It was on a daylong fourth-grade field trip with my daughter and her class last week that we visited Alabama’s capital, Montgomery.
We toured the Capitol building, where Alabama voted to secede from the Union and where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederate States in 1861. We walked in front of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a preacher during the civil rights movement. And, we stood at the intersection where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus. (We also visited the Rosa Parks Museum, now located at that site, too.)
On the 2.5-hour bus trip back to Tuscaloosa at the end of the day, I was looking at my daughter sitting next to me as she quietly played a game on the iPad, when I overheard a conversation between one of my daughter’s classmates, who happens to be white, and her father, who were sitting in the row behind us.
“Why did whites and blacks have to be segregated back then?” the girl asked her dad.
“Because there was a lot of racism,” the dad replied.
“Does racism still exist?” the girl asked.
“Yes, it does,” he said. “There’s still a lot of hate.”
I am, like so many other parents out there, trying to raise my children to be caring, empathetic people who stand up for others and recognize what is right. But it’s hard to know what to say to your kids after these stories were in the headlines recently:
— Pipe bombs were sent out to Democratic leaders, their supporters and CNN
— Two people were shot and killed while grocery shopping at a Kroger
— Eleven Jews died because a xenophobic terrorist bursted into their house of worship with an AK-47.
More than anything, I worry for the children’s future, and the future of this increasingly divided country.
My husband and I frequently record the evening news on our DVR and watch it when the kids aren’t in the room. We don’t listen to talk radio, and discussions about current events are often kept as quiet whispers. I cherish the innocence of childhood and instinctively shelter my kids from the world’s atrocities — from the hateful rhetoric, the racism, the bigotry and violence.
But I’ve realized that by completely sheltering my kids, I’m also doing them a disservice. We must teach them what is wrong — and the unjust ways of America’s past, and of its present — so that they know what is right.
As much violence and hate that there is in this world, it’s important to me to be truthful to my kids. And so, it starts by telling them watered-down versions of the truth, of what is happening. And more often than not, I’m surprised by how much they already know.
During the tour of the state Capitol building last week, after visiting the old Senate chambers and winding our way around the enormous, 90-foot rotunda, the tour guide asked the kids if they had any questions. Another little girl raised her hand. “What happens if there is a shooter? Where do you go for your safe space?” she asked.
The tour guide seemed as surprised as I did, but pointed at the security guards at the entrance, and the metal detectors. The kids happily seemed unfazed.
How times have changed, I thought. I just hope that as much evil as there is in the world today, that my kids have just as much opportunity to see the good in people, because it still exists. I know it does.
— Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at email@example.com.