Raising Him, Raising You Up: How Speaking Up in Public Empowers Our Kids
Contrary to my career as a journalist, I was never big on asking questions publicly until adulthood. Shy, insecure, and cringing at the thought of mass embarrassment coming from sharing the wrong answer, I rarely raised my hand.
“Does anyone have any questions?”
The eyes of the classroom attending Back to School Night seemed to turn to me as I stretched up my arm to be seen. The teacher – in this case my son’s – stared at me and pointed. “Will African American history be taught?” I made my point and continued. “I mean, Latino history and all of the various forms that you just mentioned are great for kids to learn, even European history too. But black history is just as important.”
The main thing I wanted to do (outside of pushing the fact that black history is just as important in an academic curriculum as the studies of other cultures across the globe) was to show my son the strength that comes from speaking up. It’s a sign of confidence that garners respect. It’s a form of bravery that I only began to find as a teen after conquering the childhood fear of speaking up. It was a flaw that caused some to confuse my quiet with weakness that triggered attempts at bullying, which only stopped when I began to open my mouth and respond.
“I’ll look into that,” the teacher quickly answered. “They’re still creating the curriculum, and I agree, black studies should be taught. I can also add in the work of famous black authors we can read. I agree.”
Kalel looked up at me and smiled before redirecting his attention back down to his drawing notebook.
Kids learn by watching. But most of the time it’s passive. You think they’re playing with action figures, but they’ve got one peripheral eye and ear watching and listening to whatever you’re doing. This isn’t just at home. This is in public as well, from dealing with the teller at the supermarket and questioning the improper price rang up at the register. To questioning a waiter and returning the bloody steak that’s cooked medium rare, when you clearly requested well-done.
Asking questions and speaking up for what one needs, in front of a child, no matter how small, teaches them to not settle for what they receive. It communicates the point of being brave, and not remaining silent when one is entitled to an answer. An insecure parent that questions nothing and takes what they’re given, subconsciously raises an insecure child who does the same.
When another teacher entered the classroom, this time the Dean of students, she ended with the typical line. “Does anyone have any questions?”
She seemed to stare directly at me, along with my son’s homeroom teacher and his assistant. I’d strangely been the only parent brave enough that evening to ask questions, while all of the others sat passively with nervous, tired smirks on their faces.
“Are there plans to bring an afterschool sports program back to the school? Basketball was cancelled, so will it be replaced with something?”
The Dean smiled and perked up, “Yes. Yes,” she said cheerfully. “We will be returning the sports program. We have just decided to renew it and we will send details when it will return once we work them out. Please continue to express your desire to have this back. We are listening.”
Another teacher entered, I raised my hand. She picked me, I asked another question.
This was pretty much the routine of the evening. Kalel watching, smiling, and slightly giggling as he scribbled in his notebook.
At the night’s end, exiting the classroom, I continuing to talk to his teacher until my son interjected during a silence in words as we descended a staircase.
“Do you have any more questions?” He seemed concerned, half-way seeming to enjoy the banter and wanting me to continue my check-ins.
“Not right now baby,” I answered. “I know I ask a lot of questions. I just want to make sure you get what you need.”
“You always ask questions,” he said with a smirk giggling.
“You’re supposed to,” his teacher said, jumping in. “How can people know what you need or want if you don’t ask? Right?”
Kalel nodded his head, biting the side of his mouth, staring down in contemplation as the words seem to swirl in his head. I thanked the teacher and happily knew my mission of the evening had gotten through in a lesson taught by both actions and words: The more you speak up and question, the more the babies will take notice and hopefully grow to do the same.
Raqiyah Mays is a proud stepmommy, seasoned writer, TV/radio personality and advocate. Her debut novel The Man Curse will be released by Simon & Schuster in 2015.
Follow her on Twitter @RaqiyahMays