A month into our self-imposed quarantine, and a month before the conscience of this nation was stirred, once more, by tear-gassed citizens demanding dignity and equal treatment, my wife and I welcomed our first son to this world. In one of the now more frequently occurring wake moments during the day’s most haunting hours from 4-6am, I read Clint Smith’s piece in the Atlantic on becoming a parent in the Age of Black Lives Matter. It has echoed within me since then, testing my convictions about the virtues of doing the work that I am fortunate to do in an organization that strengthens community around historically under-acknowledged and under-resourced entrepreneurs.
Reflecting on how the current moment in time, again, reverberates a particular mix of pain and anguish for Black families, Smith quotes one of his Black friends, father to a 2-year-old. With surgical precision, the friend puts words to a “discomforting juxtaposition between the joy of seeing the world through [my son’s] eyes and knowing how the world will see him one day.”
The waves of hope and bleakness propelled by bringing life to our world during our times, swings to different amplitudes for Black, Brown or white families, like ours. Even across the vast differences in lived experience, these words elicited a response rooted in a shared sense of our common future. I am trying to reconcile how, with our own child, I can re-discover our world in wonder, while simultaneously my stomach tightens over the thought that we partook in its deterioration, quite possibly inflicting irreparable damage?
In searching for a compass for my conscience I re-discovered the wholly tantalizing conversation between James Baldwin and Margaret Mead in which the two frequently return to, as Maria Popova, the chronicler of the timeless and timely, writes, “the relationship between the past and the present in making sense of responsibility.” In a moment in which the two put the deep wisdom of their conversation in focus, Baldwin reflects on the finiteness of his own life.
Baldwin: It’s a matter of the curtain coming down eventually. But what should we do about the children? We are responsible; so far as we are responsible at all, our responsibility lies there, toward them. We have to assume that we are responsible for the future of this world.
Mead: That’s right.
Baldwin: What shall we do? How shall we begin it? How can it be accomplished? How can one invest others with some hope?
Mead: Then we come to a point where I would say it matters to know where we came from. That it matters to know the long, long road that we’ve come through. And this is the thing that gives me hope we can go further.
The hope in the face of seemingly untamable forces which emanates from this conversation gives me the courage to find faith in morning time and go back to work. As Mead says in another segment of their conversation “the more one wants to be an activist the narrower the time is.”
From All in a Day by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Nikki McClure