Why #BlackLivesMatter to me

I’m not black. So, why would a parenting blog written by a 43 year old Stay At Home Dad of six kids write anything about race? In a word, compassion. I spent the better part of the last week and a half watching multiple tragedies unfold, often in real time. I saw videos of Alton Sterling’s death. I saw Philando Castile die while his girlfriend watched it happen and broadcast it live on Facebook. I saw almost a dozen police officers get shot (five fatally) in Dallas while protecting a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. Through it all I wept. I watched those videos and what struck me was the humanity of each person. Each of those lives mattered. Those men were husbands, fathers, sons, boyfriends, best friends…and now they’re dead. I watched the 15 year old son of Alton Sterling bravely standing by the woman speaking, trying to comfort her, only to break down moments later and sob uncontrollably. I want Daddy. I want Daddy. I didn’t see color. I saw my own 11 year old son for a moment there. I wept again for that young man, now fatherless. I watched in shock last Thursday night as the police officers were gunned down in Dallas. I wept. I prayed for our country. I prayed for peace. I prayed for understanding. I prayed for compassion.

As a parent one of the most important things I’m trying to teach all of my kids is compassion. I will have failed as a parent if my children are not compassionate people when they leave home. But, I cannot teach that if I’m not compassionate myself. I believe that being compassionate is the ability to look at things from the perspective of others, to understand them better, so that I can help them accordingly. For example, on Sunday afternoon I was driving home from the mall with two of my kids and there was a woman standing by the side of the road trying to get across the five lanes with a heavy-looking large pull-cart behind her. I stopped my van and motioned for her to cross. After two cars whizzed past she had a chance to cross in front of me, but the oncoming traffic was approaching and she was slow. So, I turned to the left and blocked the two lanes to shield her, to ensure her safe passage. I was about to leave when she told me that she was trying to catch the bus which just blowing past the stop (because she was too slow to make it there). She asked for a ride to the bus terminal a mile away and I instead offered her a ride home. I introduced myself and made a new friend, Samantha. I had been less than two minutes from home, but drove this lady 15-20 minutes to her apartment building in downtown Tacoma (and then 15 -20 minutes back home). Samantha talked the entire way there, telling me about her mother (dying of cancer) and her husband (disabled with seizures after getting shot in the head) and her own injury (motorcycle accident at age 16 that nearly severed her foot) which caused her to limp even now at age 55. Oh, I guess I forgot to mention that Samantha is black. Interestingly enough, though, the color of her skin wasn’t a factor in my ability to show her compassion when I saw her standing by the side of the road. All I saw was another human being who needed a little bit of help.

I guess this brings me back to the events of this last week. I am saddened by what seems to be a lack of compassion among many of my friends. The black lives matters movement began as a way to draw attention to the ongoing problem of black people being disproportionately targeted by some members of the law enforcement community and then unfairly treated by the legal system. I’ll admit that when I first saw the #blacklivesmatter hashtag a couple of years ago that I ignorantly responded with #alllivesmatter. I didn’t understand. I thought that it had to be one or the other. Thankfully, I have some pretty awesome friends who either wrote or shared articles that showed me the error of my thinking. Some of these friends are dad-bloggers (like me), who have teenage children (like me), but have black skin (unlike me). I learned that these men have been racially profiled all of their lives. They’ve been stopped by the police dozens of times simply because of the color of their skin. I think in my 43 years of life I’ve been pulled over exactly three times. Twice for speeding (deserved) and once for going through an intersection on a yellow light (undeserved, no ticket). Not once for having a broken taillight or a wide nose. Philando Castile, who was days shy of his 33rd birthday, had been stopped 31 times by police over the years. He’s 10 years younger than me. I seriously doubt that he’s that bad of a driver. My friends shared that they’ve had to have conversations with their kids about how to respond if when they have an interaction with police so that their kids will come home safely. For real. This is where I started to really begin to understand how much white privilege I have but I don’t even realize it. I can let my son ride his scooter a few blocks to a nearby Walgreens to buy some candy, even while wearing a hoodie, and not worry that he’s going to get shot by a neighborhood enforcer or a police officer. He’s even managed to sneak a Nerf gun in the waistband of his shorts into public and no one complained or called the cops on him. Moreover, I don’t get pulled over “randomly” when driving around town running errands because I might look like a suspect due the color of my skin or the width of my nose. The inherent privilege of being white in America was something that I had to make an effort to learn about, particularly about how minorities don’t share that privilege. I don’t have to be sorry for being white or ashamed of it. Yet, I believe that I do have a responsibility as a human being to treat others with compassion and to fight for justice wherever I see the need for it. Sometimes that means that I need to educate myself, to learn the stories of my brothers and sisters who don’t look like me, to mindfully build the bridges that lead to a true change of heart and compassion.

