d explained the night before, during our beloved president’s farewell address, that Obama had less than two weeks left in the White House, it didn’t sink in that someone new would be occupying his office. When K asked if we could vote over the next 10 days to keep Obama as president,  I told him about term limits but still didn’t have the heart to announce who would be next.

So my baby, who had rallied hard for Hillary Climpton, was thoroughly shocked when No. 45 was revealed! (He had made HRC and the “other one” into LEGO figures and built a version of the White House with my niece one weekend.) That black-ish episode reflected every emotion and tension-filled conversation that my friends and I had experienced. At 6-and-half years old, K clearly understood and stated in his own words: “[That man] made the brown people and white people turn against each other.”

When the show ended, our bedtime lesson on the mistreatment of people of color began. I touched on the decimation of the Indigenous when this country was colonized by Europeans, slavery, segregation, civil rights and the current fight for justice and equity. I talked about our own family’s history, pointing out that we wouldn’t be who we are if those who came before us had not been able to marry because of their different races. That he wouldn’t be possible if those laws were still in place to prevent his dad and I from being together. I explained that those same harmful attitudes and actions are still present today and that No. 45 spewed dangerous words and ideas that encouraged bigoted people to think they were free to hurt anyone who was different from them. Worse yet, he picked more bigoted people to be on his team and together they can help make decisions that hurt everyone in our country, especially those who are not white, Christian, rich, educated and male.

I shared some hard truths about how scared and angry people are with what has been happening, pointing out that the same disagreements we watched unfold in a scene with Dre and his co-workers on black-ish were occurring in real life between friends and family members. K asked if people had known about all the mean and offensive things that had been said before they cast their vote. I explained that, sadly, those hurtful words had been stated loudly, publicly and repeatedly. Even still, people who would be considered decent, intelligent, and kind endorsed the candidate who incited so much hate.

Wanting to know how he was processing this all, I asked how he would feel if he learned that people he knew had voted for No. 45. Without hesitating, he said, “It’d break my heart.” I admitted that I felt the same way then turned the focus to how we can work to love and protect our community. (I checked in with him the next day, asking if he’d forgive them. To which he shrugged and replied, “Probs.“) As we finally settled down to sleep, I assured him that we’d keep him safe and then sang the metta-prayer I wrote for him when he was an infant with more fervor:

as the day turns into night, it’s time to send our love and light near, far and wide to everyone.
be happy. be safe. be well, have peace. good night, sleep tight, dream sweet until morning light.

I immediately picked out these books to give K a clear picture of the people who took bold and courageous risks to fight for our freedom to be treated as humans. This particularly troubling moment in our country — where the politics of the new administration are steeped in racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, injustice and inequity — demands more than ever that we pour into our babies that which nourishes their spirits, builds their esteem, cultivates their resilience, and strengthens their love for self and heritage as well as their understanding and respect for others. Whether fictive characters or historical figures, I am committed to selecting stories for my son that feature people of various ethnicities and cultures…every single day of the year. Representation matters and the history of North America belongs to all of us and is ours to tell.

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I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer | Carole Boston Weatherford

Rosa | Nikki Giovanni

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X | Ilyasah Shabazz

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage | Selina Alko

Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope | Nikki Grimes

love notes

From crafting an all-in-one Valentine/Birthday card for dad in our homeschool co-op class, Project Penmanship, to writing a Love Letter to Lansing at Bloom Coffee Roasters, we found and shined some light on this dreary, rainy day!

My guy wasn’t feeling well enough to write more than his name, but I’m so glad we were able to spread a little love in our hometown!

radical bodhicitta: planting seeds + liberating minds

i love naps but i stay woke” ~ dopest sign worn by a little darling at the #WomensMarch

On the morning of the Women’s March, we had the amazing opportunity to be a part of the launch of the first Children’s Social Justice Reading Group at the East Lansing Public Library, a library in our neighboring community.

Developed for children aged 4 to 11 years old, this program intends to introduce multicultural stories that reflect and honor the diverse experiences of people in our local and global communities; to broaden and deepen our little ones’ understanding of and compassion for the differences they notice and become curious about in others as well as the similarities they share; and to cultivate their listening and critical thinking skills.

With over 200 eager participants signed up (more than 6 times the modest 30 souls they guesstimated might be interested in a 10:30 am event on the same Saturday as the sister march taking place a few miles west at our State Capitol), the program coordinators whittled down the massive crowd by age-clusters and assigned us separate storytelling spaces. After the readings, each group was broken down into smaller discussion circles of five or six to answer questions, share thoughts, and brainstorm actions they might take if they met kids like the characters, Amelia and Hassan. Rounding out this special morning were snacks and crafts!

bodhicitta bookshelf

This month’s books focused on the theme of migrants and immigrants (a printed list with other titles for further reading was also provided):

Amelia’s Road by Linda Jacobs

The Colour of Home by Mary Hoffman


 

Update: #HomeschoolersBeLike

I was so geeked about the possibility of expanding this program into our district’s library and the homeschooling community that when I spotted librarians from my home district and the hosting site, I rounded them up, pleaded with them to stop working in silos, and shamelessly begged-volunteered to help!

