By Patrick A. Corvington
I am an immigrant baptized by fire. And now, my children are Americans who share in this baptism. I was born and raised in the civil wars of the Congo and Uganda where Black people were demanding freedom and equality from a white colonial system. My daughters now find themselves immersed in the Black Lives Matter movement – demanding the same things from their own government.
I used to ask my mother and sisters about how to raise two American girls whom I love so deeply but whose origin stories are so different from mine. Beyond our filial bonds, our day-to-day interactions – breakfast, lunch, dinner, couch cuddling, dog walking, softball playing, woods hiking, beach swimming, homework doing, piano practicing – how could I connect them to my origin story? One that is theirs only through family history?
I can’t. They are trapped in their own experience. Hanging around a suburban neighborhood where most of the time, things work, except when brown skin – theirs and mine – remind us that the bubbling stream of this life flows over sharp rocks that pierce the calm. I am constantly stepping on these rocks, my feet now dulled by the callouses of my own experience, and terrified that theirs will one day, too, be calloused. No one wants that for their children.
So, I worried. At every family gathering, every life event, that although mine and theirs are worlds so deeply integrated that the Venn diagram is almost a complete circle, but that the parts separated are at once small and enormous.
But now, I’ve come to realize that we share something cultural. Something defining. Something that will, for years to come, inform their world view as it did mine. We are together living in a moment in which Black and Brown people, exercising our agency, are part of a movement that demands equality. And as summer approaches its close and talk turns to school, I wonder how all of this will affect them.
At ConnectED, we work with more than 3,000 families supporting their children’s educational journey. In the past few months, our conversations have been the same as those in my house. They have been dominated by COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, and the murder of George Floyd. Families worry about how the co-morbidity of two diseases, racism and COVID, will affect their kids in the long run. Add to that the uncertainty of how schooling will unfold, families and kids are stressed. I worry, families worry, that later, this time will be known as our hungry years. Hungry for peace. Hungry for equality. But mostly, hungry for calm.
Now more than ever, we hear from families that connection, to each other, to their kids, to a system of care, is essential to how we navigate through these times. Families crave these connections because isolation is baked into COVID times. The era of front stoops, backyard banter, the sing-song voices of children playing, has been replaced by the sound of tight and stressed voices. Right now, struggle is connection. And we crave a time when love, peace, and calm will be the point of connection. This is the moment when common experiences show us that we are now together. That, certainly with some differences, we are all tied by a common history – the COVID times. The George Floyd times. The time when we crave calm and connection. Now is the time to be together.
As for me and my children, I now know that in this moment, we share a history and it is our present.
Patrick A. Corvington is the Executive Director of ConnectED in Washington, DC.