A legacy of courage

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Is any person in American history more quoted than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Obviously today - being MLK Day - everyone is posting and sharing and reading and retweeting all the quotes on our social media feeds. But just think about how pervasive Dr. King’s words are in modern society. There are MLK quotes affixed on buildings and signs all over our country, in political statements, in email signatures, and in classrooms everywhere...to name a few. 

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I’ve read many books, viewed several movies and documentaries, and studied lots of images about and involving Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. 

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He was not a perfect man. No one would dispute that. Overall, however, I believe he was one of the bravest men who ever lived. He made mistakes, sure, but he endured unspeakable hardship as a leader of the civil rights movement. He dared to do the hardest things. He withstood the most terrifying physical, emotional, social, and mental threats both to himself as well as his family and friends. 

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An orator unmatched in all of American history, he was the person God used to say the things that had to be said. He inspired people to stand up for themselves while also adhering to the principles of nonviolence. He inspired people to find a way to do great work in all their endeavors. He inspired people to action, and those collective actions made a difference that impacts all of our children. 

Today we remember Dr. King for the courage in his words and his actions, but we also remember that it is his words to which we still cling for making a difference in our world today. 

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What’s your favorite Dr. King quote? 

When your kids throw a wrench in your plans to opt out of standardized testing

As an educator, I believe there are better ways to assess student learning than the system of standardized testing we currently have in place.

As a citizen, I believe that parents have the right to determine what is best for their children – including exercising the ability to opt out of standardized tests.

As a mother, I have long believed that the combination of my views as an educator and a citizen would combine in one outcome: that I would opt my children out of any and all standardized tests that came their way. 

 From Pixabay.com under CC0.

From Pixabay.com under CC0.

Only, see what had happened was…my child did not actually want to be opted out.

Huh. In the words frequently mumbled by Sweet Love when she has made yet another mess…”I didn’t see that coming.”

I’ve written about this testing thing a few times here and there:

http://asouthernruckus.com/asouthernruckus/outhernruckus.com/2013/03/opting-out.html

http://asouthernruckus.com/asouthernruckus/2014/4/5/deep-reads-for-you-this-weekend

http://asouthernruckus.com/asouthernruckus/2015/3/7/opting-out-is-it-worth-the-hassle

Sassafras is now in 4th grade, which means the next few weeks will hold her second round of standardized testing. Last year, I sat her down, told her my basic thoughts about testing, and asked what she thought. Her response was that she was curious about how the testing thing worked and she really wanted to take them. Okay, fine, I said. But there was absolutely no reason to get all stressed out or anxious about it and if at any point she changed her mind, I’d take care of it.

This year, I casually made the same offer: if you want to skip the test, I’ll make it happen. Her response was: Meh, I liked taking the test because I got a good score, so I’ll just go ahead and take it this year, too.

Ummmm…okay. I suppose she’s very behavioristic that way. Taking the test, and receiving positive feedback, makes her feel good about her school experience. I have to acknowledge that while also remembering that taking the test is not at all a positive occurrence for other kids out there.

I still believe there is a better way to evaluate the work done by educators and students, and will continue advocating for improvements to the overall system as well as parents’ rights to determine what, if any, testing experience is right for their children.

Queen of Katwe

One of the ways we celebrated Pearl's Adoption Day this year was to go see Disney's new Queen of Katwe. I'm just skeptic enough to be concerned when Disney gets hold of history, and we had worried just a smidge that the film might not be true to the Ugandan people and culture. It was still a Disney movie about Uganda, however, and that was enough to draw us all to the theatre. 

 https://ohmy.disney.com/movies/2016/05/09/queen-of-katwe-poster/

https://ohmy.disney.com/movies/2016/05/09/queen-of-katwe-poster/

By the way, we are more than a little irritated that there is only ONE movie theatre in all of Birmingham that is currently featuring Queen of Katwe, and even in that one theatre the viewings were rather limited. 

