Monthly Archives: July 2013

The “thing” that brings shame….

I have been battling with myself for days on writing this piece and while I know in my heart it may help some, nonetheless, it is difficult. A few days ago, mere feet from my home, a young person was struck by a train and succumbed to his injuries. Days later, I am at the Hospital with my child and witnessed yet another young person fleeing from her mother’s car and taking off down the street as her family was trying to get some much-needed help for her. Mom was distraught, on the ground screaming that she has not been able to reach her child who is in dire need of help. Even in mom’s distress, you could feel the shame at having to admit that her child was suffering from an illness that affects so many in the world;

DEPRESSION.

There. It is out in the open and must be addressed at all costs in a way that does not stigmatize families or have the person who is suffering, feel alone and  misunderstood thereby leading to other behaviours that cannot often be explained.  I asked someone close to me recently, if he could explain just what being depressed feels like and his reply was this;

” It feels like and overwhelming sadness that takes over your head and leaves your body feeling heavy without energy. No matter what I try to do to combat it, the darkness remains. It gets lighter some days, but it NEVER fully goes away. I have to constantly keep myself busy so that I do not have any down time to dwell on that ‘thing’ that always wants to push to the surface and leaves me feeling so sad, I want to end my life.”

What makes depression so hard to explain to those who are not struck with it, often comes because people say ” just snap out of it.”  Easier said than done.  Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain and we are not quite sure what causes it.  It ranges from mild to full-blown manic-depressive.  It usually stems from some kind of family history and because of the stigmas associated with it, many refuse to seek treatment as they do not want it popping up in a medical file that could ultimately be used against them.

As a direct result, we have so many undiagnosed people who seem to present as “anti-social” “Angry” and “mean” to name a few.  It is hard to maintain friendships and they are often either always the “life” of the party or loners.  While there are many drugs to combat and help alleviate the pain of depression, the side-effects are sometimes worse and many opt to not take it at all but find ways to manage the “triggers” when they come.

The sadder part of depression however, are those who are determined not to live like this will try to  find ways to end their lives. If we try as a society to seek to be understanding and educate ourselves on   ways to be helpful to the families in whatever way that is needed, it would go a long way. Depression is an illness that needs kindness and love to ease the burden of  those afflicted. Do not pretend to understand if you don’t. Be honest but ask how can you help. I would love to hear from others who could offer insight on how those of us who are not sufferers, can help.

So the next time you see someone who seems distant or not responding to portions of their lives in ways you know to be normal for them, do not judge but rather find ways to be supportive.  You may be saving a life in the process.

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Innocence of a child forever gone…

It was a hot day in June 6 years ago almost to the date, when a group of adults were sitting at an awards ceremony with a large swath of black children, where we celebrated their accomplishments for the year. A box was dropped at one of the tables from a citizen who asked that we disseminated the literature within.  they were tiny cards with instructions onwhat to do when stopped by the police.” We braced ourselves and had a short but necessary conversation with the young people, in light of the fact they were heading to the  township Fete later on that day.

That short conversation saved several young boy’s lives that evening. One of them was my son.

No one could have prepared me for the phone call I got that night  around 10:30 from some frantic children who were beside themselves with fear and worry, that my child, was carted away in a police car, arrested.  I could not make sense of what they were saying, so I asked where was he taken and headed to the station one township away from where I lived.  What I found there was sheer pandemonium and a large group of black parents fit to be tied in the police station.

I said not a word to any of them but listened intently,  while waiting for the dispatcher to acknowledge my presence. As I stood  there praying for guidance, I watched an officer walk over to the Dispatcher and ask her who I was because I was too quiet.  He instinctively treated me better than he had the other folks there and with respect asked what I needed.  I said they had my son in custody. He asked who was my son and all I said was this:  ” probably the most well-mannered child you have ever laid eyes on” and he immediately said ” That must be Charles and quickly ushered me into the back room where my son was sitting quietly looking hurt and afraid all at once.

I asked my son to be quiet and said to the Officer, ” why is he here?  He replied, I am not sure ma’am the arresting officer said he would not leave the premises after a an altercation between two other young people and had no choice. I asked my son to quietly tell me what happened and this is what I heard which has since been corroborated by children and adults alike:

They had just gotten to the June Fete, when a fight broke out and the cops told them to leave. Those young men politely asked if they could go through a specific gate as a parent was awaiting their return so she could take them home and they knew no other way to get there..( Huge grounds) Cop said no and began throwing his billy club in the neck of one of my son’s friends who was moving slower than the others because he had a knee injury. He stopped and told the Cop, he was not being rude, he had an injury and he was hurting him.

