“I Teach My African American Kids to Write their Own Stories…”

“Mom, are you going to have to leave America?” asked my eight-year old daughter one day.

“No, baby!” I immediately answered and asked why she was asking that question. Her answer, unfortunately, was not surprising to me given our current political climate. She said that a child at school had stated that the newly elected president would save America by sending away immigrants. I knew then that it was time to ramp up the teachings and lessons of self-love and positive self-esteem that I had already been trying to instill in my children.

Like all parents, I know that a huge part of my job is to ensure that my children have a positive sense of self. But for the parents of children of color, we have to work harder to achieve this. We live in a world where the standard is not us. I often think of what is considered the classic “All American Girl or Boy”. The image that is painted is one of white skin, blond hair, blue eyes, straight, middle class or above, and Christian. Those of us who don’t fit into that mold are relegated to the sidelines where we exist as mere side-notes in the carefully spun tale of all things Americana.

[bctt tweet=”Parents of children of color have to work harder to instill a positive sense of self in them.” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]

So how do I combat side-note status and a growing animosity for anyone and anything that does not fit into the traditional Americana story? So how do I combat side-note status and a growing animosity for anyone and anything that does not fit into the traditional Americana story? I simply change the narrative. I write my own story. I’m not only being figurative when I say this. I literally wrote my own story. As I noticed the lack of diversity in children’s literature, I wrote and published a children’s picture book for my daughter. I wanted her to have books that depict positive images of characters that look and feel like her. I’m on a mission to write more books like this not just for my own kids but for all children. But crafting a positive narrative for them is not only about constructing fictional tales. I also make sure to tell my children the factual stories that reveal who they are. I teach them about their rich and diverse cultures by starting with my story.

I was born in a country where various ethnic groups blend seamlessly together to create a beautiful mosaic of cultures in one area or often in one household. The Garifuna who descended from Afro-Caribbean heritage, the Mestizo originating from Spanish and Maya lineages, the Creole who are the descendants of Black slaves and their British masters, the Mennonites with their Russian background, and of course the Maya who have been native inhabitants of Central America and Mexico for thousands of years, all find themselves living side by side in the small and unique country of Belize. It is in this place, in the tiny village of Esperanza where I was born and raised until the age of ten years old.

Photo Courtesy – Shereen Rahming. The author, in Belize, with her grandmother.

[bctt tweet=”I am a Black/Latin Belizean of Creole and Mestizo ethnicities. ” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]

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I am a Black/Latin Belizean of Creole and Mestizo ethnicities. Like many households in my birth country, the influences of all its varied people found their way into our home. We spoke both Spanish and an English dialect called Creole or Kriol. We ate Creole foods like rice and beans with plantains, traditional Latin foods like tamales, and Garifuna foods like serre, a popular fish stew. We listened and danced to Mariachi bands and Maya-inspired Marimba music as much as we did to the African-sounds of Punta, and the Afro-Caribbean beats of Soca and Reggae.

[bctt tweet=”We ate Creole foods like rice and beans with plantains, traditional Latin foods like tamales, and Garifuna foods like serre, a popular fish stew. ” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]

This is the same world where today’s modern day towns and villages exist near ancient cities of the past. Just mere miles from our village, my grandparents would take me for picnics. The site of our alfresco dining, none other than the base of “El Castillo” temple at the ancient Maya site of Xunantunich. Upon finishing my grandmother’s delicacies, we would dash to the top of El Castillo, dipping into her various chambers as we ascended the steep stairs of the great “Stone Woman” as she is sometimes called. Upon reaching the apex, one cannot help but stare off into the distance of the vast jungle below and over the nearby border into Guatemala. Witnessing the surrounding beauty and majesty of Xunantunich from this vantage point leaves one with feelings of awe and gratitude for having this place as a source of cultural pride.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Crafting a positive narrative for my children is not only about constructing fictional tales. I also make sure to tell my children the factual stories that reveal who they are. I teach them about their rich and diverse cultures by starting with my story.[/perfectpullquote]

This is my heritage and therefore, my children’s heritage. But their story does not end there. I always remind them that the wealth and beauty of their lineage spans across the Central American jungles, over the waters of the Caribbean, and onto the shores and land of the United States. Born in the USA, with an African American father, they are African American.

Photo Credit – Rachel Heimerman

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They carry on their shoulders the amazing history of the African American people. They carry the pain of enslavement, the torment of segregation, the crusade of the Civil Rights Movement, and the continuing struggles still faced today. They carry the legacy of heroes that span across time from the past to the present. Heroes like Muhammad Ali, Nina Simone, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Colin Kaepernick, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Angela Davis, Amandla Stenberg, Shaun King, Alicia Garza, and a myriad of others. Then there are those whose names we will never know. They are the women and men who fought for freedom and justice and we never learned their names. They quietly took the blows and gave their lives and have been forgotten by time.

There are also the men and women we call Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Mama, Papa, Nanny, and Friend who carry on the daily task of living, loving, and caring for us. They get up day after day unceremoniously toiling just to make ends meet. It is they who have carried
and delivered the truth of our heritage to us. They have passed it down through traditions like rituals, dances, music, languages, food, and tales that have endured through centuries.
[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]So instead of attaching myself and my children to the narratives that leave us out or tell untruths about us, I choose instead to embrace the tales that have been handed down to us through our cultural traditions.[/perfectpullquote]

I teach my children about our cultural heroes of the past and present.

These heroes built majestic temples and castles in the middle of mighty jungles. They marched and fought for equality and justice even under the threat of losing their lives. They built America on their enslaved backs and because they built America, they too, are the “All American Girls, Boys, Men, and Women”. These are the people with whom they share cultures. So while living in a world that is seemingly against diversity and multiculturalism, I teach my children to appreciate their diverse cultures by changing the narratives that have been fed to us for so long. I write my own story as I do right now and I teach them to write their own stories that tell of the strength and beauty of their diverse heritage. I teach them simply to know, embrace, speak, and write the truth!

[bctt tweet=”I write my own story as I do right now and I teach them to write their own stories that tell of the strength and beauty of their diverse heritage.” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]


Shereen RahmingShereen Rahming is a children’s book author and former elementary school teacher who lives in Southern California with her husband and their two children. A passionate advocate for diversity and multiculturalism, she started Read & Glow Books to publish her own stories and to promote diverse and multicultural literature. You can find out more about Shereen by visiting her website at and you can order her book Ahni & Her Dancing Secret through Amazon below:


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One Comment Add yours

  1. becky says:

    “Crafting a positive narrative for my children is not only about constructing fictional tales. I also make sure to tell my children the factual stories that reveal who they are. I teach them about their rich and diverse cultures by starting with my story.” WELL SAID. Awesome article Shereen!

    Like

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