So, guess who was invited to help with the storytime for Black History Month and the next SJRG?!

bodhicitta bookshelf | what was your dream dr. king? by mary kay carson

I was pretty surprised when my son and husband returned from a quick trip to the library a couple weeks ago with this book among their new selections. Even more so, when my husband confessed that he had no hand in picking out a single item! Granted, our library does a great job of displaying books connected to a season, holiday, special event, or other poignant theme.  But my action-adventure-and-technology-loving 6 year-old typically gravitates toward superheroes, dragons, dinos and the like. So I was super proud and impressed by his awareness of the kinds of books that I would choose for him!

Now we’ve started this monumental week in our nation’s history by honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and will close out by attending the first ever Children’s Social Justice Reading Group offered at a local library this weekend.

on refuge + resistance | reclaiming king’s dream

3 Jewels Yoga™

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We begin this historic week with the commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the National Day of Racial Healing as we trudge toward the final day that our country’s first Black president, Barack Obama, will stand as head of state. Fueled and aflame, with our hearts and minds resting on justice, liberation and healing, we take refuge in the good works, legacy, and words of wisdom from emissaries of light.

In intimate circles, we draw closer, lean into, speak truths and listen deeply to one another — resisting the temptation to be pulled under by despair, fear, hate, and hopeless.  En masse, we gather, convene, rally, and march — using our voices and bodies to resist the normalization of this new swell of injustice and violence that seeks to impoverish, divide, and oppress us. Wherever we are, we reclaim the integrity of King’s vision: to stand firmly…

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touching the earth | a reflection on zenju earthlyn manuel’s “Way Seeking Mind of Martin Luther King Jr.”

reflection

As a Zen practitioner in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, my study of his teachings and personal history provided a surprising lesson about the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This gleaming insight into their relationship renewed my appreciation and broadened my understanding of King’s legacy as it elucidated the global impact of his compassionate mission.

Several years ago, inspired by the “inter-being” between these two leaders as well as my own dharma as a Black American woman on this path of practice, I led my root sangha in the Touching the Earth prostrations to honor King and Thay as spiritual teachers.

Since then, my Monday evening Yin+Yang Yoga class has fallen on this national holiday. Each asana that brings our hearts closer to the earth (like these two favorites: Child’s Pose + Anahatasana) becomes a prostration, in which we fully embody the mindfulness practice of remembrance and reconciliation. We remember our origins and connections: to ancestors, by blood and spirit; to this Earth that sustains us and upon which our complex and interwoven histories have been built. We may began to penetrate the deep suffering emanating from our painful histories, which continue to manifest in new forms and to impact our experiences and abilities to relate to one another because of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, disability and a whole slew of “differences” that seem to separate us. Breath by compassion-filled breath, we may began to reconcile these histories as we acknowledge, cradle, and heal our own suffering. We give it back to this wondrous Earth to absorb and transform it, as from the mud blooms a lotus.

In every class, I invite the practitioners to cultivate compassionate understanding of their bodies, minds and hearts through the alignment of breath and posture. Generating such mindfulness and loving awareness for ourselves teaches us how to skillfully extend compassion and loving-kindness to others.

When we abide in mindfulness, our senses become clear and fully attuned to the spectrum of beauty and suffering in the world. We acknowledge our own contribution to that stream–how our actions increase beauty or increase suffering. We make amends when we cause suffering and begin anew, watering seeds of compassion. Each heart-driven act–embodied on the mat, the cushion, among our beloveds and within our communities–commemorates the King’s legacy.

On this path, as teacher and practitioner, I know I am a continuation of Dr. King.

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[Originally posted 31 January 2013; Updated 20 January 2014]

Related:

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel |The Way-Seeking Mind of Martin Luther Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. | King’s Nobel Peace Prize Nomination Letter for Thich Nhat Hanh
Rev. Dr. Andrew C. Kennedy | Martin Luther King Jr. + Thich Nhat Hanh

[Broken links updated 16 January 2017]

bodhicitta bookshelf | holy-day lessons

Nixing Xmas

Long before I began studying the dharma, Christmas had lost its tinsely-sparkle. My interest and effort to participate waned as I became increasingly disheartened by the conflation of generosity with consumerism, of Jesus with Santa, of prayers with wish lists. Wedged between this fall’s incendiary election and the new year’s looming inauguration, these typically family-oriented holidays became the fallout zone of politically-endorsed hate and division that seemed only to escalate distortions of faith.  It further illuminated the problematic ideology of Christmas and its pervasive cultural narratives, which whitewash holidays in a Hallmark hue and subsequently generate carols of racist backlash that seeks to stake exclusive, rage-filled claim to the icons of comfort, joy, and holly-jolly cheer.

