Who Have We Become?

Do you remember sitting in school and asking yourself how it was possible that so many people tortured others during the Holocaust?  Did you wonder how normal, everyday folk were capable of the atrocities of slavery? Did you question what allowed so many people to lose their sense of right and wrong in times when the difference must have seemed so obvious? Are you asking yourself those same questions now?  

If you’re not, you should be.  We are living at a crossroads in history.  A moment that will define who we are as Americans and who we are as human beings.  One that will leave the generations to follow asking how we were capable of such inhumanity to our fellow human beings.  

Today, as you read this, terrified children are being separated from their parents as they attempt to enter the United States in search of safety.  Just a few days ago, at least one small child was literally torn from her mother’s breast when the mother was arrested for attempting to enter the United States.

Imagine that you’re a small child traveling for days across the desert because staying in your home would mean certain death.  Then you arrive at your destination only to be taken from the only person you know and the one you love the most. Your captors speak a language you don’t understand and you’re taken to a warehouse, a former Walmart (or even, in the coming days, a tent) where you’re housed with hundreds of strangers who may or may not have good intentions for you.  The people who are supposed to take care of you in these shelters have been given orders not to touch you. You don’t know when, or even if, you’ll ever see your family again.

Now imagine that you’re the parent of one of those children.  Imagine the helplessness you would feel as the most important person in your life is taken away, the person you are supposed to protect and keep safe.  You don’t know where your child has gone, if you’ll see him again, or how to find him once you’re released. Imagine the guilt you would feel because you know that this is because of a harrowing decision you were forced to make in the face of impossible options.  

If you can imagine the plight of these people and justify the U.S. government’s policy by saying that this is the law and the law must be followed, I question your understanding of the intent of the law and the purpose of government.  If your religious beliefs allow you to spew Bible verses about how the government is ordained by God (incidentally the same Bible verses used to sanction and perpetuate slavery, apartheid and Nazi rule), I question your understanding of Christianity.  If you think that this situation is the same as any other criminal separated from his or her family, you clearly do not have an understanding of the horrors faced by those forced to flee their countries. And if you do have that understanding, I question your morality.  

Over a six week period from April to May nearly 2000, two thousand, children were separated from their parents by immigration and border control officials when their parents were detained for a crime that is also punishable instead with a $50 fine.  Do you know what else imposes a $50 fine? Speeding, running a red light, driving without a license, parking violations.

The parents of these children are fleeing atrocities in Central America and are looking for safety and amnesty in a country that has, admittedly often unwillingly, offered such respite.  This is the country that proudly displays the Statue of Liberty at one of its historical ports of entry engraved with Emma Lazurus’ poem reading:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

And now, in 2018, we not only slam the golden door shut, but we separate children from their parents in what is tantamount to torture.  This is where regular, everyday people become monsters. They’re not threatened with death to commit atrocities. They’re told that it’s their job and they do it.  This is when people who know the difference between right and wrong, somehow, so easily choose wrong. We’re living at a crossroads in history. It’s time we ask ourselves who we’ve become.


IMG_9158Tema Encarnacion works with immigrant children and families in Maryland as an ESOL Specialist.  She is an esteemed educator who has been honored as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow by National Geographic Education, by PBS Learning Media as a digital innovator, and by Maryland Public Television as an American Graduate Champion. She currently lives with her husband and two children, Nina and Jonas, outside of Annapolis, MD. You can follow Tema on Twitter @temabell.


Resistance, Persistence, Insistence

One year ago we raised our voices across the globe,

and rallied against your hateful sting.

We had no idea the extent of the circus

the next twelve months would bring.  


Your blasé insistence that you are always right

and everyone else is wrong,

Your ridiculous cabinet and cowardly cronies

who blindly follow along.


Three hundred and sixty five days

have passed.

We’ve marched and rallied,

holding steadfast.


You will not break us,

Please be assured.

We are stronger than you.

We will endure.


We’ll continue to resist.

We’re making strong, bold choices,

We bring forth to lift new,

Previously unheard, courageous voices.


Be forewarned, little man,

In a very short time,

These are the brave leaders

Who will upend your racist, sexist paradigm.


We’ve been watching you and taking note.

While you threaten and harass,

We stand and love fearlessly,

Holding on, waiting unfailingly en masse.


We descended in protest against everything you stand for.

One year later,

We remain certain that the huddled masses

make our nation greater.  


The tempest-tossed will find the lamp

beside the golden door.

Your cruel rhetoric and vile language

will soon be no more.  


Our voices will be heard.

We will prevail.

Very soon, Forty-Five,

your influence will fail.


You can continue to antagonize and patronize

for only a little longer.  

Our strength is mighty

And we are indeed, much, much stronger.  


