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I Will Be the Change I Want to See in the World

A few years ago, I read an article about a 9-year-old Black boy in Florida. He was being charged as an adult with the possibility of life in prison. He had accidentally killed his 4-year-old playmate while his mother slept. Reading that felt like a knife in my heart. A 9-year-old, living out his years in an adult prison. It was inhumane. The only way I could contain the pain, outrage, and despair was to channel it into a question: “Who will help our children?”

I couldn’t stop asking myself that question. It haunted me until from somewhere within me, I heard a small voice say, “You.”

Miss Emmy here, from Flourishing Children and PSFamily Childcare Network. Over the years I have done what I can. I have built schools, created curriculums and coached teachers. I have written articles and presented at conferences. Last year I offered 28 days of quotes to inspired those who care for young children.

The quotes were from leaders in the early childhood field which included Maria Montessori, Emmi Pikler, Rudolf Steiner, Loris Malaguzzi, Vygosky, Piaget and Bev Kovach. I would like to note that these are all white people.

I mention this because I don’t want you to think that I believe only white people know how to help children meet their full potential and develop healthy personalities. That is not my belief. I quoted these people because they created the best systems of care that educators use in schools. 

There are many indigenous people and people of color who have influenced my understanding of what’s good for children. 

As witness I offer these quotes.

 There is no achievement gap at birth.” 
—Educator and researcher Lisa Delpit
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
—Activist/orator Frederick Douglass
“The Black child must learn early to allow laughter to fill his mouth or the million small cruelties he encounters will congeal and clog his throat.”
—Writer Maya Angelou

Where I come from “It takes a village” is not a political sound bite. Using resources outside of the system is the norm.  Many communities of color have not been able to rely on the system to support their children’s healthy development. Indigenous, Black and brown people have always used intergenerational parenting and ancestral knowledge. Below are quotes that remind me of this home.

“As you focus on clearing your generational trauma, do not forget to claim your generational strengths. Your ancestors gave you more than just wounds.”
—Xavier Dagba
La familia no es sólo quienes son de tu sangre, sino son los que nunca nos abandonan. – Family is not only those who are of your blood but are those who never leave us.
Only a fool would let his enemy teach his children.” 
-Malcolm X
 “Black Love is Black wealth.” 
-Nikki Giovanni
“Raising Black children-female and male-in the mouth of a racist, sexist, suicidal dragon is perilous and chancy. If they cannot love and resist at the same time, they will probably not survive.” 
-Audre Lorde
“We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” Native American Proverb
Cuando llegan los problemas, sólo se queda tu familia. – When trouble comes, only your family stays.

There is a story I will never forget told by the naturalist Jon Young at the Art of Mentoring Leadership training. He first heard the story from one of the indigenous peoples of southern Africa.

The bushman elder said:

When a woman is thinking about having a child, she goes into the bush and meditates until she hears a song.  When she meets the man that she will have the child with, she teaches him the song.  When they are together making the child they sing the song. 

When the child is conceived, they teach the village the song. At the baby’s birth the whole village sings the song.  Then at every ceremony for the youngun, the family and the village they sing the song. As the teenager grows, if they have trouble, the song is sung. When the young adult goes through their rights of passage, everyone welcomes them into the village singing their song. 

When they are an adult and their way is not clear, the song is sung.

 When they grow older, they know find comfort in that song and it sustains them until the end of their life. 

Kalahari Bushman as told by Jon Young.

We want all children to reach their full potential and develop their beautiful and unique personalities. 

“One person can’t raise a child, neither can two, you need everybody.”
-Toni Morrison from an interview with Charlie Rose.

In the words of Kahlil Gibran from his work The Prophet, we offer these quotes because “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.”