The Joy of Seeing Your Loved Ones (Especially Your Teens) Happy – Like Really Happy!

By Zerline Hughes

I unlocked something this weekend that’s still got me floored.  My tween daughter can actually have fun. I mean, beaming, jumping, throw-your-hands-in-the-air-like-you-just-don’t-care fun! Even her brother couldn’t believe his eyes and stood still in disbelief. I swear!

Two months ago, I planned to invest in concert tickets for these two and me to see The Chainsmokers. They’re all the rage in electronic dance music (EDM) or electropop, and thanks to my Sirius XM BPM channel (and my desire to connect with the kids and be youthful), I actually love The Chainsmokers. So, when I heard the group would be at the outdoor Merriweather Post Pavilion venue – and asked if the kids wouldn’t be too embarrassed to go to a concert with their mom – I got the tickets. (But lemme tell, you, they weren’t cheap; I made an extra 30-mile commute just to save on the service charge for three tickets!)

So we get there and there’s masses of 20-somethings – probably 18-somethings … and a good amount of 14-and-up somethings. Daisy-dukes and butt cheeks, major boobage (or at least attempts) and glittered faces and shoulders were everywhere. It was a mini Coachella. It was too hard not to judge or lecture, but I was losing cool-mom points, so I had to stop. (Ahem, since we were getting quite a dose of marijuana contact, I did sneak in a quick lesson on the misconception of drug use and race disparity: there were only a few dots of African Americans there, so I learned them that Blacks are not the leading users of weed, yet we are incarcerated at alarming rates more than whites.)

Because I was still hoping for young innocence, I brought some coloring activities for the three of us so boredom wouldn’t set in and ruin the evening while we waited for the show to start. We each colored on tiny “adult coloring book” canvases from Five Below. The girl even begged to get started on hers in the car like a small child. That made me happy. One cool point for mom. Then, even though we brought our own food, I sprung for some $8 french fries – twice. (They were actually pretty good). Two more cool points for mom. It was a sweet, fun, chill afternoon in the woods with some good DJing from Lost Frequencies and meh-decent singing by Kiiara.

By sundown, when The Chainsmokers arrived onstage, everyone got up on their feet from their blankets – and we never sat back down. All of a sudden, my girl was singing – like ALL the words to the songs, clutching her heart, even. She was jumping when we were told to jump to the beat. She was even waiting for whatever her song was to be performed before agreeing to leave for home. This tween was smiling, laughing and having a genuinely great time.

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Out-of-school Time, I Mean, Summertime is Here!

By Zerline Hughes

Finals were last week for my son and daughter. Finals? Middle School? ‘Woah,’ is all I have to say. And in 10 days, I will attend my son’s middle school step up ceremony and say goodbye to all things innocent. He’s headed to the big leagues, now. I still can’t believe that my Baby Jobe (what we so lovingly referred to him as for his first year or two) now has a man’s voice, about two hairs under his chin and scuffles around in a size 13-14 shoe. Where did the time go?

ostAlas, with finals, graduation and the completion of yet another school year, that means it’s out-of-school time (OST) – the point of figuring out how to put our kids’ two to three months of summer break to good use while keeping them safe and their minds busy. OST, the abbreviation used in the education and juvenile justice field specifically pertains to after school or summer“programs that support children and youth—especially those in high-poverty urban and rural areas—by providing safe, positive environments that engage and inspire them, help them explore careers, and enhance their work in school.”

You’ve heard it from me before, I keep them busy – not necessarily to keep them off the streets; I have to beg them to go outside in the yard and across the street at the park. I keep them busy so they can continue to have new experiences. You know: travel, nature, hands-on activities, social interaction. I also don’t want them home eating everything in sight, making me take two trips a week to the grocery store.

spreadsheetSo, the spreadsheet is just about done. Yes, spreadsheet! Like clockwork, I started in January, got serious in February and by March it started filling in with dates, camps, potential opportunities. And so here we are: a week-long Great Books camp in Massachusetts for the boy, a two-week long Girl Scouts overnight camp for the girl, the District’s Summer Youth Employment Program for the boy (yes, he’ll be working!), a faith-based camp for the girl, summer school enrichment for her as well, and hopefully a solo plane trip for the two to visit with family.