Your days of one-upmanship and greed

are swiftly dwindling.

You’ll see them pass you by,

For our momentum is quickening.


So until your final farewell,

Know that we are here.  

And although you’ll never admit it,

We can all sense your fear.

My New Year’s Wish

“Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

                      –Sy Miller and Jill Jackson-Miller

Happy 2018!

Just like that, another year has passed. For many, January 1st is a time of introspection, renewal, and goal-setting. While I have spent some of the last few days and weeks on an inward search, I would like to share only an outward wish: peace.

PEACE is a heady word…chock full of deep spiritual connotation. More simply, but no less complex is the idea of peace being the absence of war. Or, even more simply (but no less complex), peace can be silence. On some level, my 2018 wish for everyone is all of these.

I teach Middle School. On the very, very rare occasion of absolute silence in my classroom, there is always one student who will blurt out the words “AWKWARD SILENCE!!!”. My efforts to explain that all silence isn’t awkward are lost as quickly as that sweet but vanishing moment of tranquility. I’ve learned to smile in these moments because I can no longer imagine what it’s like for those little humans to fight The Middle School War every day. Major campaigns of this three-year conflict include The Battle of the Raging Hormones, The Battle for True and Lasting Autonomy, and, the bloodiest of all–The Battle for Inward and Outward Respect and Acceptance.

Unfortunately, these skirmishes rage on long after promotion from Eighth Grade becomes a reality, sometimes even well into adulthood. Is my wish nothing but an impossible dream for the weary and wary thousands even millions who find themselves on the cusp of a new year?

As the words of the iconic song eloquently argue, peace won’t begin without personal action. As busy as we are, we have to find at least a few moments of silence to work with. For some, it may mean meditation, but it doesn’t have to. For many, it will mean setting any and all electronic devices aside. You simply have to stop the noise, even if it’s only for a little while. Listen to your favorite music. Read. Dance. Draw. Write. Create in any and all of your favorite ways. When this happens, you rise above the din that our jobs and other predicaments, our social circles, and the many screens we look upon for entertainment but are often only a seeing eye that only adds clutter to our worldview.

Is it really that easy? Yes, and no. The silence must become a habit. Like anything that yields the most satisfying results, it has to be a permanent life change. Decide what you would do more of if you “had the time”, then do it. For some of us, overcoming exhaustion is the first step. Start small. If you can’t delete the game or social app, try muting the notifications. Very few of the happenings in those worlds really, truly need to be known to us the instant they happen. Even world news that seems to shake us from moment to moment is best digested with less immediacy. Bring a small sketch pad, a book, and/or ear buds to your routine and mundane daily moments.

Warning: discovering and exploiting moments for personal peace is highly addictive. Those tiny revelations over time can become big ones, often opening opportunities for you to network with other like-minded peace-seekers bent on effecting positive change for more than just yourselves. In a similar way, those very same middle schoolers, when forced to live without electronics, will invent their own low-tech play. It’s awkward at first, but with practice, it may become the long-awaited Armistice that will affirm, promote and preserve life, no matter what your age.

May 2018 be transformational; may you seek and find peace.


mr charlesCharles Alexander has spent the better part of the last thirty years sharing his love for music and learning to people of all ages. He enjoys exercise, dancing, cooking and eating, and can often be seen making and sharing his favorite plant-based dishes. Charles shares his life with three beautiful daughters who are pursuing degrees at Salisbury University, a Chihuahua named Teddy, and a gray tabby named Xander.

Playing Favorites: My Anthropological Declaration of Love

To love humanity we must face humanity in all its transcendence and tribulation.

“Guess my favorite animal.”

I’m with a former student, Julia. We are in Baltimore, about to walk into YES, the Youth Empowered Society, a drop-in center for homeless youth that offers services and supports.

Julia has spent the last several moments of our journey talking about the profundity of elephants, her favorite animal. Their wisdom. Care. Matriarchal lineage. Cosmic connection. Julia is clearly inspired by this, her totem animal.

So I ask her to guess mine. She guesses right.

“You don’t have a favorite animal.”

Weird, right? Everyone has a favorite animal.

I have other favorites.

Tree: Sycamore.

Flower: Chicory.

Color: Periwinkle.

A favorite smell, a favorite song, a favorite city.

But no favorite animal…at least, until roughly a year later.

You see, I was looking in the wrong place. I was looking “out there” in the wilds of the world for my favorite. I needed to look “in here.”

You ready?

It’s you. You reading this. You are my favorite animal.


My favorite.

Whether you’re being adorable or ornery. You remain, always, my favorite.

As I began to share this affinity with others, I got the gamut of responses. Julia’s was quick and enthusiastic.

“Of course!” She exclaimed with a laugh and a hug.

For others…confusion. Disdain.