The next thing they all knew, his friend was slammed face first into the ground and arrested.  My son, fearful but knew he could NOT leave his friend there alone, asked the cop what did his friend do and the cop told him “nigger, if you do not want to meet the same fate, keep going. ” My son said tears started streaming down his face and he said ” why are they  doing this to us? What have we done except follow instructions?’ Big mistake.

Cop called him a nigger again, called for back up and slammed him into the ground and cuffed him.  At that point, my kid went silent because he remembered what we said to them earlier.  The children and parents around watching this take place began screaming he was my child and had never been in trouble to no avail. He was searched, I-phone pulled from his pocket and he was asked how could he afford anything like this and that he must be a drug dealer. The only thing my son said was no sir but I think you just broke my hand.

My son said the arresting Officer looked a little uncertain as the people got more upset with taking him in and as they were heading to the Police Station began to realize he arrested someone who was incredibly respectful no matter what was said to him. At that point, I looked at the Officer in the room and  asked him was my son under arrest and he said no ma’am, you can take him home but expect to hear from us. My son then looked at me and said, ” I think he broke my hand”  Sure enough, in rough housing my child, his hand was broken.

It took every ounce of dignity I had, to kindly say goodnight to that Officer, gather up my child, and went to seek medical treatment. I then told all those parents in the waiting room to stop all the noise and begin to strategize how they can help their children. The next day, I filed a formal complaint with the police Department and the  day after that, went to Human Relations Commission and filed a formal complaint there too. The Department was investigated and the hearing Officer who was white, said quietly to our Lawyer, ” Pursue this in court. This young man is believable.”

I cannot corroborate this but was told questions were asked in my township about what they knew of my kid; had he been arrested before? had he cut school etc.  I was also told the answer was this; Not only is he a good student, he has never skipped school and has not even so much as a detention on his record. Shortly thereafter, we were offered something called the Youth AID Panel for first time offenders. We declined.  Then, we got a summons for two misdemeanour charges to appear in court.

It got really interesting here. That Officer came into Court and said my son threw a glass bottle at a baby and threatened bodily injury as a result. I will never forget the horrific look on his face at the blatant lies and it was then he realized, justice would not be fair for him.  He testified and the Judge threw out one of the two charges and told us we would could appeal the last one if we so choose or pay the fine. We politely said thank you and appealed.

Got to the higher court and our lawyer said the Judge we got,  had a history of being unkind to minorities so it may not be good. We told her to do her best and the rest would be up to God.  I will never forget when my son took the stand and began to speak. I watched the judge’s head pop up in surprise and he stopped the testimony to ask a few questions himself like what grade was he in, what subjects was he taking in school, had he ever been in trouble at all etc.  He then asked if his parents were in the courtroom and he pointed to me.  He continued with the testimony, listened to the officer again and after closing arguments said it was a clear-cut  case of NOT guilty and he went further to say, he felt my son was targeted in not so many words.

We walked out of that courthouse almost a year later, with my child having no criminal records attached to his name.  It was important that he knew from us that he did everything right, represented himself well and it paid off nicely for him. One problem: He was now afraid to get his license and drive any where and more importantly? he totally lost his innocence that day.  When he went to college, he was followed and stopped every fifteen minutes because he was driving an 11-year-old Mercedes that his father purchased for him.  We had to sell that car so he could keep his sanity.

I tell you this story with no hate, anger or ill will. I tell you this story because had he done things differently and had there not been a crowd of people witnessing what was taking place, he may have met with something other than a broken hand.  He was taught by us, that he is to use his hurt and do better than anyone expects him to and as a direct result, he is almost ready to get degree number one AND two.  He stays away from large crowds and always keeps in the back of his mind, that justice for him, is not the same.

That is what it feels like to be a parent of a black child; we did everything right; he is bright, well-mannered and on a trajectory to greatness. None of that meant a hill of beans to some rogue cop who only saw the colour of his skin.  Imagine having to tell your child he cannot drive certain cars, go certain places, be seen with more than 2 black men in the same spot and the list goes on…. That is our existence, all day, everyday.

