What I Want My Kids to Learn Through the Colin Kaepernick Story

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Nothing can make me dive for the remote like one of my children walking into the room while the news is on. To see me rush to turn the TV off, you would think they were about to witness the goriest death scene from a horror movie. To me, the news is the most upsetting thing on TV.

I don’t want to introduce the reality of hurricanes that wipe out entire neighborhoods into their little minds. I want to wait as long as possible before they hear about a husband murdering his entire family. I don’t want them to see people being hurt or mistreated. I don’t want the image of a burning flag or a burning pair of Nikes to be what they think about when their head hits the pillow.

I want to keep them in their bubble for as long as I can.

Children love to share everything that think they know, and since my kids go to school and church and sports practices, their bubble is often burst no matter how hard I try to keep it intact. Every now and then, when our nation gets worked up about the latest hot button issue, my children come home talking about it. I am forced to break through my own discomfort and have these real-life discussions.

As I pray for strength, wisdom, and, most of all, for their precious innocence to be preserved for a just a bit longer, I wrestle with how much of my opinion to inject into the discussions. Do I give them the loose, safe facts in an attempt to encourage their own thoughts to form, or delve into my stance on the issue?

We live in a divided country. We have so much information and so much communication, but we have never felt less understood. In an attempt to be heard, we post our ideas and our grand statements on social media. We tighten our circle to only include those who share our beliefs, and we push everyone else out.

We only listen to people when their thoughts align with ours. It is an "us" versus "them" mentality on both sides of the fence. It goes against everything we say to our children. We preach the importance of loving our neighbor. We say that we celebrate differences. We lecture on the value of listening before you speak. If I am being honest, I don’t always live as I encourage my children to live.

Before I moved to Columbus, Georgia, I had never been on a military base. I had never been in an environment where, at a certain time of day, everyone dropped everything and stood with their hand over their heart for the National Anthem. I was in awe of the respect and understanding that even the smallest tots had for their country.

Before I moved here, I had never listened to a dear friend share with me fears that her husband may not come home. I had never helped them grapple with the "what-ifs?".

I had never brainstormed with a group of mommas on the best way to prepare their small child to say goodbye to his daddy for 6 months.

I had never seen a deployed soldier watch his daughter be born via Skype from halfway across the world, and I had never shed tears for the priceless moments they missed in order to serve our country. 

I knew of the sacrifice that military men and women made, but I never really understood it.

You know what changed for me? Relationships.

I didn’t have true respect and appreciation until I made deep connections with people living this reality. Once I saw the life they lived from the front row seat of a friend, my eyes were open to their point of view. 

When I was a teenager, my family forbid me from dating outside my race. I was always taught that all people are the same inside, but life will just go more smoothly if you form a life with a partner who is like you. I was told that in America, people of all races have the same advantages in life that we do. I was told that people make race into a bigger issue than it is, and racism in America isn’t a huge thing anymore.

Ten years ago, you couldn’t have convinced my family that the roots of racism and social injustice have any bearing on how people are treated today. That people who talk about having trouble getting ahead, or say they weren’t considered for a job because of the color of their skin, are making excuses for their own failure. As I asked my mother to read part of this blog post, she cried tears of shame and regret for these beliefs she once held.

Today, my mother and my 75-year-old grandmother have deep, meaningful friendships and tough face-to-face conversations about social injustice with people who don’t look like them. They attend classes and conferences about how to fight systematic racism. They care so much.

You know what changed for them? Relationships.

Once they shed tears together, everything was real. It became about a person, and not just talking points about abstract beliefs. After they formed authentic relationships, they were able to feel a bit of their pain. It did more than changed their minds, it inspired them to take action. They were able to link arms and fight together for a solution for this broken world.

Maybe this is why Jesus told us that the most important thing in this life is to love him and to love people. After we commit to these two things, everything else falls into place. That Jesus fellow may have really been on to something here! What value there is in simply loving your neighbor. How much better is life when we enjoy those living it alongside us?

Love people who look different, sound different, and think differently than I do. Even when it’s uncomfortable, I need to put myself out there and get to know people outside my own circle. Listen without feeling the need to argue. Hear their story, and understand their point of view. You can never really love people if you don’t really know them.

We all have complex pasts and experiences and points of view, but at the root of it all, surely we all want the same thing: a better world for our children’s children where people are kind and fair to one another.

Today, I don’t want to discuss two opposing points of view with my 9 year-old. The lines are too deep in the sand, and there is no middle ground to stand on. The hate and arguing has turned to white noise, while the real issues are muted.

People’s feelings are raw, and some recycled speech her momma gave, delivered 2nd hand at tomorrow’s school lunch table would be just as divisive as so many of the social media posts spewed in anger lately.  

In our house, we have long talks about military service and race and social justice and respect and protest, but this moment seems different for me.

Above all, I want to use this as a moment to teach my child to listen. To respect people, even when she doesn’t agree with what they have to say. I want to raise a child who has the facts, and can be sensitive and listen to all people while she is forming her opinion, a skill that is lost in today’s society. Take time to really get to know her neighbors. Take the risk of loving those who are different than her.

I want these moments to shape her and mold her character. I want to give her the foundation, and I want her to listen and process and then form her own opinions. I want her to have her own ideas, and not just inherit her parent's thoughts about life.

I want her to call out wrong when she sees it. I want her to understand that we live in a country that is built on freedom, and what a beautiful thing that is. We have the right to change things. We have the responsibility to leave this world better than we found it.

I want her to look in her history book, and see that progress is often built on protest. Know that change always comes at a high price. It is never easy.

People may call you petty if you refuse to support a company you have a moral issue with.

People may think you are a disgrace to your country if you kneel during the national anthem in protest.

If something is wrong, work to make it right -- even if others don't agree with you. Fight the good fight that you were created for, not the fight that the adults in your life have assigned to you. You have a God-given view and a voice that nobody else can replicate.

Figure out what needs to be changed, and go change the world, little girl.