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At precisely 2:30 p.m. on Sunday May 19th, I took my seat along side my family at The Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri and eagerly waited for the graduation ceremony to begin.  As the college graduates began to fill the arena, one by one, I caught a glimpse of my son in his cap and gown and my heart swelled with pride and joy.  But when the moment came for him to march across the stage and receive his diploma, pride and joy took a back seat; almost instantly I exhaled a sigh of relief.  That sigh did not represent ambivalence about my son completing his undergraduate work-- not in the least.   I exhaled for Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald and the countless other Black and Brown young men who would never have the opportunity to graduate college because their lives were unjustly cut short at the hands of police officers or other people charged with public safety.  In that moment, I exhaled relief and gratitude, because my son,  made it.

Dial it all the way back four years ago when my son was just beginning his college journey.  That summer, his dad and I had “the talk” with him.  No, not the birds and bees talk, but “the talk” that many parents raising young African American boys, in particular, felt compelled to have in light of what appeared to be a national epidemic of African American young men dying unjustly at the hands of law enforcement.  “The talk” was actually an ongoing series of conversations about how to conduct yourself if you were pulled over or accosted by a police officer.  “The talk” was our way of ensuring that our young men returned home safely; it was our way of saving our child’s life.   The concern, fear and frustration that we as parents of young African American men felt was the springboard to many kitchen table conversations held at Be Strong Families.  Those conversations ultimately led us to one daunting question: “So now, what do we do?”

Parenting in the 21st century is tough. there are so many issues surfacing that parents are grappling with. And the tendency is to go into our own little bubble, however we often lack the skill, language, and the confidence to have these conversations with our children.  Be Strong Families recognized this dilemma and in response we did what we do best.  With the Strengthening Families protective factors as our foundation, we engaged with our partners -- including our Regional Parent Engagement Advisory Groups -- to create a deck of 300 questions to assist parents with having transformative conversations on difficult issues with their children.  Issues such as gender inequality, racism, gun violence, religious discrimination, wealth disparity, policing and police brutality, LGBTQIA,  bullying, and mass incarceration, to name a few. And also to have conversations to build the principles that America was founded on: freedom, justice, prosperity, safety, and peace.  We call our new Parent Café in a Box, A More Perfect Union: it is a multi-faceted approach to honoring the broader context of parenting in a complicated and often unjust world. 

Currently, America is less united and more divided than ever.  Intolerance and hate for people and ideologies that represent “different” and “other” has spread across the nation.  A More Perfect Union seeks to create a welcoming and emotionally safe space for parents to share their feelings about these issues, gain support from one another and brainstorm strategies and solutions to keep our families strong.  We know that the research shows when we build the protective factors, we are increasing our opportunities to keep our children safe and our families strong.  A More Perfect Union further substantiates this fact by cultivating the space for parents to foster relationships with people who may be different from them and may not share the same beliefs, opinions, and ideologies. When we seize the opportunity to hear each other’s stories and lived experience, little by little, we begin to chip away at our own perceptions and biases; we begin to deconstruct false narratives and make space in our heart to both accept and celebrate that which is unique and different.  As passionate as we are about beating the drum for justice, we are equally passionate about doing our part to deconstruct injustice at every turn.

How, you ask?  We set the table.  We serve a banquet of truth, compassion, love and openness. We welcome people to come join us. We invite the conversation.  We listen. We reflect.  We learn. And when we go back out into the world, we do better, because we now know better; we operate from what our heart now knows rather than fear, bias and ignorance.  And we spread that message and vibration with everyone we come in contact with.  A More Perfect Union Café conversations foster an atmosphere that allows participants to speak their truth; embrace love and compassion across differences; and transform attitudes and beliefs by expanding consciousness.

In addition to Parent Cafes, Be Strong Families is developing a social media campaign for A More Perfect Union to #AMPlify truth, justice, liberation and love!  Call it a movement, or a call to action, call it whatever you like!   We are also organizing in-person gatherings called-- Art + Activism events --  which invite the use of art  to elevate the messaging of A More Perfect Union. We know that throughout history, artists, athletes and celebrities have used their platform to raise the level of consciousness around social justice issues.  Art + Activism events explore this concept in the context of the Parent Café. 

In the beginning of this blog and process, we raised the question, “so now, what do we do?” Have honest, intimate conversations. Speak your truth.  Listen deeply without judging.  AMPlify justice.  AMPlify peace. Join us in creating A More Perfect Union by being the change you want to see in the world. 

Article by: Dena Chapman


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