This morning I told my children never to let anyone else tell them who to be or how to be it. As my son enters his tween years, I feel like I have to reinforce this message again and again. Identity has become a big deal to him and he looks toward his friends, family and heroes to balance who he is.
He is athletic, but doesn’t care for sports; musical, but he doesn’t want to take lessons; a wordsmith, but doesn’t care much for writing. What he has done to combine these interests is put them toward science. He loves to explore wooded areas and find stones then read and write about them. He loves to look at the skies and learn about the history and mythology that has fascinated humanity for millennia.
My husband and I follow his lead, teaching him about scientists and engineers and explorers, from Albert Einstein to Lonnie Johnson, to his own great-grandfather (after whom he’s named), and listening to Neil deGrasse Tyson on StarTalk. It’s hard not to try to push him to be one way or another. He has to determine who he is for himself.
This principle arrives in the Kwanzaa celebration to remind us that it is imperative that we claim our place in this world. We can profiled by police or by strangers on the street, but we can’t let them change who and how we are.
I look into my son’s eyes and see all that he can become. He’s had people look at him as less than this and more than this. None of it matters. What matters is how he sees himself.
Here is where Community comes in. It’s our responsibility that he sees other strong intelligent men around him and in the media. He needs to see young men who are proud and strong and succeeding. He needs to know that when he walks down the street, he will be safe and fearless and not bullied. He needs to know that if he speaks out against injustice, his voice will be heard.
Kujichagulia. Self-Determination. “I will be what I want to be.”