By ANITRA DURAND ALLEN
Preparing to go back to school is always a crazy time in our family. Living in the midwest, we start early and end early—with the first day in mid-August and the last day typically in May. This year, we decided to implement what will become a standing tradition for us with a #latesummervacay over Labor Day Weekend. We decided to visit St. Louis.
One of our first stops was to the Old Courthouse to purchase tickets for the iconic Gateway Arch monument. While there we toured the exhibits of the museum. We read the signs and watched the videos of the early settlement in the city. We stood in the very room where Dred Scott fought for and won his freedom from slavery. It was sobering.
Just days before this trip, we learned that my gifted brown babies will be learning American History and World History in school this year. The middle school North American unit will focus on the idea of Consumption. The African unit will focus on war and disease. The fourth grade American History unit will cover early settlers and colonists, westward expansion, and the Civil War.
So, I knew that there would be questions, tough questions, that I’d have to answer about what they learned in St. Louis. And I realized that this is the first year that my gifted brown babies will face the reality of their existence in America taught in the classroom. As a mom I feel it is my duty to ensure that my children are not shouldering the burden of the ignorance and lack of knowledge of their non-black peers. I felt my demeanor shift sitting in those back to school nights. Mama Bear mode kicked in 1000%.
There are very few people of color in their academic circles. I recognized that my girls were gifted at a very young age. My oldest is a 6th grader in the Middle School Gifted and Talented Program. My youngest attends one of the most prestigious independent schools in the country. At eight years old, she’s the youngest 4th grader in the school.
Unless your gifted brown babies attend a school like Atlanta Gifted Academy, I am sure you can relate to my situation. But instead of going full blown Assata Shakur, I’ve opted to follow the advice I would give my readers with these success strategies for your gifted brown babies when in predominantly white environments.
- Be Truthful and Honest. That may sound like the same thing. But in this instance, truthful is about facts and honesty is about your feelings. While standing in the Old Courthouse we came across this story.
My sweet, sensitive, compassionate child turned to me and asked would I kill her instead of sending her into slavery. With a pit in the bottom of my stomach I said, “I don’t know.” I explained that slavery was a horrific experience and that while I couldn’t answer her question, it must have been unbearable for a mom to choose to kill her baby.Racial issues have resurfaced in an aggressive and sensationalized manner in America. Don’t shy away from the subject of race, but don’t sugar coat it either. Be as honest as you can, even when it’s uncomfortable. Allow them to form their own opinions. And provide a safe space for them to discuss their feelings without judgement.After sharing her perspective on Colin Kaepernick and his protest, my youngest said, “I just hope I don’t die before we’re all treated equally.” Me too, baby girl.
- Know How They Are Smart. And make sure their teachers do too. I am a firm believer in Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. I use it often when teaching communication in parenting. I’ve assessed my children, I know their strengths and can help their teachers cater to them. I strongly suggest this to all parents, especially those of gifted children.According to the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) there is a glaring excellence gap between white students and students of color in America. Studies show that black and brown children are more likely to be identified as gifted with black and brown teachers. Don’t allow your gifted brown babies to fall through the cracks. Learn how they are gifted and advocate for them in the classroom.
- Be Upfront and Open. I mean really. It’s no secret that they are in the minority. There really is no need to dance around it. The sooner you address it more likely you can eliminate the micro-aggressions that come along with being one of the few people of color in the room.This year, in addition to noting Olivia’s occasional thumb sucking when she’s bored and Alexandra’s penchant to do anything but sit in her chair, we’ve added our concerns about their emotions and psyche as one of the few students of color.We have made it clear that they are not to be ostracized or made to feel uncomfortable because of their race. Obviously, this won’t stop it completely, but it places the teachers and staff in a position to be more aware of it. It also places them on notice that I am ready to act upon it if it does.Take the responsibility of being your child’s first and best educational advocate by arming yourself with knowledge and tools to support you. Use that information to help others lead your gifted brown babies down the path to success.
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Anitra Durand Allen is a corporate defector and project management aficionado who helps busy moms get stuff done. She overshares her opinions on family life and blogs about strategic family management at www.themomonthemove.com. She is a blissful wife and mom to super kids #OliviaAllen and #AwesomeAlexAllen. Find her as @themomonthemove on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (www.facebook.com/TheMomontheMove).