Monday, January 23, 2017

     Over the week-end, I heard voices. Yes, there were thousands of voices rising in protest and joining in a common cause. I heard the voice of the media trying to report objectively but not always succeeding. I heard the voice of the new leader of our country who will, hopefully, be remembered for what he did right not for his character which so many find so wrong. I heard the voice of a brilliant scholar whose research on the male brain over the past twenty years helped me to understand why the men in my life are so different from me, and why if I had known about this research, how differently I would have reacted to things that happened.

     The voices which touched my heart and resonated in my veins, however, were those of the roomful of educators who each paid well over $1000 to attend a conference to help them better educate boys of color in our country. These people who came from several different countries as well as numerous states shared stories and ideas about their efforts to give young kids from poor and broken homes a chance to live the American Dream. 

     I heard African American men with Masters degrees and PhDs talk about how they grew up in the “projects” without fathers. The old folks in the neighborhood looked after them while their mothers worked several jobs. They talked about the beatings they would get if they didn’t obey “mama.” They spoke of what was going on in their heads when they walked into a school building. It was not academics. They were wondering where their sisters were or how long their brothers would be in jail. They wondered how they would get more drugs—their only access to zoning out. They wondered if the gang would follow them home again. They told stories about how they chose the right fork in the road when their siblings did not. The key piece to the success of many of them was a mature adult, usually not a relative, who reached out and saw the good in them and gave them a chance. Most of them were teachers or coaches—the unknown, undecorated heroes of these now successful administrators and teachers who are working tirelessly to provide better lives for young boys.

     Every once in a while, we are given an opportunity to get a glimpse of a world unfamiliar to us. It is an eye-opening experience and one which can offer a brand new perspective to those of us who were much more fortunate. I learned that the slower development of the male brain is responsible for many negative behaviors of young boys, and teachers and parents might interpret this behavior as disrespectful or belligerent. With new brain research, we now know that much of this behavior is “normal” for boys, and we must use this information to better understand how to educate and discipline them. 

     I heard the voice of my daughter who has done considerable research to learn the dangers of social media. She gave a one-hour lecture to these educators (also many of then parents) explaining why a straight A student athlete would take his life and how colleges are now looking at kids’ social media pages before granting acceptance.  Parents of young children from the time the child is given a phone or electronic device without proper supervision were aghast when my daughter explained how many apps could endanger their child’s lives and futures. 

     There are voices that need to be silenced. There are those who need to be heard. What is your voice saying, and who is it benefitting? Are you or could you be someone’s hero? What can you do as one person to save a life, to inspire a young child or to make someone’s day? I gave a speech a couple of years ago in which I began by reciting the children’s cry, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me.” I explained that this is not true. Words can hurt. They can label a person at a young age, and that label will never disappear in the child’s mind—even into adulthood. Words can heal and they can hurt. What are you doing with yours?