Doing the Work During Black History Month

I was nine or ten years old when I met Larry.

He was younger than me by a few years but I remember being struck by how small he was. I think he was only six, but I was still surprised that the top of his head barely reached my shoulders. He had a short buzz cut, within a centimeter or two of his scalp, a toothy smile and significant difficulty pronouncing the letter “L,” which meant that I spent a good ten to fifteen minutes wondering what kind of parents would name their son Warry. He lived up the block from me in a small, freestanding house with his parents and older brother.

He was also the first black child I remember meeting. Continue reading “Doing the Work During Black History Month”

Starting a Relationship as a Well-Meaning White Man

He sat cross-legged on top of the mattress, his back leaning against the wall behind him. Even seated, I could tell that he was tall and athletic. He hardly had the frame of a bodybuilder but his late-teenage muscles were still noticeable under his loose fitting t-shirt. His eyes followed me, expressionless, as I entered the living room and accepted his mother’s invitation to sit on the small couch opposite him. His mother sat on the other bed for our conversation – it was hardly the first home I had visited that had two beds in the living room – and began telling me about her experiences raising her son over the last few years.

I kept glancing back at the young man as his mother and I spoke. I asked him all of the usual questions – What was therapy like? What’s worked for you and what hasn’t? How do you get along with your peers at school? – and received the usual one- or two-word answers. His mother supplemented his responses, as mothers often do, but I made sure to look back at the young man frequently as I listened.

It was his life, after all. Continue reading “Starting a Relationship as a Well-Meaning White Man”

Reflections of Sacrifice

She walked slowly, which wasn’t necessarily out of the ordinary. Her legs were strong, despite their size; I was often surprised by just how much energy she was able to channel through them as she ran, jumped and danced her way through her days. But that morning, she didn’t have the same sense of urgency that she often did. To be clear, she was not taking each step deliberately, purposely maintaining her more-than-relaxed pace as a form of protest or expression of independence. She did not appear to have any specific purpose in her gait; there did not seem to be any hidden message that could be interpreted from her soft footfalls.

She just walked slowly. Continue reading “Reflections of Sacrifice”

A Pleasant Surprise

“Can I go to the bathroom?” she asked.

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at the question. The girl had raised her hand and waited politely to be called on, just as I wished some of her classmates would. She was also a good student; she never backed down from a philosophical debate, especially if the subject was in any way related to feminism, and her positions were thoughtful and logical. It wasn’t her fault that the bathroom question was a momentum-killer from my point of view; the progression of my class discussion wasn’t her responsibility. She just knew that she had to pee.

“Not yet,” I said as her face fell slightly. “I’ll let you go in a minute, I promise. I just want you to hear this next bit because I think it’s really going to make you angry.” Continue reading “A Pleasant Surprise”

Make Your Voice Heard With Rock the Vote

I blushed when she asked the question.

It was my first semester of graduate school and I was sitting in a class devoted to theories of human behavior. It was later in the semester and we had covered a number of different theories. Each theory used a different approach and focused on a different aspect of people’s lives, from the ways infants develop attachments to adults’ desires for self-determination to the ways that people perceive reality in general. It was my favorite class of the two years I spent working toward my degree, rivaled only by the more informal discussions of philosophies and their impacts on social work practice during my independent studies.

On that day, a classmate had raised his hand. He was confused about the goal of our studies. He was struggling to understand how we, as budding social workers, were supposed to use all of these different and, sometimes, contradictory theories during our work with clients. Continue reading “Make Your Voice Heard With Rock the Vote”

I Didn’t Want to Write About This

I didn’t want to write about the shooting in Pittsburgh.

I didn’t want to think any more than I already had about the tragedy that took eleven lives, put six more in the hospital and terrorized a community and a people.

I didn’t want to write about the fact that the Tree of Life Congregation, the synagogue that the gunman chose as the site to act out his toxic anti-Semitic views, was hosting a brit milah, a ritual circumcision, as part of the regular Shabbat morning service that day. I didn’t want to write about the thought of brand new parents having to shield their brand new infant son from shots from a machine gun. I didn’t want to write that a celebration of life was interrupted by a man whose sole purpose in that moment was to perpetuate death. Continue reading “I Didn’t Want to Write About This”

How to Be a Man in Scary Times

It’s a scary time, he says.

He stands at the microphone, a preacher in front of his congregation, a cold, defiant smile on his face. He gesticulates as he speaks, waving to the masses and shaking his fist in the air to emphasize his point. His forehead glistens slightly, though it’s hard for me to tell if the sheen is a result of tiny beads of sweat from the spotlights or the oils from a low-quality spray tan. The crowd cheers in response, drinking in his charisma as if it has been forty years in the desert and he is the land of milk and honey.

I’d rather stay thirsty, I can’t help thinking. Continue reading “How to Be a Man in Scary Times”

What Would I Have Done?

The song stuck with me from the first time I heard it.

I felt taken by the rhythm, the gradual increase in intensity of the electric guitar and the way the singer’s attitude came through in his lyrics. He was brash and self-assured; he knew that he was talented and he challenged the universe to try to stop him. He oozed confidence in a “Come at me, bro” type of way that I almost admired. In most situations, I would still prefer to remain quiet and listen to others rather than broadcast my own accomplishments. But the high-volume chords and the pounding of the bass drum were perfect for boosting my motivation whenever I needed it. Continue reading “What Would I Have Done?”

Explaining the Walk-Out to a Kindergartener

Eitan had been ready for school for a little while by the time we asked to talk to him.

He was sitting at his homework table, coloring in the small Star Wars coloring book he had gotten as a birthday party favor or as a small treat from Target or some other place that five-year-olds acquire little coloring books. His sneakers were already tied and knotted and his hair was neatly gelled and combed. He was wearing his backpack for some reason, even though he would have to take it off to put his coat on when we were ready to leave.  Continue reading “Explaining the Walk-Out to a Kindergartener”

Shooting From the Hip

“You’re not in trouble,” I reassured him. “I’m just curious.”

Eitan was sitting across the table from me. He was still wearing his pajamas, as he usually is when we eat breakfast, and his hair seemed to think that it was still in bed. His almost-six-year-old face looked nervous, as though he did not believe that I only wanted to talk. He had just started to tear off a new piece of his French toast to dip in the syrup on his plate when I asked the question.

“I don’t know,” he said quietly and took a bite.  Continue reading “Shooting From the Hip”