By Dr. Kaye Whitehead, Special to the AFRO
When my oldest son was born, my Nana told me that raising Black boys in America requires both courage and fearlessness. She said that I needed to learn how to move forward even when everything in me is telling me that I should stand still. She said that I needed to prepare myself to get inside of them, coax manhood from them, spark their genius, and remind them (over and over again) of their brilliance. I became a mother during 9/11, my sons came of age during #BlackLivesMatter, and they are navigating college in the Age of Covid-19. I have mothered them through the storms of racism, white nationalism, and White supremacy. I am not as courageous and fearless as I am going to be, but I am also not as frightened or as naïve as I used to be.
When my sons were little, I used to get up at night to check on them and to make sure that they were still breathing. I would stand at the door of their room, and I would silently give thanks to them for choosing me to be their mother. I used to sit by their bed at night and read them poetry, telling them that they were the hope and the dream of our family.
Dr. Kaye Whitehead (Courtesy Photo)
I would say to them how they were the descendants of enslaved men and women who chose to survive because they wanted them to live. I would say that they did it because they loved you even though they knew that they would never meet you. When I kissed them good night, I would whisper in their ear that they were diamonds and that my job, as their mother, was to brush off the dirt so that their brilliance and fire could shine through. I sheltered them, nurtured them, probably spoiled them because that was how my daddy raised me. He told me that I was brilliant and gifted. He treated my childhood paintings like they were prized Catlett’s and my poetry like Maya wrote it. He allowed me to make mistakes, to fall, and to find ways to get back up. He used to tell me that when I fell (at this point, he would always laugh because I was always falling), I needed to make sure that I fell on my back because if I could look up, then I could get up. My father’s parents survived Jim Crow so that he could protest during the Civil Rights Movement so that I could grow up in a world without color restrictions, and my sons could one day be judged only by the content of their character.
In my mind, I believed that I was doing everything right until the day that George Zimmerman was acquitted for murdering Trayvon Martin. It was this moment and the subsequent launch of the #BlackLivesMatter movement that changed our household. I realized that instead of sheltering them, I should have been preparing them; instead of spoiling them, I should have been schooling them. It was the moment when I realized that I was raising two Black boys in the same racist world that my father was raised in, the one that he thought he had changed. It was at that moment that I became the #blackmommyactivist and dedicated myself to helping to co-create a world where my sons would be safe. Ella Baker once said, “Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a White mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.” This quote was a daily reminder of why I was fighting and why I had to win. My sons and I became activists, marching together, protesting together, trying to carve a new way forward together. They learned how to be both courageous and fearless.
We started keeping a list, adding to it daily, of every unarmed Black person who had been killed by state-sanctioned violence. At night, we would go out to the backyard and say their names. It was our small way of remembering them, of seeing them, of speaking their names into the wind so that they would not be forgotten. In the aftermath of 9/11, my sons learned how to be cautious and aware of what was happening around them. During Black Lives Matter, they learned how to be racebrave, so that they could confront and call out racist behavior, and they could pivot when they were being mistreated. They learned how to move forward in dangerous situations even when everything in them was telling them to stand still. And now, amid the “Age of Corona,” they are learning how to be still and listen to themselves. They are becoming the young men that my family had always dreamed they would be: brave, fearless, beautiful and brilliant. They have finally become my family’s tomorrow.
Karsonya Wise Whitehead (firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @kayewhitehead) is the #Blackmommyactivist and an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. Recently selected for the Essence Woke 100 List, she is the award-winning host of “Today With Dr. Kaye” on WEAA 88.9 FM. She lives in Baltimore City with her husband and their two sons. She launched #BlackCovidStories as a way to archive our stories about Covid-19. She is sheltering in Baltimore with her husband and their two sons.