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Wait, What .. Who? But, Why?

By Zerline Hughes

missingIt’s been a whirlwind of a six months. My last blog post “The Next Four Years: A New Chapter of Child Rearing,” focused on America’s looming change in leadership and how my children would be growing up under a new, less nurturing administration than our previous under President Barack Obama. I wrote the following:

“My son will endure whatever Trump brings for the next four years. He’ll be 18 at the end of his term. My son will have endured Trump’s heinous verbal attacks on minorities (and maybe worse). He’ll have watched more police killings of Black men. And his chances at attending college may be negatively impacted. How great for my son’s self esteem as he enters adulthood.

“And for my sassy, ‘nasty woman’ child: she will be in the most formative of her years as a teen entering womanhood. But she will endure a president telling her that her body is not, in fact, hers to make decisions about. She will be led by a president who has taken advantage of women, disrespected them, and allegedly abused them. What a great message to my daughter.”

So, it’s quite fitting that I return to NotTheseTwo six months later to confess that my kids will be attending school next fall with Donald Trump’s son.

My husband received the emailed announcement from the school before I did and forwarded it to me. In his preface, he wrote something followed by an exclamation point (which he doesn’t use often). I couldn’t wait to see what he was referring to. When I proceeded to read the memo from the headmaster and head of middle school, my mouth dropped.

Now, this is not at all about the innocent child who will most definitely be welcomed on campus. In fact, these two kids of mine don’t even seem to be phased by the news. This is about just what the announcement said: inclusivity, openness and being a welcoming and affirming school. Yes, we are an inclusive, safe-haven of a school community. So, with that, will our students – even parents – be able to remain open and honest during discussions and debates in and outside of the classroom? Further, does the school’s decision keep into account the feelings and perspectives of our diverse school population that includes immigrants, transgender and GLB students and parents?

Even after two week’s of digesting the news, I continue to find myself struggling with the school’s decision. Sure, there are definitely Trump supporters at the school – in all shapes, sizes and colors, in fact – yet and still, having an actual Trump there is juuuuuust a little bit different.

Once a year, the middle school has a “mandatory” (and usually totally awkward) parent-student roundtable discussion on drugs/alcohol, sex and healthy relationships, some topic du jour where parents and students compare notes on growing up as a tween. My son so poignantly said of the news, “that parent roundtable is gonna’ be interesting.”

Indeed, it will.

Only time – and patience – will tell how ALL of this will pan out.

The Next Four Years: A New Chapter of Child Rearing

By Zerline Hughes

My children say some of their classmates are Donald Trump supporters. To prove it, last spring, the boy brought home a Trump shirt he found in the school’s lost and found. I was verklempt, to say the least. At ages 11 and 13, they know what Trump represents, but they don’t know-know. Heck, for the last eight years, their president was a cool Black dude with swagger, genuineness and tact. Since they were five and three years old, they’ve understood that America is a pretty decent place (until I started regularly teaching them the ills of our country). They didn’t see color (until I took many opportunities to remind them that it existed). And they didn’t know about the various disparities that exist (until I turned them into mini-criminal justice reform and human rights advocates).

But today starts a new day. November 9, 2016. The day after the Clinton-Trump election.

douglass

One of their 8th grade school mates this morning took to Snap Chat to tell everyone to calm down; he said the presidency doesn’t even affect people their age. Ah, how sweet. And naive.

My son will endure whatever Trump brings for the next four years. He’ll be 18 at the end of his term. My son will have endured Trump’s heinous verbal attacks on minorities (and maybe worse). He’ll have watched more police killings of Black men. And his chances at attending college may be negatively impacted. How great for my son’s self esteem as he enters adulthood.

