On Thursday night, I had the privilege of speaking with a class of nursing students at our local community college. Each semester, I have the opportunity to share my experiences from being in an interracial marriage that lasted for 18 years until my husband was killed in a work related accident in August 2011. They also ask me to share my experiences on raising three bi-racial children in the south. Each semester, I look forward to this night and wonder what new lessons that I will learn from my time with these wonderful nursing students. I always encourage an open forum when I speak and enjoy questions and perspectives from whomever I am speaking with. I absolutely believe in engaged and interactive learning. My hope is that I am able to challenge the nursing students to be compassionate and caring with all the people that they encounter and that they will see each patient and family member as a person of worth and treat them with respect and dignity.
Normally, I look forward excitedly to speaking with these students, but I felt myself struggling emotionally several weeks prior to speaking due to a few issues that were going on in our community and with someone from a different community that I care so much about. I was concerned about how I would do speaking on these issues when I was so emotionally upset about a few issues that were going on currently.
My daughter came home and announced one day that a couple of families in our community in the past months have told their daughters that they could not date one of our football players due to his race. I personally have no feelings about who their daughters date or don’t date, but my heart is grieved at the message that this gives this young man about who he is. This young man is bi-racial just like my children. I wondered how my daughter felt as she shared this news. These families are our friends. I wonder if my daughter wonders how they feel about her or how they see her. These types of messages grieve my heart.
This situation brought back my memories of a very similar situation that I went through with my son. A couple of years before my only son was tragically killed at the age of 18 in a car accident in June 2013, then there was a girl from his high school that he was interested in. This girl was also interested in him, and they had been in the “talking” phase. My son was thinking about asking her to be his girlfriend when she explained to him that her parents said that she could not date him because of his race. I will never forget the conversation with my son sitting at the kitchen table. I will never forget the pain and the hurt that I saw in his tear filled eyes. My heart hurt so much and I was in full fledged mama bear mode all at the same time.
I grasped for words to try to ease my son’s pain. I was absolutely determined to try to help him to not let this affect how he saw himself or to let this damage his self-worth. I have always tried to raise my children to be proud of all of who they are… to celebrate each part of who they are and to love the diversity that is in them. I have never wanted my children to see who they are or who anyone else was through the eyes of hatred whether it was caused by racial division or any other issue. I want my children to grow to be compassionate and caring people to all that they encounter. It is hard to feel compassionate and caring towards someone who was hurting my son like this and therein was my challenge to overcome.
I shared the story with my son of an experience that his father and I had early on in our marriage. We had traveled to a nearby state to watch my brother run in a cross country meet for college. After my brother had finished his race and we had said goodbye then we went out to eat in that city before we were to start our drive home. My husband loved buffets so of course that is where we were. After we had gotten our food and sat down then the couple sitting next to us began talking very loudly and wanted us to hear exactly what they were saying.
Some of the things that they said about us then I don’t know if I will ever repeat; however, I will give you just a mild taste of it. One comment was, “She must have a disease to be with him.” There were many ugly things said, and it was clear that they wanted us to know that they did not feel like an interracial couple should be together.
My husband and I had very different reactions to this scenario. As I share this experience with the nursing students each semester, then I always ask them how would they react in this situation. What would they do? I was up on my feet with my food in my hand and was visibly upset and wanted to move away from this hate spewing couple. My husband sat there like a rock and kept saying, “Kristi, sit down.” I did not want to sit by them. I did not want to hear another word from them. I was so upset that people could be so filled with hate and that they would be spewing it at us from their booth.
My husband and I are both determined people. You can call it stubborn or hard-headed. Whatever your preferred term is, my husband and I both have possessed that quality. I continued to stand there and ask him to move. He continued to eat and not move. Finally after what felt like forever, I sat down. I could absolutely tell that my husband was in one of those unwavering modes. I sat down with tears streaming down my face and stared at him.
I will never forget his words. The strength of his character was immovable at this moment. He looked at me with love in his eyes and said, “Kristi, we are going to encounter lots of different people who think lots of different things about us and our marriage. If they have a problem with us, then it is their problem. We are not about to make their problem, our problem.” With that, my wise husband just sat there and continued to eat. He tried to add some humor to the situation and calm me down by winking and adding, “Hey if someone needs to move then they can.” I always knew he was a wise man, but this is one of those moments that I will treasure in my heart forever about him. Those words have stuck with me ever since it happened. Those wise words resonate in my heart.
As I sat there talking with my son and sharing this story, how my heart wished that his dad was still alive and could have helped me to encourage him. By sharing this story with our son, my hope was that PK would be able to take away from this situation the wisdom of his dad’s words. My hope was that he would not let this define how he saw himself or his worth. My hope was that he would see it as their problem and that he would not let hate and bitterness well up in his heart and that it would then become his problem too. My hope was also that for me as mama bear. My hope was that he would see that this family was missing out on an incredible young man and that it was completely 100% their loss.
My hope is the same for our football player who is tragically experiencing this currently. My hope is also for one of our dear family friends from a different community who has also been experiencing this. One of my son’s best friends has continued to be a very special part of our lives and family even though my son has been gone for over 4 years now. I have watched this young man rise up out of some difficult family circumstances. I have watched this young man win a state championship and graduate from high school. I am watching this young man work hard at his jobs and be successful in college. I could not be more proud of who he is and all that he has accomplished.
He has shared with me at different times of a young lady that he was wanting to date and that she was wanting to date him too. He also shared with me that her mother was not wanting them to date because he was African American. This has been going on and off for some time, but recently he shared with me that it was truly over the last time because her mom said that if she dated him that the daughter would be dead to her. Again, I have no feelings about who this girl dates. Again my concern and heartache is over the message that this gives this incredible young man. This young man is like a son to me, and I could not be more proud of him. This young man has a bright and incredible future in front of him. I was unable to share this experience on Thursday night. I have been so upset emotionally that a mother would say this to her daughter about one of our dear family friends that I did not feel that I was emotionally ready to share this story with the nursing students.
My hope is that both of these young men continue to grow and know their worth. My hope is that they will not let someone else’s problems become their problems. My hope is that they will know what incredible young men that they are just as I had hoped for my son. My hope is that they will live one of my favorite quotes:
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt
Please do not give consent. You are truly wonderful young men. May you find families who truly treasure you and know your worth!! My son was blessed to have a wonderful girlfriend before he died named Haley who the girls and I absolutely adore. Thankfully, her family also adored my son, and he knew it. Her mom loved him, and her younger brother truly looked up to him.
I had the privilege of talking with Noah, Haley’s younger brother recently and he told me that he was absolutely striving to live with No Excuses. No Regrets. which is the motto that came out of my son’s death. PK knew that Noah looked up to him and truly loved Noah. I am so thankful that my son was able to experience the love from Haley and her wonderful family.
My youngest daughter’s boyfriend’s family could not be more wonderful. They have embraced my daughter with truly open arms and love and celebrate each part of who she is. Both of these families were not concerned about the skin tone of my children. They were concerned with their hearts and they people that they are. I am ever grateful to both of these wonderful families for making my children feel special and loved. What a priceless gift.
As I look at this picture of my three children, I see love and not division. My hope is one day that we will all get there. My hope is that we will love all people and that racial division will be gone from our country.
In the words of the incredible and beloved Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“… I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…”
May that day come now. May racial division be gone.