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My Son is Starting Kindergarten and I’m Worried: Black Moms Will Understand

When I was pregnant with my first child, I prayed to God that I would have a girl. This wasn’t a dress-up, little princess, mini-me type of daughter fantasy; I was just literally afraid of raising a black boy.
 
As new parents, we already doubt our parenting skills anyway, but I certainly didn’t know how I could ever raise a black man in a world that is statistically stacked against him.
 
Consider these facts:
 
The number one cause of death for black males between the ages of 15 and 25 is a violent murder.
 
One in four black men will enter prison at least once, compared with only one in 23 white males.
 
According to the United States Department of Justice, black males currently constitute 12 percent of the national population but 44 percent of the prison population.
 
I thought about how someday I would have to sit with my son and teach him his legal rights and what to do and not to do when approached by the police. I remembered how my own brother was often stopped for no good reason. Many times I was with him when it happened.
 
I remember our family’s unspoken sigh of relief when my brother reached his 18th birthday and then his 25th birthday and was still alive, college educated and never incarcerated. He had beaten the odds. These are powerful milestones for our black men. I don’t think white mothers have the same worries over their boys. And so you can understand why I prayed to God for a little girl.
 
I got my girl.
 
But my son, Michael Jaden, came four years later.
 
Lately, I’ve been remembering how my mother would beg my brother, who was an ace student at Hofstra University, not to dress in street fashions like baggy jeans or baseball caps because she feared that he could be easily mistaken for a “thug” by policemen who shoot first and ask questions later. Even then, as a big sister, I felt my mother’s pain. Today, as a mother, I know my mother’s pain and her fear and her worry.
 
In a few weeks, my little man starts kindergarten. And I’m a nervous wreck for all the reasons every mother gets worried about the first day of school. But I’m particularly anxious for a few reasons only black mothers will understand. Studies show black male achievement begins to decline as early as the fourth grade and by high school, black males are more likely to drop out. Fourth grade! We need to start asking why.
 
What’s more, everybody, even the best teachers, has his or her own biases. They come from our upbringing and the influence of the media, and many times we aren’t even aware of them. But what if those biases affect how the teachers and principals view my son, my young black male?
 
Will they give Michael 3,000 percent if they are subliminally thinking he will likely be dead by 18 or that his future is really in sports or hip hop and not in academic excellence? Will they see my beautiful brown boy for the person he really is? 
 
Recently I had an unsettling experience. My son has been reading since he was 4 years old. He was the only reader in his pre-K class, and every day throughout the school year his teacher would tell all the parents hanging around for pickup how he reads stories to the other children, helps them tie their shoes (because they don’t how), and spells like a champ. He is also the only African American in the class. At the end of the school year, a bunch of moms and dads from the class got together, and their whole conversation about my son was about how fast he runs, how he wins all the races at parties, and how he has a very muscular tone for a 5-year-old. These things are true. But not one person talked about how smart he is. Even though that was the message they received about my son nearly every day. Not one parent. 
 
And so I’m afraid. And when I send him off to school in a few weeks, my work as a black mother begins. My job, raising a black male, is to make sure any teacher, principal, or school administrator sees my son for his brilliance and not the statistic or stereotype this world often perpetuates. My parenting needs to be on-point so that my son knows that he is destined for excellence, that he is not a statistic or stereotype and that he is loved unconditionally even in a world that fears him.
 
This is my new prayer. And I have a strong yet sad feeling that it’s a prayer being echoed by millions of black mothers all over the world.
My handsome little man is ready for school. What about me???

My handsome little man is ready for school. What about me???

Comments
5 Responses to “My Son is Starting Kindergarten and I’m Worried: Black Moms Will Understand”
  1. Tara says:

    Oooh, that was so powerful! I feel you on every single word you said. My son is big for his age (I mean, really- closing in on 30 pounds and he’s only 1!) and so everyone has the whole “Oh, you better buy some football pads – he’s gonna be a linebacker!” I always, always, always reply that he will simply be a husky surgeon. LOL. He might not be as nimble with the scapel, but I’ll be damned if I let people stereotype him when he’s only ONE. I read to him every night and do the same things to teach him as I did his older sister, but with him, it seems more urgent. Like my daughter will get the support from teachers and others, but my son is different. Like my husband and I are all he has.

    GREAT post!

  2. Dee says:

    I totally understand what you’re saying. My older son is headed to fourth grade this year and my younger one will be starting preschool. We’ve had a few issues with teachers/administrators in my son’s few years at school and every.single.time, I wonder if race isn’t behind it. I think the school staff is somewhat surprised when we stand up for our son, requesting meetings and conferences, etc. But why wouldn’t I? He’s my boy and it’s my job to make sure he gets the treatment that he deserves. My kids are one of only two or three kids of color in their classrooms as well. BTW, my boys play soccer and I constantly get comments about how fast they run (um, thanks, but my kids are capable of doing plenty else besides running!).

  3. Traci says:

    Hello there,

    My, my, my…A Mama after my own heart. I am so mad that I am just seeing this post. Such brilliance, and I 100% admire you for your insight at such an early stage in the process. My hats off to YOU! Let me begin by saying that I have traveled your new journey. My baby is not in 6th grade and I am still fighting this battle. It has never ceased to amaze me that our boys’ academics are so ‘visible’ yet their intelligence is not only unexpected, but is ignored – even though clearly present. I have gotten to the point now, where ALL of his teachers, since the beginning know exactly how invested I am in my baby’s future. There is so much about this fight that is still to come; yet, with your seeing it early on, you are most definitely on the right path and you have my full support. I have had to write letters, go to compliance to get a Principal fired, gone to battle with a racist teacher, etc. Been there…done that. But now they know what to expect when they see me coming. I don’t play where he is concerned – especially to the point that it interferes with his greatness. I will be starting an organization soon that I would love to discuss further with you if you have time. If not, times are busy and I completely understand.

    I wish you all the best. Your little man is very lucky because I know, first hand, black parents that are “blind” to the issues surrounding our sons and they get lost in the shuffle because of it.

    Regards,
    Traci

    • Kimberly says:

      Traci,
      Thank you for your comment. It’s such a shame that we can’t take things like equal treatment from educators for granted. I’ll be sure to reach out for some strategic help 🙂 when i need it. And I know that your son will be an unstoppable force with you behind him.

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