And for my sassy, “nasty woman” child: she will be in the most formative of her years as a teen entering womanhood. But she will endure a president telling her that her body is not, in fact hers to make decisions about. She will be led by a president who has taken advantage of women, disrespected them, and allegedly abused them. What a great message to my daughter.

So, yeah – the presidency DOES affect kids!

Lucky for these two, (and really, it’s not lucky at all), their mother has overexposed them to life. I’ve allowed them to watch the “Purge” movie series which gives them a peek into humanity’s hatred. I’ve made them watch “13th,” Ava DuVernay’s documentary comparing mass incarceration to slavery. I have serious discussions with them weekly, if not daily, on the harsh realities (and beauties) of being Black in America – or any other country for that matter. And next month, they will, for the first time, visit the new National Museum of African American History & Culture to give them a complete understanding of the Black experience.

So, they are armed. They are ready for the next four years. I’m not so sure I am, but I feel like they have a good foundation. My preference, like many others have threatened, is to move. To run away. To seek refuge. But my son doesn’t want his schooling and friendships disrupted. He’s at a great place that respects him. A place that makes him feel like he has a voice. A place that genuinely allows him and all other students to be unique and comfortable in the skin they’re in.

My daughter, however, is down to leave. She says we can leave the guys stateside, and we can find refuge together abroad.

But one thing’s for sure: these two are not backing down, cowering, or jumping on the bandwagon. Nope, Not These Two. They’re ready, aware and equipped for what’s to come. I just wish I could say the same.

Here’s to another chapter of child rearing. Can’t wait till it ends already …

[Repost] Jay Smooth: Trump’s America–This is What Happens Now — NewBlackMan (in Exile)

” … Hate won … ” says Jay Smooth in this two-minute #ElectionNight2016 aftermath video. My words have turned into tears, thus, my writing, my thoughts are unable to make it into sentence, paragraph form. But Smooth sums up what many are thinking. Take a listen as I grieve for my children: my Black teenaged son, my woman child, the country I was born in and reside in – for now.

Jay Smooth of “Trump’s America.”

via Jay Smooth: Trump’s America–This is What Happens Now — NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Fashion Fines, Felonies Not the Way to Get Teens to Stop Sagging Their Pants

This was originally posted August 10, 2016, on Youth Today.

By Zerline Hughes

According to my Facebook timeline, yet another fashion trend is on its way out. Fashion comes and goes, right? But none of them are outlawed — yes, outlawed — like this one: sagging pants.

Yes, sagging pants are unattractive and unsightly, but we shouldn’t support the criminalization of this trend by literally calling the fashion police.

With law enforcement targeting black men, this will surely become the next low-level offense that increases school suspensions, in-school arrests and further feeds the school-to-prison pipeline. Further, it will increase walking while black offenses for young adults and men, thus increase the potential for involvement with the judicial system, incarceration, and dare I say it: police shootings.

In cities across America, “saggy” or “droopy” pants is now a criminal offense. For example: In the Terrebonne Parish of Louisiana, it’s not an arrestable offense on the books, but after a third violation, a judge could make it so. “Offenders” are fined $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second and $100 and 16 hours of public service for the third offense.

In the beach town of Wildwood, New Jersey, the fine is between $25 and $100 if caught walking on the boardwalk with low pants, swim trunks and even skirts.

In cities like Ocala, Florida, and Dublin, Georgia, the trend is a fineable (up to $500!) and arrestable offense. Further, two Tennessee youths spent a weekend in jail in November after a school resource officer called the local sheriff’s department for violating the school’s dress code.

C’mon!

A Florida city council member who introduced such legislation said the law would help people respect themselves. The Ocala mayor, however, said, “I just don’t think you can create laws that make you respect yourself.

I’m afraid we are creating a monster.