Now, here’s where it gets a little bit tricky for some people. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” upsets a lot of people. They think it means that only black lives matter and that black lives matter more than anyone else. Nope. Nope. Nope. Black-Lives-Matter-quotesThey love to fire back with All Lives Matter, or Blue Lives Matter. Yes, they do. But, until we, as a country and as individuals can act like ALL lives matter then there will remain a need for movements like Black Lives Matter. For example, just last week I shared several things on my personal Facebook page about the deaths of Sterling and Castile. There weren’t many comments and my feed wasn’t filled with anyone posting stuff saying All Lives Matter in response to those two men dying. Yet, within a few moments of the shooting of the police officers in Dallas my feed was full of people sharing pictures of the badge of the Dallas Police Department and using the phrase Blue Lives Matter. People were showing compassion and concern for the victims and even their communities and families simply because the victims were police officers. I respect the men and women in blue as much as anyone and believe that they have incredibly difficult jobs that require them to be “on” 100% of the time. One momentary lapse could cost them their lives, so the national outpouring of compassion for their families is well deserved. But, why couldn’t that same compassion be shown or expressed for the victims just a few days before? Or for any of the countless victims of black on black crime that All Lives Matter folk love to derisively reference? If ALL lives matter then even the lives that some might deem “worthless” should matter. If ALL lives matter then no one will rest until there are ZERO incidents of police brutality. I believe that I can say Black Lives Matter at the same time that I say Blue Lives Matter because I value both groups. Why? Because we’re all human beings. Compassion doesn’t depend on color.

I don’t want to live in a country that thinks it’s okay to racially profile people based on their race or ethnicity or any other trait. I don’t want to live in a country where abusive or racist cops are tolerated and the good cops suffer the tragic consequences. I don’t want to live in a nation that points out the high rate of black on black crime as an excuse to say that the police can use excessive force or that exposes the record of victims in a not so subtle way of saying he got what he deserved. We’re better than that. We owe it to our kids to be compassionate for one another. Step out of your comfort zone and educate yourself. Talk to your kids about this topic. Help them to understand so that they can grow up without the racial tension that is so prevalent in our nation today. As a SAHD, I get to see my children interact with others in a lot of situations where there’s no adult hovering over and directing their every move. I’ve noticed the ease that my 6 and 3 year old daughters have in playing with boys and girls of any skin color in places like a children’s museum, a McDonald’s play place or the playground at a park. I’m thrilled that my 11 year old son’s best friend is witty, respectful, silly, smart, and loves to catch frogs just like my son. The fact that he and my son don’t share the same skin pigmentation is irrelevant to their friendship. Why do we, as adults, make such big deal about this? Why is it so hard to show compassion for one another?

I want to leave you with a quote from my friend Janice, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Her daughter and one of my daughters became friends early in grade school and were best friends until we moved to Washington state four years ago. Her twins, now 17, are black and were adopted by Janice and her husband as babies. As a white parent raising black children she offered a unique perspective on my Facebook page last week when I posted a (much shorter) version of this blog post calling for compassion.

Thank you so much, Carl, for speaking truth and compassion. My son and daughter, who you know quite well, are deeply upset. When a 17 year old girl was treated with over the top brutality by Madison, WI, police my daughter became very upset and agitated. When I spoke to my son about the gentleman who was murdered by police officer in Minnesota, he said, “Mom, can we not talk about this now” as he turned his face and his eyes swelled up with tears. My twins have been experiencing this grief and fear on regular basis. They have been ignored, verbally called “n” word, followed in stores, gawked at, frowned at, not given food while waiting in line after ordering and more. The macro and micro agressions cause a human to be in a state of constant vigilance, increase anxiety, create emotional stress and more due to lack of safety and peace. Yes, they are humans with huge big hearts of compassion! They are giving, gentle, hard workers who do treat others with respect. However, when they walk out the door into “society”, they play a game with loaded dice. We need truth and reconciliation talks to really understand our history and the violence against black bodies. Perhaps readers of this thread would like to read, Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Thank you again, Carl. It is very hard to turn toward this violence and actually see it for what it is. My 17 year old shared, “I think I will go to school here because I haven’t been shot yet.” The war against black bodies hasn’t ended. The slave codes allowed the beatings, rapes and murder. We as a society have much work to do. I’m open to suggestions as I’m blinded by grief.

