As a young white woman from Romania I landed in Seattle and took full advantage of the American dream. I was bringing with me the treasure of a solid education and a strong work ethic. I received plenty of opportunities and passes. I was living the American dream!
Then, one day in my 6th year as a mother that framework crumbled. See, there were 2 black boys in my son's Kindergarten class and both were bullied out of the school that year. (This is my interpretation based on facts visible to me and many people in the community.) The fact that this is a public alternative school with a social justice mission makes it that much harder to take.
The first boy was called racial slurs by children on the playground; his confidence diminished over time and he did not want to engage with learning anymore. I was friends with his mother and tried to advocate with school leadership and PTA white leadership. School leadership invoked confidentiality to keep me out of the conversations. PTA white leadership passively told me not to worry, school leadership was going to take care of it. As an immigrant, I felt I was clueless at the time in race issues and trusted these people...giving my power away...I regret that. They did not take care of it, and that family left the school.
I remember the second boy at the beginning of the school year - bright-eyed and reading way ahead of his peers. I remember him towards the end of the year...hiding under desks and running across the hallway to the other classroom, where there was a larger number of black children and a more mature and experienced teacher. Somewhere along the way a story surfaced that someone had written on the boy’s Birthday Sun that he "should not be in this school..." and he had seen it. At the end of the school year, his father, with sad eyes, told me that they were moving to another school. I felt powerless. I wish I had asked directly if their decision was due to the racist interactions they’d experienced. I didn't. Instead, I promised I would tell this story to anyone willing to listen. I still wish I had asked. I regret that.
I am now sitting with the weight of these stories, and wondering how many times over this story repeats all over America. I am learning that my voice matters on these issues. That growing up in this country does not by any means give anyone an advantage to deal with racism...on the contrary, when I looked around at my fellow Americans born on this land, nobody stood up for these children in a visible way.
I want to grow my capacity to have these uncomfortable conversations. I want to challenge all my white friends and acquaintances to get out of this paralysis, step into their leadership, pay attention to what happens around them, and have these uncomfortable courageous conversations. You could save a life!