Tell The Children: "Be Excellent Anyway...You'll Understand Why Later"
Updated: Nov 3, 2020
I truly enjoy engaging about my novel, "We Come as Girls, We Leave as Women" with all kinds of people- women, teen girls, men, and even teenaged boys. Of the dozens of times that I have connected with groups, our conversations about the joys and trials of growing up never disappoint with regard to insightful questions and other thought-provoking contributions.
A discussion I had recently with a distinguished group of women who are part of a purposeful and purpose-filled community driven organization was no different. Our conversation topics ranged from what inspired me to write the novel, one member spoke about how much she related to a certain character (I am always so moved by those testimonies), to how I grew up. The discussion then took a different substantial turn, when one accomplished member, who is also a mom, asked my advice on what to do when a child is taught to work hard and stay focused, and does this, yet is later opposed and questioned about how valuable is their work and skill set due to various reasons, namely race and/or gender. What do we tell them when someone questions their talents and gifts, therefore possibly making them feel not confident about all that they have worked for? Point Blank: The monumental investment of positive tellings has to prevail over all. I gave a few suggestions that spoke to encouraging her and the village that surrounds her child to continue with their consistent affirmations about who her child is. I reminded her to remind her child about how worthy he is, and what great possibilities the world will have for him, because WHEN, not IF someone doubts the proficiency of her son, who might perhaps follow her footsteps and embark on a career as a physician, he will look back at what and who has grounded him to help him not be deterred by the unfair bias. But most importantly, regardless of what adversities might be on the road ahead, tell her child to be excellent anyway, because when it is all said and done, one's integrity is all one will really have. When they grow up, this will make all the sense in the world.
"Be excellent anyway, because one's integrity is all one really has"? What? Who? What child or teen for that matter is going to appreciate such intangible, vision-based wisdom?
They might not appreciate it now, but possibilities are great for a child who routinely receives the good word and an endless amount of positive affirmations around them. Parenting is not an instant-gratification road most of the time. You can band aid experiences while they are young- approaching an unjust naysayer on their behalf, giving your child a talking to to help get them through the uneasy now moment, but what you really hope for is, for them to have enough integrity to navigate when they get out on their own. Just follow through. As with negative talk from people they trust, children believe these words, and that belief is what will hold them when they reach adulthood, when it will count differently and most. You tell the child these good things over and over, reiterating that they will understand later, but, again, it is not only the child who might have to wait for those affirmations to stick and matter. You, too, have to believe that your unwavering nurturing energy and commitment to uplift the worthiness in your children will amount to what will be needed to help sustain their lives as adults. (God bless those who raised me!) It's a great lesson in patience on both sides, but I have to say, from personal experience, it works. You've got to instill within them with all of the knowing your sense of faith can provide. If you do not abandon your efforts, on their own, when the time is right, your children will counter the unfair bias that will be thrown at them with excellence, because confidence and integrity will have been ingrained. It is then when the idea of Integrity will be aha'd within them. When the wisdom hit me it was, "So that is what they were talking about all of these years".
When I was a child, with regard to racial bias, I was taught thoroughly about racism, up to where and from whom I might encounter it. I was shown the epic documentary, "Eyes on The Prize" right before I hit teenagehood, I grew up seeing and reading real slave auction documents framed on family walls. I was even taught about Apartheid, the racist system that for a time, prevailed in South Africa. I had been given a great deal of history about our oppression, how we were held back as Black people, but I was also told and shown about our triumphs. It was reiterated to me over and over that I came from courage. I was told by a towering regal sage that my "Crown had already been bought and paid for". I believed her. "Be excellent anyway. You'll see why this will matter later", she could have added.
With regard to my own experience with racism and other unfair bias, I did not wait for it, but when it showed up, I had been pumped up with knowledge and understanding, and was thus so beyond it half of the time, I'll bet it did not register deeply enough to hurt my feelings. Aside from a couple of childhood experiences that nudged me internally that "something wasn't right", or "what's with them", I was more of an activist about what racial tensions were going on in the overall community vs feeling like the world was against me. As a college student, I was met by a an older woman host guardian in Spain, who had an adverse reaction to seeing a Black girl at her door, and when given an option to change families, I chose to remain living with her. Some would disagree with that decision, but I was taught well enough to know when an environment showed signs of dangerous, soul-stripping possibilities, and in an effort to preserve myself, I would take no issue with walking away. This posed no such threat. I was not afraid, and my politeness and unwavering confidence I believe inspired her to be the one to shift. In a short time, she opened up and was most embracing. As a working adult, walking into rooms filled with white people whose faces might seem aghast at my presence of creating a sense of diversity in the place has never inspired a feeling of anxiety or intimidation in me. Because of how hard I have worked in my life, and how worthy I have been told were those efforts by those who shaped me and mattered most to me, I believe that any room I am in I deserve to be there. How I have been encouraged while growing up, the fine balance between humility and a resoluteness of self belief is in stone. My inner confidence can overpower even the most arrogant contrarian. On the contrary, I feel superior to no one, but my mom and aunt told me that no one was better than me.
I recall dining in an all-white patron restaurant, and my obvious, singular, seated brown skin alerted someone I knew. She made a bee line to the table at which I sat with a friend and asked me, "Oh my God, what are you doing here?" My response to her: "And you?"
This year, I helped someone tell their story who is another grown up version of the scenario that the eloquent physician brought up in my latest group discussion. The subject of the memoir was also raised like I was, and although she still encounters those who question her aptitude and skill, what she knows she is capable of as a professional, coupled with what has been cemented inside of her from childhood serves as the catalyst to make her not doubt herself, rather, she feels a way about those who, without cause, cast doubt about her. I say, what a way to live, to assume to know someone's ability, having spent zero time working with them, or experiencing what they contribute to the world on some other level. That way of being seems to be limiting at best, exhausting at worst.
So we can only hope with confidence, as my guardians had to do with me, that whatever they continuously drilled in me over the years would stick, and that I would apply it to my life for the better. There were some hiccups along the way, where I had been screamed at, "Don't get hit by the train!". It had to be told to me more than a few times who I was, and Whose I was. But the constant reminders of, "You are destined for greatness, and anyone can be great because greatness is determined by service", or the simple, "Be the best YOU that you can be, and nobody will be able to do that better than you", was said, shown, and it definitely has proven true.
At my mid-age of earned wisdom today, I don't need to see a tangible outcome on the horizon. Yet, I choose to be excellent anyway, because I know the effort will show itself. We deserve it to aim high. This formula has not proven me wrong, and sometimes you must be patient for a certain level of maturity to see it. That is ok. So, yes, hold their hands now, and if we, as parents, can stick to our guns and keep pushing our children upward no matter what, by the time they reach the "right time", they will have made it to their earned levels of realization. Don't let up. We do our best to push our children toward their dreams of wordly success, and this can be a wonderful thing, yet, all the while keep pushing how worthy THEY are as beings. Integrity is worth more than anything. Rise above.
For You and All of Us,