My children and I usually watch the 7pm news to catch up with the happenings as part of keeping up with national developments. This often generates animated discussions on the news items. In fact, I am always amazed at the questions and comments that some of the news items illicit from the children. Clearly children are able to distinguish what is good from evil albeit require parental support to process.
My friend’s daughter and son climbed mountain Muhavura to raise funds for Grace Villa, a home for orphans and vulnerable girls in Kabale District. Asante and Leo, 10 and 16 years respectively, are clearly socially aware of the inequalities that exist in society and the need to work towards a fairer world. The two have become seasoned activists who regularly raise funds money for projects such as rebuilding their church among other charity work. Such occasions are critical to ingrain deep values in our children that shape their worldview.
Children can be become socially conscious from either their parents or those they regularly interact with or the events happening around them. They might witness either their parents or others standing tall in times of infringements on the rights of others and will follow that example. Such exposure often stays with them and might spur them to action when someone needs to stand up for a wrong being committed.
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. 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 husband was training to go off to war. Miles and miles, she rode, and somewhere in the South – she did not 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 our children socially aware. 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.