Most of us are familiar with the saying, “Our children do what we do and not what we say.” Well, our experience teaches us that this adage holds true not only in terms of our actions, but also in terms of how we think and what we say. Our words and actions are representations and expressions of our thoughts, reflecting a mindset we use to address any and all issues on a daily basis.
Furthermore, the words we use to describe ourselves and our experiences, as well as our hopes, dreams and aspirations, have the power to create our realities and determine our future. Teaching and instilling the proper mindset in our children is a critical part of their education, which if overlooked can produce self-defeating behaviors and an overall negative outlook on life.
This education is part of the critical work that we as parents and members of the village must undertake with intention and purpose, always remembering that one of the best ways to teach is to teach by example.
To illustrate the importance of teaching our children (and ourselves) to master our own thinking, I asked a young leader in our organization, Brother Quincy Ballard, to share his thoughts and reflections about the work that our organization does with parents. Brother Quincy’s insights can provide food for thought and instruction for the soul.
The following are his thoughts in their entirety:
The danger of a self-defeating mentality
Too many times when our families walk through our doors, the language that they use to describe their personal and our collective conditions is dismaying. On one hand, they come in professing that they are looking for change and something to help them get their lives back on the right track. Yet, on the other hand this is nearly impossible given the enumerated list of reasons that are preventing us from solving our own problems.
“Black people ain’t never gonna come together” and “I keep to myself ’cause I can’t trust nobody but myself” are examples of the rhetoric I sometimes hear. During one of his 1962 speeches, Malcolm X challenged us to confront self-hate. He asked questions like, “Who taught us to hate ourselves and the God who made us…so much so that we don’t want to be around each other?”
I, too, was a victim of a similar type of faulty thinking. It is my belief that while this occurs too frequently, it does not represent the true nature of the majority of our people. Despite the verbal and mental suicide, I know deep down inside that our people truly believe in better possibilities.
Using the example mentioned above, the community members who make comments like “Black people ain’t never gonna come together” do so while sitting at a table with other community members whom they did not know before — sharing, learning, eating, and building relationships together and over several weeks. And the parent who says, “I keep to myself ’cause I can’t trust nobody but myself,” right before or after sharing some very personal and private information with the group, asks for our support to help them through their dilemmas.
The reality is that often our natural yearning and ability to come together and help one another are in direct contradiction to the propaganda put out by the mainstream media and reinforced through practices and policies that oppress us. This happens to the point that we begin to believe we cannot come together or trust one another. We internalize this, and it involuntarily becomes a part of our daily verbiage and therefore our perspective and reality.
It is our duty to help each other see these contradictions and begin to eradicate them by pointing out the sense of collectiveness and interdependence that we are constantly participating in with each other. Religious places of worship, birthdays, celebrations, protests, concerts, home, family reunions, schools and sports are just some of many occasions where we come together in trust and love on a constant and frequent basis.
Kwame Ture often spoke about the importance of consciousness-raising. About the unconscious, he said that we must “make them conscious of their unconscious behavior.” In other words, we must help each other see what should be, but may not always be obvious.
Once we can recognize the self-defeating mentality that has been systematically imposed upon us and begin to purge ourselves of it, then we can take responsibility for our decisions and directions. We will no longer have to come up with reasons why everything is “so messed up.”
We can just identify and begin applying the solutions that were always there and possible. We emphasize this concept repeatedly to everyone we come into contact with, including fellow staff members. In fact, three pillars that our organization stands by are:
- Deconstructing myths about peoples of African descent
- Countering self-doubt
- Combating the idea of individualism
These three goals are embedded in every aspect of our work and in the methodology of each of our programs and have proven to have a profound effect on the thinking of our people.
Parents who come here [to the Network for the Development of Children of African Descent] just to help their children improve in reading end up deciding that they, too, can go back to school and get a diploma, GED, or even start a business. They, like me, begin to commit to showing up and participating in any functions that are organized by our people and designed to uplift our families and community.
Instead of being dependent, they become independent and dependable. Instead of only consuming they begin producing. Instead of only learning, they begin teaching, and before you know it they can’t even entertain the idea that they once thought these things impossible.
While this work among us parents and adults is so needed, it is not enough. We must also plant these seeds in our children early on so that they do not develop the same self-defeating mentality that will later take so much time and energy to undo after too much damage has been done.
When we plants these seeds of self-pride and knowledge versus self-hate and degradation, our children will lead a path of righteousness and self-sustaining behaviors instead of repeating our mistakes and shortcomings, which in turn will restore us to our rightful and long overdue glory.
Gevonee E. Ford is executive director of Network for the Development of Children of African Descent (NdCAD). He welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.