Letting go of Christmas has not only been a process of minimizing my participation in the “fanfare and frippery” of festivities for which I feel no personal connection. More than that, it has been a proclamation of both my commitment to center and uplift practices that make space for inclusive, inter-cultural understanding and my resistance to engaging in toxic cultural customs. Rather than occupying space as a mere bystander at a holiday gathering, I would prefer to cultivate “the enchantment” of the season through activities that bolster a lasting sense of goodwill, gratitude, and kinship with our community.

Celebrating the Simple + Sweet

We’re a keep-life-simple-and-sweet kind of family in general and are just as vigilant in applying that rule to holidays (and birthdays). Our son has reached the age where he’s aware that our way of doing things doesn’t necessarily look the way that other families do things. When he makes observations to that point, we explain how our values/preferences are reflected in these choices. If met with a request to make adjustments, we often brainstorm fresh ways to expand our perspective and integrate his ideas.

For instance: When K commented that we never put up a tree and lights, I told him that his dad and I weren’t interested in accumulating seasonal knickknacks. Instead, I offered to help him decorate his room. Then…we watched the Just Christmas Baby episode of black-ish, and he adamantly quashed my suggestion! (So glad to have dodged that.) Decorations aside, we may watch a few holiday movies and listen to songs. But we’re far more likely to get enthused about having enough snowfall to go sledding than we do for unwrapping gifts.

Of course, K loves gifts as much as any kid and gleefully receives them from family members under the auspices of Christmas. But we’ve explained to him that we simply don’t make a big deal out of getting gifts that we can otherwise purchase on any given day (though my husband will take advantage of the sales season for things we’ve already had in mind for the household). And, like most parents, we hope our child will have a healthy appreciation for material possessions balanced with a practice of generosity, a commitment to simplicity, and (the struggle of all struggles) a capacity to let go of things that are no longer useful.

The question always is how to embody and integrate those values in our daily experiences; and, during special times of the year, how to creatively channel the energy of the holidays to bolster what’s most important to us.

New Rituals + Renewed Hope

K’s old enough to sincerely comprehend how and why we put these values into action. So we enjoyed a “giving back” family outing — crafting cards, drawing pictures, and donating food for holiday baskets that a local non-profit organization delivered to those in need. While this was not the first service project we’ve participated in, it was the first one connected to the holidays. And, it was truly heart-warming to know that we could add a little more light to someone else’s celebration.

However, on a deeply personal level, the holidays remained lackluster for me. Drawing on my son’s enthusiasm and curiosity, I reflected on my own heritage for a spark of inspiration. My matrilineal family is of Jewish ancestry, but the cultural and religious practices did not survive the three generations of intermarriage and border crossings that would produce such multi-ethnic, multicultural, multinational descendants of a matriarch who left Germany as a teen in 1880. So, unsurprisingly, Hanukkah was not at all a part of my family’s tradition. As for Kwanzaa, I have only vague memories of my mother wanting us to celebrate it when I was in junior high. It’s very likely that my siblings and I groaned and begrudgingly allowed her to drag us to a public event once. But we never adopted it in our home.

To see these traditions with fresh eyes and to show K that there are other ways to honor this season, we read books about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Both uplift principles can be integrated into lessons beyond what are intended to be these holy days of reflection on endings, beginnings, transformation, rebirth, renewal, and spiritual fortitude.

Holy HanuKwanzakah

Hanukkah Moon illuminates the lesser-told Sephardic Jewish traditions as it focuses on a special evening that a young girl spends with her aunt, who has recently moved from Mexico. They sing the Dreidel Song  in English and Spanish, hang a dreidel-shaped pinata, and celebrate the luna nueva (new moon) at Hanukkah in which the faith of women in ancient story is highlighted (Rosh Hodesh). In her “author’s note” and glossary, da Costa provides a brief explanation of the settlement of Jews in Latin America as well as the significance of Hanukkah as the celebration of re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem.

My First Kwanzaa is a primer on the seven-day celebration of pan-African cultural pride that is now in its 50th year. Though it is not a religious alternative to Christmas, Kwanzaa prayers have been written and incorporated into faith-based services.

Written from the perspective of a little girl who is experiencing the festivities for the first time, Katz illustrates in bright bold splashes the seven principles of Kwanzaa: unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba), and faith (imani). Each concept is presented as a “special idea” matched with activities to honor each day. For example, on the third day, friends and family plant flowers in their neighborhood to demonstrate “working together,” a kid-friendly interpretation of ujima or collective work. (What didn’t quite translate well for me was the depiction of self-determination, wherein little girl asked her mother to braid her hair in a “fancy African way.” This principle could have been simplified as “making choices for ourselves” and the example strengthened by more clearly illustrating that little girl had been given the chance to choose her own hairstyle.) Like da Costa, Katz also includes a pronuniciation key for the corresponding Swahili word and an author’s note that explains the history and purpose of Kwanzaa.

However we ultimately decide to observe the holidays next December, these two books offered ideas that our family can lift up, reimagine, and put into practice all year round.


Follow your Curiosity:

A Brief History of Jews in Mexico
Kwanzaa 50 Years Later