Jenn Smith | Recess: Lessons to live by in a time of fear and doubt
Dear esteemed members of the Class of 2020:
Learn to love yourselves.
It's the one lesson in life that's one of the most dynamic to learn, one of the most challenging to accept and one of the most rewarding to realize.
"How do I do this?" you might ask.
To answer this, you must also learn to be your own best teacher. Take inventory of your values and character, knowledge and skills, qualities and attributes and affirm them in a roll call, daily. Protect them with confidence and defend them against doubt, fear and hate generated by others and even from within yourself.
This year has been an extreme test of our individual sense of resilience, beliefs and mortality.
So know this: You are worthy of being who you are, and you are worthy of living, even when you begin to think that you are not.
While recently scrolling through my social media channels I came across a few of posts which gave me pause, so I'd like to share these observations with you.
A couple of days after she participated in Pittsfield's Park Square protest against police brutality and racism, Pittsfield High School alumna Brianna Nicola wrote: "I grew up praying every night for my hair to be naturally straight, I was constantly in a place/room where I was the only person of color, my favorite princess was Belle from Beauty and the Beast because she was the only princess I knew that was closest to how I looked (brown hair), I once cried for receiving a black baby doll because I wanted a white one (the one they were advertising on commercials). I was taught subconsciously by society to want to be white. I don't want any African American child to feel the way I did."
Neither do I, Bri. Your Black Life Matters to me, and should matter to everyone.
But children (and those who love them) are afraid for their lives and with good reason.
I saw several other images of black and brown children in the Berkshires holding up signs reading, "At what age do I go from being cute to becoming a threat?"
For some children, this experience happens at a very young age. Tamir Rice was 12 years old, playing in a park, when a Cleveland police officer shot him dead. He would have turned 18 on June 25.
But police aren't the only ones who can brutally impact the lives of young people who are deemed "different." Nationwide, children who are nonwhite and/or are disabled are disproportionately disciplined more frequently and more severely than their white and non-disabled peers. In some school cafeterias, children are punished for being poor, being served cheese sandwiches and further fines for unpaid lunch bills. Transgender youth in many states and public places are still directed to use restrooms and locker rooms that don't correspond to the gender with which they identify.
At the end of her post, Nicola urged readers to not let these injustices slide: "To my fellow beautiful black friends and family, share your story and speak out. Someone is listening. Don't hold back."
Which brings me back to that piece of advice I humbly offer: Learn to love yourselves, and "don't hold back" in doing so.
My friend Musharraf (@theunromanticidiot on Instagram), recently posted this reminder: "You should be the most important person in your life."
"This is different from self entitlement," he writes. Treating yourself as the most important person in your life means taking the good care of yourself so you're best able to love, care for and offer compassion to others.
So go ahead, give yourself a hand. Remind yourself that you are worthy. Send your future self a love letter, paint a portrait, do a dance, write a song. Be like PHS alumna Champagne Eurquhart, who earlier this year shared with me how she created an "I Love Me," book, a portfolio of all her best work and photos of her best moments in life, a tangible testament she continues to create chapters for.
Congratulations! I love you all, and I hope you remember to love yourself, too.
Jenn Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter and 413-496-6239.
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