By Cheryl Smith
I can still remember cozying up to my mother and feeling her smooth arm pressed against my cheek. I didn’t have a care in the world because Superwoman, Catwoman, the mean ole lady down the street who acted like she hated children, nor anybody else had anything on Earline. Even my Daddy, Joseph, knew how to walk away to save the day.
Which brings me to my truth.
For the most part, I was clueless about the devastation caused by the riots right around the corner on the streets of Newark, NJ, and the havoc that was wreaked by the walkout of thousands of teachers, both in the late 1960s.
There were times I did see tears flowing, however, and learned those tears were tied to the deaths of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (November 22, 1963) at 46, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) (February 21, 1965) at 39, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., (April 4, 1968) at 39, and Sen. Robert Francis “Bobby” Kennedy (June 6, 1968) at 42. Even today I recall the photos that not only appeared on the walls of our home, but also my friends.
Also I remember still going to Chancellor Avenue School but instead of Ms. Constantinople— wonder what happened to her—can’t locate her because she got married and I have been unable to find a Mrs. Istanbul (inside joke!), or Ms. Merisel (who constantly let us know she was from the Show-Me State); we had students from Weequahic High School next door, who kept our minds occupied throughout the day.
While there are different definitions for a parent, according to Ron Taffel, Ph.D., therapist and author of The Second Family: How Adolescent Power Is Challenging the American Family, parents have to “strike a balance between offering our children support and empathy—and simultaneously providing structure through clear expectations of how we would like them to behave.
It is the constant, natural back and forth between love and limits that is the mark of a great parent.” Talk about an awesome responsibility! If there is ever a time when parenting is called for, it is now. Sadly many are not equipped or up for the challenges that are associated with parenting. For me, adults must be protectors—not just from evil people, or physical harm. They must also protect children from “grown folks business.”
The interesting thing about “grown folks business” is that there should always be some things that should never be shared with children; no matter how old they get. I was safe at home. I didn’t know, if there were any, that there were issues with paying bills, if the teachers were threatening to never ever return to school, or if the riots/uprisings would arrive on my doorstep.
Today we are facing COVID-19 and we have to share information with our children so that they can be safe. It’s our responsibility and no one gets a pass. We must protect those who can’t protect themselves, and at times we must protect them from themselves! Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “save the children.” But first, we must begin with the person in the mirror as we adjust our face masks!