My son is at a pivotal point in his life; 12 years old. Before my very eyes, he went from wearing anything I purchased to now only wanting certain styles and brands. I lectured him for months about not letting your clothes and shoes determine your worth and how your brain will get you further in life than your gear. I will not say it fell on deaf ears but reality hit me that he was now beginning to form his own opinion about himself and that I had to give him the freedom to do that.
With that being said, I began to ask myself “what do I want for my son’s future?” Do I want him to be a mini me or do I want to raise a man who can be a free thinker and a positive influence in his community? How do I keep him safe yet allow him the freedom to be an African American male child? Daily, these questions weigh heavy on my mind but I realize that I must trust my instincts, trust what I, as a mother, have instilled in him and last but not least, trust God.
As a strong African American woman, I would bombard my son every day, prior to going outside to play with his friends, with all the do’s and don’ts of looking suspicious. I told him to always rush home if anyone made him feel uncomfortable or if his friends were choosing to make bad choices in the neighborhood. One day, he told me I was stressing him out. He actually said he felt like I didn’t trust him to be a good kid and flat out said, “Mom, I need you to TRUST me”. In my mind I thought, “WOW, did he really just say that to me?” but out of my mouth, I said. “I do trust you, it’s the other folks out there who I do not trust”.
After he walked out the door, I cried. I couldn’t believe that I was having the same conversations with my son in 2015 that my deceased grandmother had with my now 85 year old uncle when he was 12. I cried for all the African American boys and men who lost their lives at the hands of people who feared them for no other reason than the fact that they had brown skin. I cried for the mothers who buried their sons way too early. I cried for those who had been terrorized by those who feared them simply because of the skin they were given by our Creator. I cried for my son.
I eventually pulled myself together and prayed earnestly. I prayed for not only my son but for all of my friends’ and family members’ sons and my son’s friends. I prayed for President Barack Obama and our new sheriff, who is the first African American to hold that office in the history of my county's 356 year old sheriff's department. I even prayed for the negative ideals and the hatred to be changed towards our brown skin.
Lastly, I prayed for myself to TRUST my 12 year old son.
Tanya Barnett was teaching her brothers to read at 7 years old. She is the founder of Forever Free Books, a mobile nonprofit that delivers FREE books to children in need. She's the creator of Books, Boys n'Cuts, an initiative that brings story time and FREE books to boys in African American barbershops. She wants all children to have access to books regardless of the background, so her motto is "Take books to where the kids are". She is an avid reader, aspiring author and loves to garden. She and her husband have 3 children and a dog.