A friend of mine, her daughter and son are on their way to climb mountain Muhavura in Uganda to raise funds for Grace Villa a home for orphans and vulnerable girls in Kabale, Uganda. My friend’s children, Asante and Leo, who are 10 and 16 years respectively, are already seasoned activists who have raised money for rebuilding their church among other charity work, and we have their parents to thank for that. Such occasions are critical to ingrain deep values in our children that shape our children’s world view.
A story is told of the writer and activist Grace Paley, who had a lot to say about war, race and women, among other things. In her essay, “Traveling,” she first described her mother and her older sister traveling on a bus from New York to Virginia in 1927. It was an express bus, and so it stopped only in Philadelphia and Wilmington before it picked up passengers in Washington, D.C. At that stop, the black people who had boarded in New York or Philadelphia “rose from their seats, put their bags and boxes together, and moved to the back of the bus.”
Paley’s mother and sister, confronted for the first time with the practice of enforced racism, remained in their seats, which were near the back of the bus. When the bus driver sighed and told her that whites had to move to the front of the bus, Paley’s mother said, quite simply “No” He asked her again. And again, she said, “No”. For the third time, he told her she had to get out of her seat, and while Paley’s sister trembled, her mother said, calmly and without expression, “No.”
Fifteen years later, 20-year-old Grace Paley was on a bus from New York to Miami Beach, where her brand-new husband was training to go off to war. Miles and miles she rode, and somewhere in the South – she didn’t remember exactly where – a black woman carrying a sleeping baby boarded the crowded bus. Paley was in the last “white row,” and offered the mother her seat. “She looked to the right and left as well as she could,” wrote Paley. “Softly, she said, ‘Oh no.’ I became fully awake.” Paley then offered to hold her sleeping son.
While formal education and extracurricular instruction matter a great deal, it also matters that we raise children with big hearts. The best way to do this is to model a life of compassion and engagement. This takes time and effort, but the good news is that everyone, including the parent, benefits. Standing tall for something bigger than ourselves breeds an expectation that we will serve, and girds the spine for whatever life brings us.