So after we found the one place showing the movie and got fleeced at the ticket counter/concession stand, we moseyed on to the theatre and settled in for the previews. Approximately 30 seconds later we were all looking at each other like Oh, crap. We've gone into the wrong theatre. For that trailer was a rather highly tense and scary preview for some new Halle Berry movie that is all about human trafficking and a little boy getting kidnapped from an amusement park. I mean, what in the actual what?! I was flanked by a very freaked out Sassafras and Pearl, and spent most of that 30 seconds murmuring back and forth to them to close their eyes and just ignore it, it would end soon...almost over...please God let it be over.

After it finally, mercifully ended, Sweet Love stated loudly what everybody in the theatre was thinking: Hey, 'dat was skewwy. The next few were less intense but still not exactly on par with the ratings and target audience for Queen of Katwe so we still wonder if there wasn't some mistake. 

Previews aside, Queen of Katwe is a beautiful film. It tells the story of Phiona Mutesi, a very poor girl from the slums of Katwe (outside Kampala, the capital city of Uganda), who becomes a chess champion despite tremendously difficult circumstances. That story of triumph over adversity is a common theme in both modern and classic screenplays, but there are two specific and unique points found within Katwe: one is the painstaking precision in capturing so many of the nuances of the Ugandan culture and the other is the focus on the quiet strength of women in Uganda. 

As early in as the opening frame, Queen of Katwe felt and sounded exactly like the Uganda within which we have spent so much time. The markets, the red clay, the boda bodas, the wooden and metal shanties, the pop-up stalls, the street vendors, the achingly familiar dialect and vocal inflections of the actors, even the cups and bowls from which the children bathe as well as take their meals. The jackfruit, Lake Victoria, whole fried fish, chapati cooking on a rusty grease table, one government official promising to get back to one of the characters "right away," which actually meant 2-3 years later, the way the women cluck and hum in expression, the way they say "clothes" (clo-thez) and "died" (di-ehd)... It is all just so...Uganda. And I loved how authentic the movie was in that regard. 

I also value how much Queen of Katwe takes the viewer into every part of Ugandan culture for women, including the normality within which a woman loses her husband, home, and even children. That's a tragedy, but in many parts of Uganda (Katwe included), tragedy isn't really anything all that special. Tragedy is just a regular Tuesday for many Ugandans.

This film also refuses to shy away from the escapism that tempts many women into following what often turns out to be a path that perpetuates their situational poverty and continues the cycle for their children. Lupita Nyong'o, who plays the role of Phiona's mother, does so masterfully and with spot-on perfection to communicating the ongoing plight of many mothers in Uganda who work unbelievably hard to feed their children and retain their integrity. Almost every scene with Lupita felt intense in some way, and every scene that brought me to tears was hers. I have met these women - the moms of kids like Phiona. I've met them in a Ugandan prison. I've met them in orphanages. And in guest houses and hotels. I've met them in remote villages and within government houses and church services. I've met them in hospitals. Women like Phiona's mother are many, and I loved that Disney allowed such a refreshingly honest look at strong females - although the fact that the movie was directed by a strong female likely plays the biggest part in that - without sugarcoating the difficulty of their life. 

There are several other details I am eager to cover but for the sake of being concise, I'll end with this: One of the most right things Disney took in Queen of Katwe was to cast so many Ugandan actors. Their natural talent and easy replication of reality for Phiona and her family/friends is the pixie dust that made this movie work.

As for Pearl? She loved Queen of Katwe, though it did dredge up all kinds of Big Feelings for her. She needed some cuddle time after we got home and wanted to talk about the two most intense scenes in the movie as well as how she felt about seeing and hearing some very real parts of this special nation. It's another tool she can use to relate to her story, and if for no other reason, for that we are eternally grateful that Disney did such a thorough job on this film

For more information about Queen of Katwe, check out these resources:

  •     https://www.wired.com/2016/09/queen-of-katwe/ 
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4l3-_yub5A 
  • http://www.queenofkatwe.com/
  • http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Queen_of_Katwe 
  • http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/movies/2016/09/disney_s_queen_of_katwe_with_lupita_nyong_o_reviewed.html 

Life in the Wilson Wild

Team Wilson tends to operate somewhere between Busy and Really Busy. We don't intend for it to be that way, but we (generally speaking) are a family who likes to say "yes" to things. We want to make the most of this one life, and we like new experiences and opportunities and adventures. That makes us our life full in so many wonderful ways and it helps our kids feel brave in trying new things as well. 