So, I ask you, my dear readers, what are YOU going to do to help bring healing to our country? Are you willing to cultivate compassion in yourself and in your children? I know that I am and I hope that you are as well.

 

 

*****Here are some links to articles that I’ve found helpful in educating myself regarding Black Lives Matter and policing in the United States.*****

Surprising New Evidence Shows Bias in Police Use of Force but Not in Shootings

Study Supports Suspicion That Police Are More Likely to Use Force on Blacks

Advice for White Folks in the Wake of the Police Murder of a Black Person

Solutions

The Problem with Saying ‘All Lives Matter’

See beyond “the police” for change…

The video of Alton Sterling’s son is the video you should watch

Adrian Perryman’s Video

http://www.blacklivesmatter.com

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/president-obama-memorialize-police-officers-killed-dallas-sniper/story?id=40488652

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The Hug That Defined My Teaching Career

“Can I give you a hug?” It was a simple question, really, spoken by a person who was trying to extend compassion to someone who was hurting. Yet, simply asking that question meant taking a huge risk, possibly putting a young career in jeopardy. It was 1996. I was barely 24 years old, just over a month into my second year as a teacher. I had gotten to school early that morning to prepare for my first hour science class. It was 7:15 am, which meant that I had roughly 35 minutes of peace and quiet before students were allowed in the building. At about 7:25 I heard some crying from the hallway just outside my classroom door. I discovered a girl standing in front of her open locker, sobbing uncontrollably. This girl was in my first hour class, and I asked her what was going on. She was barely able to communicate through sobs that some of the kids on the bus that morning had been making fun of her and said some pretty mean and hurtful things to her about her appearance. I had flashbacks to my own childhood, in which a lot of my classmates had made some pretty mean comments about my big ears and about that one time I had been mean to a classmate. I knew her pain all too well. I invited her to come into my classroom to get herself together before everyone else arrived. I handed her a box of tissues and kept on getting ready for the lab we were going to do that day in class. After a few minutes her sobs became more sighs, but she was still obviously hurting. As a young teacher I thought that I was ready and able to take on whatever challenges I would face in the classroom. I was wrong. There had been nothing in my own education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to prepare me for this particular moment.

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Not knowing what else to do, I sat on a chair near her and asked her if she wanted to talk about it. She didn’t. Yet, when I looked into her eyes I could see that she was barely keeping it together, the tears still welling up. I couldn’t just let this girl suffer like this. What was I supposed to do? In that moment a bunch of thoughts whizzed through my head. It was obvious that this girl needed a hug, some reassurance, some humanity. But, if I gave her a hug I could get fired for “inappropriate contact” with a student, right? Or maybe get hauled off to jail? Bye-bye, teaching career. Bye-bye wife and young daughter. Seriously, those thoughts were going through my mind at that moment. Instead, I looked at this girl as someone’s daughter who needed some help to get through her own teenage crisis. So, I pushed the negative thoughts aside and mustered as much courage as I could as I asked her, “Could I give you a hug?”. She nodded and we embraced. At that time my own daughter was only two so I had never known what it was like for a young adult to literally melt into your embrace. After what seemed like several minutes but was actually probably only 15-30 seconds she took a big breath and sat down again. Only, she looked at me with what appeared to be a slight smile, a marked change from moments before. She excused herself to the bathroom to wash off her face and returned a few minutes later all ready for the school day to begin.

I was glad that she was feeling so much better but still very nervous about what had just happened. Had I crossed some line by giving her a hug? I reassured myself that I had done nothing wrong by showing her some kindness and compassion in her time of need. I was actually feeling pretty good about it when I received a voice mail from her mother the next day. I nervously played the message from her and was greatly relieved when she thanked me for being so kind and understanding. It put my mind at ease that I had done the right thing. A few weeks later I met her parents in person at Parent-Teacher Conferences. The first thing that they brought up was this specific incident and thanked me again for my thoughtful actions. As we talked more I learned that their daughter’s Bat Mitzvah was coming up in a few weeks. Having been raised in a Christian home I had no idea of the amount of preparation by the child that goes into such an event. They graciously extended an invitation for my wife and I to attend the ceremony. It was an eye-opening opportunity for me to learn more about my students and another culture that I doubt would have happened if not for “the hug”.

Looking back on this incident from nearly 20 years ago I think that “the hug” was really a career-defining moment for me as a teacher. It showed me the importance of being real with my students. I had heard some professor during undergrad talk about the importance of developing rapport with students and he tossed out one of my favorite quotes

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. -Theodore Roosevelt

This particular experience perfectly illustrated his point for me. I had been told by some older, more veteran teachers, that I was being too “real” with my students. That they would only respect me if I kept them at arm’s length. Don’t ever let them really know you. Yet, that wasn’t me at all. One of the things that I loved about teaching was the relationships that I could build with my students over the course of the year. I truly wanted to make a difference in their lives and I felt that would only happen if I showed them my humanity; showed them that I cared.