In the 1980s, black communities wanted drugs off the street. We went to our law enforcement officials, policymakers and complained. In turn, we were given tough on crime laws like zoning — you know, drug-free zones that carry enhanced sentences if caught dealing near a school or library — and mandatory minimum sentencing.
And here we are now eating crow, wishing something different would have happened. Wishing we hadn’t gotten what we asked for — a 500 percent increase in our prison population during the last 40 years, according to the The Sentencing Project’s “U.S. Prison Population Trends 1999-2014” report. It found that changes in laws and policies accounted for the increase in the incarceration of our clients, students and family members — some of whom could have benefited more from mentorship, rehabilitation, a second chance.

Yes, it is, in fact, hard to parent, minister to and mentor our young people to make good decisions, but it’s got to be 100 times easier than scrambling to finance a lawyer, sacrificing to make bail, visiting our kids in jail or worse: seeing them dead on the street, their name listed as the next hashtag in social media advocacy.

Before we say “yay” to this growing trend of “banning” sagging pants (which yes, I think we can all agree that we want to see it disappear), let’s teach respect, taking the lead of President Obama when he told MTV, “Brothers should pull up their pants. That doesn’t mean you have to pass a law … but that doesn’t mean folks can’t have some sense and some respect for other people …”

How about we take a vow to address this directly with our young people? Let’s introduce true fashion sense to our kids by taking them into an apparel store with a real-life tailor. Let them receive some one-on-one attention — the positive kind — from a salesperson who asks them what they like. Make it a field trip and have them get their measurements taken so they can see the opportunities they may take advantage of, if they so desire.

Secondly, let’s commit to taking youths to various job sites. Point out the required uniform or dress code enforced to keep a job and make money.

Third, let’s pass on this message of guidance and mentorship at schools, to teachers, deans and school resource officers. Instead of choosing to suspend or arrest youths, consider offering alternative wardrobe options. With some community activism and donations, a collection of trendy belts, trousers and jeans can be provided to students in schools and after-school programs.

Finally, simple lessons on dress etiquette, presentation and style could make all the difference. With assistance from local businesses and entrepreneurs, including apparel store owners, fashion 101 advice may actually do the trick.

Let’s stop criminalizing our young people yet again. Let’s stop looking for answers to our problems from our policymakers by way of laws, and start looking at high-impact, positive solutions that involve direct intervention.

Zerline Hughes is a Washington, District of Columbia, communications consultant and blogger on social justice issues. Her blog Not These Two focuses on keeping her children out of the school-to-prison pipeline. Follow her on Twitter at @zerlinehughes.

122 Black Men Shot Dead by Police in 187 Days? Oh, OK.

Note: Within just an hour or two of posting this blog on July 6 in the wee hours of the night, the nation learned about another fatal incident involving police and a Black male: Philando Castile. The number is now 123 Black men shot dead by police. Within hours.

By Zerline Hughes

More tears today. I’d love to blame it on my Cancerian-moon roots. Heck, my birthday is in less than 48 hours and I can cry if I want to.  But, the blame – once again –  goes to our INjustice system. My son is downstairs safe at home with me this time, but my partner is not home safe; he’s en route to work. Apparently, there’s a great chance he won’t come back. That’s based on today’s new stat that 122 Black men have been killed by a cop this year. That Fusion statistic was preceded by the murder of Alton Sterling who was killed Tuesday by Baton Rouge, Louisiana police.

sterlingWait: this year? 122 Black men? There’s only been 187 days in 2016. What?

We know but a few of those 122 Black men. Their names are preceded by hashtags on Twitter, on T-shirts, and they’re mentioned in advocacy reports calling for reform. If one of the two Black men in my household became a hashtag – and not because of their fame, good deeds and continuing successes – I would lose it. Especially considering how frantic I am right now about 122 men I don’t even know.

I would be no good to anyone. I’m telling you now, I would not be that poster child mom touring the U.S. talking about reform, holding a picture of my slain family member. I would opt out of participating in the media circuit, standing alongside Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. or whoever else now represents Black folk.

Instead, I would be in a dimly lit corner – much like I am right now – crying. Dropping my head back to hold in the tears. I’d be wondering ‘how did we get to where we are now?”

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