My daughter is four. Just yesterday, we were calculating the number of states she’s visited and how it pales in comparison to the number of countries she’s traveled. Being an expat kid afforded her opportunities and exposure most kids her age never experience, especially most black American kids. She is, or at least she was when practiced daily, fluent in Mandarin and the colloquial language of Singlish. She can count in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and French. She can recognize the difference between Asian cultural nuances and people; a characteristic most adult Americans lack. (They do NOT all look alike.) She is well versed in globalization, and is accepting, loving, and inclusive of everyone. Never has she met a stranger when it comes to other children. This is not, however, because of her exposure to multi-cultures. Her ability to engage cross-culturally is due to the foundation of her education being rooted in a love for her own culture.
A few weeks ago, we were asking questions about Ida B. Wells and President Obama in a casual conversation. She rattled off answers and was able to compare their contributions without hesitation. She ended the dialogue with the statement, “I know all about my heroes because you teach me everyday.” It was a proud moment as her mother and first educator.
She began learning of our “Heroes” as a part of her daily curriculum once she turned 14-months-old. We would introduce her to a new hero through flash cards and teach her facts about each one. If I was feeling ambitious, I’d couple the introduction with an activity that cemented who the hero was and what they contributed to society, not just black society, but their impact on the world. She understood the importance of offering reverence to our ancestors and the difference between our ancestors and the ancestors of our counterparts. She learned to appreciate our history, culture, beauty, and contributions at the very beginning of her educational cultivation. This was intentional and imperative because “culture is elemental, not supplemental.” Now, each hero serves as a reminder of her own ability and greatness.
Whenever she feels timid about performing, we remind her of Lena Horne or Paul Robeson or Janell Monae. When she’s frustrated by math or science, she hears encouragement from the strides of Mae Jemison, Benjamin Banneker, the creator of Mathematics, our ancestor Imhotep, or her uncle who holds a Masters in Applied Mathematics. http://www.math.buffalo.edu/mad/wohist.html When she’s in need of inspiration, we echo the poignant words of our legends Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, and Countee Cullen. We do this so often, she understands that it’s a part of our regular exchange. During Black History Month this year, we’ll be highlighting even more living heroes like Eunique Jones and our recent contributions, so that she understands that our greatness is still relevant and being displayed. Not only does this teach her the importance of loving ourselves, it gives her the confidence to walk in any setting anywhere in the world and know that she can hold her own, while appreciating the other cultures represented; appreciation without assimilation. In every great obstacle she’ll face in her life, she’ll know that someone, someone that shares her history, lineage, and culture, has already conquered something similar, and therefore,victory is simply hers to obtain. This is why…..