Before writing this post I contacted the girl I wrote about above. Of course, she’s no longer a “girl” because, well, that was 1996. We talked on the phone about this incident and how it impacted her life. She agreed to let me use her first name but I sensed some hesitation so I’m not going name her. Interestingly enough, she is a teacher herself. She told me that there were three teachers, one in elementary school, one in middle school (guess who?!) and one in high school that really impacted her in a positive way. She lives in a major city on the East Coast and teaches third grade. She said that she, too, has discovered the importance and value of being real with her students, something that she learned way back in middle school. I have to admit that it made me a little nostalgic for my teaching career. I miss the relational aspect of it. But not enough to give up my current gig. (Not even close.)

Finally, while I believe that “the hug” was a defining moment in my teaching career, I know that it has also impacted my career as a Stay At Home Dad. I try to show my kids how much I care every single day. Sometimes it’s a hug, sometimes an encouraging word, sometimes just a safe place to let them vent. All I know is the importance of being real with them. I’ve worked hard to establish a trust and rapport with them so that they will feel comfortable with bringing big stuff to me for us to deal with. Together.

hugs-101

Book Review: Dad’s Book of Awesome Science Experiments

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Author Mike Adamick has done it again, following up his successful Dad’s Book of Awesome Projects with the newly released Dad’s Book of Awesome Science Experiments. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an advance copy of his book a few weeks ago. Upon opening the package from Amazon the book was literally yanked from my hands by my children so they could check it out. It was music to my ears to hear them excitedly discussing which experiments they were going to do that afternoon. You see, before I became a Stay At Home Dad I had a short (5 year) career as a 7th grade Science teacher. So, naturally, I try to encourage the natural curiosity in my children through formal and informal experiments. One of the things that I really like about this book is that Mr. Adamick encourages us to “have fun, try, fail, learn and try again” in our experimentation. The 30 experiments are divided into five categories: Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Planet Earth and The Human Body. There are colorful pictures and excellent explanations for each experiment. As a bonus, there are several suggestions for extensions or additional challenges. Some of the labs are designed for immediate payoff and others take days or weeks to complete. As a Science teacher it was always fun to gauge an experiment’s success based on the “AAAAH” factor. Several of the experiments my kids tried delivered it in a big way.

The first experiment they decided to try was Volcano Time!, which is pictured above. We happened to have a flask in the basement so I used that to make it look more scientific. For fun I also let the kids use a tall shot glass  “graduated cylinder”. The results were similarly fantastic. While I could have done a more professional job I found it pretty nice that my kids, ages 12, 9 and 3, were able to set this up with minimal help from me. While it still worked out, I observed that using two-ply TP like we did made the experiment take a little longer. (Video of Volcano Time!) If I did it again I would simply separate the TP into one-ply thickness. And adding food coloring made it just a little bit more fun for the kids.

The second experiment we tried was the Floating Grape. Using three glasses of water we were able to successfully float a red grape at three different levels by adding varying amounts of sugar to the water, changing the density and causing the grape to float. This didn’t have the “aahh” factor but it was fun to see my 3 year old’s reaction when the grape finally floated. It took a surprising amount of sugar and she was getting a little discouraged that it wouldn’t work. But she kept going with it and, fueled by a spoonful or two of sugar in her own mouth, she achieved success! Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures of the floating grapes so you’ll have to trust me that it worked.

The final experiment my kids tried for this review is another classic: Mentos and (Diet) Coke Rocket. While we had the materials at home to make the rocket, my kids lacked the motivation to actually create one. So it ended up being a Diet Coke geyser in the back yard, which was still pretty cool. (Video: Mentos and Diet Coke) The only drawback was that the person putting the Mentos into the bottle had to move away pretty quickly or get a Diet Coke shower.

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In summation, I would highly recommend getting a copy of Dad’s Book of Awesome Science Experiments for your child(ren). You can order it on Amazon starting on April 18, 2014. But be warned: If you get this book and your kids see it they’re probably not going to leave you alone until you make a lot of fun (and possibly messy!) memories while you experiment together.

 

 

****Author’s Note****

I, Carl Wilke, am not being paid to endorse this book in any way, although I wish I were! The thoughts expressed are my own and were in no way coerced. The only “compensation” I received was a complimentary advance copy to review.