We are not asking you to feel shame; we ask for you to be allies when you see injustices like these taking place daily.  It happens on our jobs, in our communities and Church has been our saving grace.  That kind of pressure is almost too much to expect of any child much less ask him to deal with for the rest of his life.

The next time we see a boy of colour and we feel the need to judge, take a second look. then a third. That child belongs to someone who believes they are just as special as you see your own children. They may dress and sound differently but make no mistake about it; they are loved.

Enough said.

Side note: my son has since graduated from college at the age of 21 and is doing wonderful things with his life. He has been stopped by police several times since this incident and each time, he remained cordial. He remembers it’s the skin he lives in that makes him automatically suspicious and he has learned to adjust.

If you think I am “mean” now….

It is funny how we wake up with “plans” for the day and in one instant, it all falls apart.  For me, it was a text message at “O’dark thirty” with a face I knew too well and the caption ” Have you seen my child?”  There, on my screen, was the smiling face of one of my many “sons’ in the community and my heart dropped so swiftly just imagining what his parents must be going through. I stared in disbelief for a hot second and galvanized into action after a quick prayer, by calling mom, getting the slim details and asking permission to post his pic on my Facebook page.  This story ended well; within 1 minute of posting, someone responded that the child was in their home and the relief was palpable…Took my disoriented self to a meeting that I was now totally late for and as I sat having a conversation around “creating a framework for family partnerships” on a National scale, it suddenly hit me……

This story could have turned out another way and therein lies the reason for this blog today. 

There seems to be this misnomer these days, that we as parents must fundamentally raise our children differently than the way we were by our parents.  While I “get” much has changed, so many things remain the same.  Our children come to us through a struggle; last time I checked, childbirth was no walk in the park.  We also spend many days and nights “molding” who these little people will become as they gain independence and their ultimate freedom from us  as adults.  But hello????? They are not going to get there unless WE the PARENTS put some fundamentals in place. Like what you say? Let’s start with these shall we?

  •  Good manners.  Yes my dear people, things like Please, thank you, no thank you, Yes Ms/Mr. so and so are things that will NEVER be outdated and in fact are the BASIC things for functioning in society. Nothing is worse than a child who refuses to use these simple tools above, especially if they are ten and under….
  • Paying attention.  We learned what mistakes not to make and to stay out of harm’s way by always paying attention AND absorbing what is being taught to us.  Our children need and crave that too.
  • Being respectful to not just your elders but others around you. This  goes beyond good manners above.  Body language speaks volumes and it is never acceptable for a child to speak to their parent in a manner that is considered unacceptable like using foul language during conversations.. What they do in the home and think they have gotten away with, they will do in schools and society.  In order to get respect, it must first be given.
  • Patience. I have never seen a child keel over and die YET from not getting the gum, cereal, sneakers, X-box the minute they just HAD to have it.  Can we STOP teaching our children that it is ok to get what they want, when they want it? Patience and learning how to work for something pays off beautifully long-term. Unless of course, you want these grown 35-40 year old folks in your house , eating up your food and just being an albatross around your neck…. then by all means, go for broke.
  • Kindness.  When did it become  a thing of the past to treat people with a modicum of kindness through sharing and being helpful to others?  This has been some of the most selfish young people I have ever seen and they are stemming from us.

While I am on this subject, when did it become “cool” to drop off your children with folks you know nothing about other than your child saying it is ok?  I cannot tell you how many times over the years that  I had birthday parties for my children only to watch parents just stopping long enough for the kids to get out the car and keep rolling.. When did we stop getting out the car, meeting the adults where your most precious person will be staying, getting a phone number and giving a time for pick – up?

And WHY pray tell, is it alright for a child to stay in your house all darn night and you give NO thought to calling a parent to check – in and get the child home?  What the hell is wrong with us?  A cell phone, while a great tool, NEVER takes the place of a face to face conversation. EVER.   One can often  pick up nuances in person, that cannot be had via text. Can we get back to the fundamentals of parenting and start acting like carrying a child for months, excruciating labor pains and the birthing process was NOT in vain?

If you have a parent in your midst that refuses to be responsible, my sage advice would be to help first, then take your child and go in the other direction. And for those of you who do not  want your child to “hate” you by being too “strict” please think of the consequences on the back-end of what you won’t do on this one.

If they think you are mean now..Society is oh so much worse later…

Enough said.