But y'all...in the past few months we kicked it up a few notches and are now running what could only be classified as Insanely-Threat-Level-Midnight-Busy. It's almost comical, really. Let me see if I can break it down...

Over the summer, I was honored to be offered a position at what has to be the most incredible school in the nation. It is a breathtakingly beautiful new building filled with precious teenagers and led by a team of the most phenomenal teachers and administrators. It is a place well stocked with cutting edge technologies and receives ample support from the community. It is a dream world, and I still can't believe that I get to be a part of it. The first two weeks I teared up every single day I walked in the building, thanking the Lord in Heaven for providing me the opportunity to use my unique skills within this beautiful, peaceful, and positive place. It is an absolute delight to go to work. I miss my former students and teacher buds so much, but I am so thankful for this opportunity and I hope I never lose that feeling of gratitude. 

That wonderfulness led to transferring Sassafras and Pearl into new schools as well. Our "first day" this year was a mighty big one, and everyone was more than a little nervous. True to form, though, this sweet community has already wrapped its arms around my babies and finding ways to make them feel welcomed and loved. 

Matt and I believe that this place is where we are supposed to raise our little chitlins, so we set out immediately to work on getting the girls plugged in to extracurriculars in the city as well as listing our house on the market - our third time in the past four years. We endured many showings and the stress of constant high level house maintenance...but after about 6 weeks we had not one but two offers on our house! 

We wanted to avoid a gap in closings, so that led to a fast-and-furious search for a new house in our new community. Thankfully, we were led to a beautiful new home that has almost everything we have ever wanted in a house, and it's there we hope to stay for a good, long while. The kids are beyond excited and we already have boxes everywhere in anticipation of the move. 

The house selling and purchasing process has been relatively smooth, but we have hit a snag with our buyer that has caused some continual delays. The sale will still go through, it has just been hard to pin down the date as of yet...which has caused an unspeakable amount of stress on our daily lives and has led to many 15+ hour days away from home. We started out looking at this as, "Hey, we're Wilsons...we can do hard things!" <insert eye roll> And now we're like "GOD, HAVE MERCY. MAKE IT STOP!" 

So, we wait for closings, and we continue to hike up the steep learning curve of figuring out the cultures and policies of three new schools for our kids (soon to add a fourth with Sweet Love's new school), and in the midst of all that? 

You guys. I got accepted to a doctoral program. 

I know, right? New job, two new schools for kids, new city, moving to a new house...why not start graduate school? I applied to this program MONTHS ago (way back before the amazing new job was even a possibility), so while the timing is interesting, I'm so excited about these classes and the program experience as a whole. It is an entire degree in research on instructional leadership and technology and I'm not sure if we've ever had this conversation but RESEARCH IS MY JAM.  

We're happy. We're thankful. We know that all of these are good, good, happy things. But even for us, the family that is used to cooking on all burners simultaneously, we are at capacity. The Captain's work-related travels have picked up a bit the last few months, and most of those weeks I feel like it's only by the grace of God and the help from Gran, Pop, and Whitney that we are even making it at all. I can't tell you how many times I've dropped the ball lately. I missed one of the girls' pickups by 25 minutes one day. I forgot to make the turn and drop my kids off at school/the bus stop another day. I bought $50 worth of pre-cooked frozen meals from a local caterer last Friday AND I LEFT THEM IN THE VAN FOR TWO DAYS. Two very hot, very stinky days. My swagger wagon may never be the same, y'all, and I've considered punishing myself for wasting the $50 by eating crackers for lunch every day. Even my typically on-top-of-things Sassypants has forgotten to study for two tests, and every one of us is basically laying on the floor right now holding up a sign that says "WE CANNOT EVEN."  

