When I was three years old, my mother took me to visit the attic hiding place of Anne Frank in the Netherlands. My family was in Europe not for a trip, but because my father, a Bangladeshi Muslim immigrant to the United States, was stationed in Germany while serving in the US Army. I have no memories of the trip, but for my mother visiting Anne’s last home was very intentional. She wanted to bring her daughter to the home of a young Jewish girl who, generations ago, hid with her family in a cramped attic hoping for a peaceful world amidst one of the most brutally violent and xenophobic periods in modern human history.
How to involve kids in direct activism
When my son was four he saw me at the kitchen table with giant markers and poster board. He knew what that meant, and his interest was piqued. “Are we going to a rally, or a vigil?” He asked. I asked him what he thought the difference was and he responded; “I don’t know. They feel different.”
At four he already knew what activism felt like and, though he didn’t have all the words to describe his experiences, he knew how to ask the right questions. At 41 I am in much the same place.
Last month, as Hurricane Matthew was barreling down upon the southeast, my husband and I flew with our son to North Carolina for a wedding. Our eight-month-old did well on the first leg, but for the home stretch we were that family. By the time we stepped out of the terminal, I was soaked — whether from slobber or storm spray, I wasn’t sure — but soon we were in a blue Camry hybrid, being whisked to the rehearsal dinner by our friendly (white) Uber driver.
I’d had misgivings about this wedding. Not only because traveling with an infant is comparable to having your back waxed in public (there’s just no way you’re going to come off well), but because it was in North Carolina. When the state passed its notorious “bathroom bill” in March, I wondered whether my husband and I should ever visit again. When Keith Lamont Scott was killed by Charlotte police in September, I knew that my queer, mixed-race family were personae non gratae.
In our society there are idols and heroes who we look up to, and they influence our lives every day whether or not we are conscious of their impact.
We often are taught that these people are perfect, but when we take a closer look we find astonishing information that changes the way we see them. For instance, there are towns whose names pay tribute to Lord Jeffrey Amherst, who in the eyes of many was an intelligent and resourceful war hero.
The truth however is that he was a cruel man who distributed blankets containing smallpox to the Indigenous people that were living in the area, thus massacring this group of people. Lord Jeffrey Amherst is not the only “hero” people look up to without knowing the true nature of their deeds.
Christopher Columbus is one of these heroes. He has been idolized by the general public, making him out to be a heroic explorer that discovered America. Similar to Lord Jeffery Amherst, when we look deeper into Columbus’ story we learn new truths.
A response to my brother, who did not vote and is not afraid
November 8, 2016
On election day, I was driving to my mother’s house to offer and to receive moral support on an anxiety-ridden day. My youngest daughter asked me to turn on a Quran CD. My eldest daughter groaned as I turned it on.
As we pulled up to a traffic light, we were approaching some construction where two police officers were directing traffic. My older daughter went into a panic. She insisted that I turn off the Quran because the police were right there and might hear it.
“So what?” I asked.
“Are you crazy? They’re going to think we’re — Mommy! They could tase us! They could beat us! They could shoot us! Turn it off!”
How to teach kids they do not belong… and how to teach them they do
The class erupted into a familiar but tired applause while my classmate blushed, looking down at her feet as she returned to her seat. As the energy of the room dissipated, our teacher, with one hand fixed on her reading glasses and her eyes focused on finding the next name on her list, calmly rose her voice above the sounds of the middle school classroom and declared, “Andrew, you’re up!”
I nervously shuffled the necessary papers into my hand as I stood up, hyper aware of the few eyes watching me make my way up to the front of the room. As a fairly shy student, I could feel my face turning red as I stood in front of what seemed like a vast sea of classmates, my heart racing as I searched for the start of a presentation I could call my own.
“What should I say to my students after the election, if Trump wins?” a principal asked me recently. Good question. What should we tell our children?
This past summer I had the good luck to be part of an unusual collaboration: two elementary school teachers, a handful of school administrators, and nine parents coming together to assess and revise an in-depth, 14-week curriculum on American slavery and abolition.
For the past twenty years, Linda Donnelly has taught this curriculum to her 5th- and 6th-grade students at The Common School, a small, progressive, private school in Amherst, Massachusetts. And every-other-summer, Linda and her co-teacher, Chad Odwazny, devote several weeks to reassessing the content and the goals of the curriculum.