Earlier this month on August 2, Cicely Taylor delivered a moving speech at the KIPP Team & Family Reunion. Cicely discussed the fear she has for her son as he prepares to begin college, the response she has chosen to take, and much more. A full transcript of the speech is below.
Good Morning, big KIPPsters!
I have been very fortunate to work in many different roles, however the greatest role that I personally believe I serve in and what I will talk about is my role of MOM.
I have two amazing children, my daughter Summer who is 14 and my son Steven who is 18. My children are quite simply my sunrise and my sunset. The love I have for them cannot be measured, quantified or over-analyzed. I love both of my children equally and both truly matter in my heart.
BUT the child I want to speak about today is my son. My Black Son. You see my son Steven serves in many different roles as well:
He is … keeper of the family name.
He is … his high school’s O-Lineman of the Year.
He is … a Little League coach.
He is the kid who is loved by all.
I mean really, he is the kid you want to coach, the student every teacher wants and the one everyone in his school wants to be friends with. Even, his little sister Summer, will begrudgingly say, “everyone thinks Steven is awesome! It’s frigging annoying!”
One week from today, my husband and I will drop Steven off at Southern Arkansas University where he received a full academic scholarship. He will begin his collegiate life as a scholar athlete – playing one of the best sports ever “football.”
While I am so excited by my son’s progression on the pathway to manhood, the very visible “current events” in our nation regarding the “interaction” between black males and law enforcement has me terrified with an every growing ball of fear, anxiety and yes anger gnawing in the pit of my stomach.
KIPP Houston, can I honestly speak to you about my truth today?
Until recently, I have intentionally avoided discussion on this topic because honestly it hits too close to home. My husband and I purposefully moved to what we thought would be the safest most suburban Texas city we could find to avoid the growing violence in our hometown of Chicago (Southside!). We purposefully pay ridiculously high property taxes for the privilege to give our son a great worry and violence free childhood.
We wanted our son to not be a statistic; we wanted him to be safe. However, starting with the death of Trayvon Martin, I quickly realized that the insular provincial safety of planned communities a.k.a. “the burbs” provided a false sense of security and thus began “the talk” that every parent of a black child knows all too well.
“The talk,” never changes throughout the years in terms of the big goal – come home alive. However, elements are continuously added on (for example; don’t put your wallet in your back pocket, keep it in the cup holder so “they” can see your hands when you take out your license, or put your proof of insurance on the car visor so you are not reaching into your glove compartment). When my son went through the 16-year-old rite of passage of successfully obtaining his driver’s license, my fear and anxiety level went up tenfold. “The talk” then transformed to not just conversations but also the practicing of “what if.” These scenarios are constantly reviewed as if studying for the test of a lifetime.
Next Tuesday, my son is going to college in a small town in Arkansas, a drive that is only six short hours from home. The thought of this drive, which will take him through long stretches of small town roads and speed traps, has my stomach twisted in knots. My sweet, kind and cuddly bear of a son standing at 6’2 and 325 lbs., driving a “cool” teen muscle car with the booming sound system will not be perceived as such. He will be seen as a threat. His size, his youth and yes his color will overshadow the “awesomeness” that he truly is. I know the only way he will have a chance WHEN he is pulled over will be to make himself less than the man we are trying to raise him to be. In short, he will have to sacrifice his dignity to live.
Yes he knows … to respect the badge;
Yes he knows not to make any sudden movements;
Yes he knows to just be still;
To watch his tone, and sadly to be silent, to not ask questions.
However, I still have to wonder: will it be enough to keep him safe?
As parents, we can only do so much in preparing him for “the moment”; have the talk, practice scenarios, forbid him from doing the drive from school at night and of course pray that his experience will be with one of those good hardworking officers who chose the badge to truly serve and protect. This is our family’s reality. Sadder still is the fact that other black males not afforded the insulation of suburban living exist in realities much worse. I know I am not the only mother who prays over her son before he leaves my sight.
A few weeks ago after a seemingly never ending onslaught of videotaped violence courtesy of YouTube, Facebook, and the general world wide web, my daughter turned to me with eyes that begged for reassurance and asked, “Mom are you afraid for Steven?”
How do I as parent, respond to her KIPP Houston? How do I, the slayer of dragons and monsters under the bed, answer this question without allowing the bitterness of fear and anger taint my response? Better yet how do we KIPP Houston, as educators respond to our students, set to arrive in less than two weeks, when they ask those gut wrenching, innocence stealing questions regarding their own personal fears or experiences?
I believe the answer is found within whom we are and what we do through the lens of our mission, to teach the children. For you see not only am I a “MOM,” I am also a proud Big KIPPster and this means I belong to an amazing collective of doers.
A group who believes in seeking solutions and doing so with kindness, a group who chooses to have the strength to love even when it is so much easier to hate, a group who knows that “the children are always watching” and thus it is imperative that we be the model to challenge our children to do as our first lady encourages “to go high when others go low.”
The answer is in our classrooms where we create a safe space for cultural and religious understanding to grow; where we teach our children to find their voices and to self-advocate for just laws, practices and impartial oversight. The answer is in our communities where our KIPP campuses stop being islands unto themselves and we become true communities in partnership. The answer is in creating opportunities to nurture positive relationships with our neighboring law enforcement so that they see the faces of our black and brown children and for us to get to know the person behind the badge thus developing bridges of understanding versus an interchange of fear.
KIPP Houston I will choose to answer through courage, love and action because in the words of MLK, “Courage faces fear and thereby masters it.” When we face our fears by acting on positive community building solutions, we are no longer held hostage by fear and we can then honestly say with conviction that our students matter, and I can say my son’s life matters.