Except Sweet Love. That little rascal is sitting on us eating chocolate ice cream.

 

 

Why fit in when you were born to stand out? - Dr. Seuss

Though much more common these days, back in the 2008 day, when we began our adoption process, we were considered an anomaly. It was strange enough to most people that we were pursuing adoption as a means of expanding our family when we already had a biological child, but add to that the fact that we were intentionally seeking to parent a child of another race was mind-boggling to so many. Rather than being encouraged, the two questions we would get right off the bat were “But WHY?” and “But what in the world would you do with her HAIR?”

They “why” question didn’t bother us, and was easy to answer. The hair question did bother us, not because it wasn’t easy to answer but just because it wasn’t easy to answer without the heavy use of sarcasm. Because obviously, yes, we are about as white as white can get, but we are also not idiots. I was not born understanding nor raised to know exactly how to care for the hair and skin of someone of another ethnicity, but I am both willing and eager to ask for help from those who are the experts: black people and professionals trained in the care of all types of hair. So this question bothered me not because it didn’t have a simple answer, but that so many people considered it a legitimate hindrance to transracial adoption.

Because, yes, hair is important and an essential part of who a person is, regardless of race. But is hair that is different from yours really a reason to leave a vulnerable child as an orphan? “Yeah, I see those starving children who have no parents and no one to protect them or advocate for them or love them, but nah…think I’ll pass. I just don’t know how to fix their hair.” Bless.  

 About a month and a half after we met our beautiful little bald-headed baby girl.

About a month and a half after we met our beautiful little bald-headed baby girl.

Hair is important. Hair in the black community is considered a hot-button issue because of the history of racism in this country (yes, that article is BBC-UK but I like it anyway because it’s thorough). My Pearl Girl’s African orphanage shaved their babies’ heads on the reg as a cultural tradition (and to ease caring for so many children). In that country, even teenage girls keep their hair shaved as part of the schools’ dress code. So when we first met her, she was almost totally bald. My goal – then and now – was/is to keep Pearl’s hair as healthy as possible (natural products, no chemical treatments, etc.) until she is old enough to make up her own mind about how she wants to style her hair. Pearl’s hair also grows very slowly, is 4C on the hair texture chart, is extremely thirsty, and has weak edges. We have tried several methods of styling over the last five years and her favorite (and mine) is to moisturize well, detangle, and then leave it loose and free. She typically wears a head band (her sensory needs dictate that it must be soft), but on days she doesn’t feel like the band she wears earrings.

In some pockets of the Birmingham-metro area we see lots of other little black girls wearing their hair loose and natural, and in others there are none. Though we see this natural hair trend growing, Pearl’s hair looks different than many other black girls her age…and I have caught some heat about that in the form of the side-eye, unsolicited advice, and Lord help us if we have to go in the Wal-mart after a long day of playing at school.

One online community (of several) I subscribed to a few years ago that advertised support for transracial families is disagreeable to any kind of hair style that is not “typical” of black American children. There are frequent frantic submissions of parents wondering if their kids’ hair looks black enough. I understand their reasoning but question the obsession over what makes a hair style “black enough.”

Is it really honoring to the black culture or culture of adoption to pour all your parenting efforts into making sure a child looks “enough?” Or is there a way to honor those cultures within their current confines while also allowing room for the expectation of the culture’s growth and evolution over time?

Those are big questions to which I don’t have the answers. I will not speak for the black community or the adoption community. I will only speak for the Team Wilson community.

One of our goals as parents is to raise these little girls up to be who THEY were created to and choose to be, rather than shaping them after someone else’s ideology of what makes them black enough or white enough or girl enough. It is not in our nature to look to other people to determine what we like about ourselves, and I love that we are starting to see that in our kids as well.

Recently Pearl Girl was asked to describe some of her favorite things about herself. The first? That she likes her short hair. The second was that she is from Africa, and the third was that she is adopted. We have a long way to go before all these little birds are out of the nest, but for now, even our shy little Pearl values who she IS, not who anyone thinks she is supposed to be.

And that is more than enough.