“Humans are definitely NOT my favorite animal,” one of my close friends said with a shake of her head.

My children, too, were at first puzzled.

“We’re not animals.”

And there it is. Homo sapien exceptionalism.

Such an innate belief in our difference and distance from the rest of our planet that we can at once propel ourselves to amazing heights, defying gravity as we stretch towards the moon and beyond, and, at the same time, we can declare ourselves lords and masters of all we survey, subjugating it to our whims and desires.

Subjugating each other.

What makes a human? What perfects and perverts our purpose? My declaration of love for humanity is inextricably tangled up in these questions.

To love humanity we must face humanity in all its transcendence and tribulation. We must face refugee crises where humans flee the cruelty and violence of their former neighbors. We must face poverty that enslaves humans to labor in fields of oppression as they harvest higher class hungers. And simultaneously we must embrace the invention and ingenuity without borders that cures polio, creates prosthetics, composes symphonies, and climbs to mountaintops.

This is the human paradox; that both unfathomable creation and unimaginable destruction reside side by side within each of us.

Those of us who fancy ourselves humanitarians and philanthops, we must face this truth in our brothers and sisters. We must face it in ourselves.

I am honored to enter into this writing space dedicated to the human experience. My personal calling and vocation, education, is a remarkable space to nourish, heal, and propel humanity forward. I look forward to asking how we can make all our spaces and professions more humane, more capable of bringing forth the best of humanity. The best in ourselves.


You’re my favorite.


This is my declaration of Human Love.

barbBarbara Ellard Dziedzic manages a youth work force development program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, building partnerships between the private sector and the public good. She is trained in dialogue development, restorative practice, and cultural proficiency. Previously she worked as a classroom teacher for over a decade as she developed and implemented a Community Development and Global Citizenship Signature ProgramOriginally from Missouri, she received her BA from Carleton College in Minnesota in 2002, moved to the East Coast to volunteer at an AIDS hospice with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and began her teaching career in Baltimore City in 2003. As part of her graduate work in International Peace and Conflict Resolution at American University, in the summer of 2009 she worked as an Advocacy Project Peace Fellow in Nairobi, Kenya.  In her work, she taught youth how to document their efforts for social change through photography, video, radio, and blogging. Barbara lives in Baltimore, Maryland with her husband, Zachary, and their twin children, Ivy and Kipling.  As a family they enjoy all manner of outdoor antics including backpacking, snowshoeing, and canoeing.  

Rwanda Bests

The six weeks Carolyn, my wife, and I spent teaching in Rwanda was a trip of firsts; my first trip to Rwanda, my first trip to Africa period, first time south of the Equator, and my first extended time in the classroom since retirement. A voyage replete with so many “firsts” fairly demands a set of reactions. Here are just some of the images and feelings I know are destined to last.

  • Most Lasting First Impression of Africa: Standing Day 1 in the crowded hallway of a Rwandan fabric exchange surrounded by stalls of brilliantly colored cloth and dozens of Rwandans (many of them dressed in equally striking colors) all playing “Let’s Make a Deal” at the same time. A more exotic din I’ve never heard. “Toto,” I said, “this is definitely not Kansas.”
  • Most Favored Delicacy: The East African avocado; soft, lush, flavorful, easy to peel, and falling off the trees! Could those hard, shriveled, overpriced green things they call avocados back home really be of the same species as these?
  • Most Glorious View: Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, is a labyrinth of tall, steep hills and deep cut valleys. And at night, all of them twinkle with lights that turn the city’s highs and lows into enchanted vistas. If you are able to catch the panoramic effect of Kigali’s landmarks all aglow–from the Emerald City-like downtown on your left, to the multi-colored eggshell dome of the Convention Centre in the middle, to the planes circling Kigali International on your right– count yourself lucky indeed.
  • Most Endearing Reaction: Offer a “Mwaramutse” (good morning) or a “Mwiriwe” (good afternoon, good evening, or good just about anything else) to Rwandans who aren’t expecting a greeting in their own language and watch their faces light up! It’s like offering a Brit a biscuit to go with his tea. The joy is unconfined!
  • Coolest Mode of Transportation: You simply must take a ride on a Kigali city bus! The routes and stops seem to change from trip to trip, seats are folded down to hem you in completely as additional riders get on, and your driver may leave the bus to drum up more business at any given stop. Oh, and the bumpiest jolts are reserved for the timid mzungus cowering in the back, wondering how on earth they’re going be able to wade through those folded-down seats so they can get off. A ride, by the way, costs 200 francs, which is–roughly speaking–a quarter. How can you beat that?
  • Favorite Restaurant: Kigali is an international city in all respects, including food. We sampled Ethiopian, Indian, Chinese, Italian, and Thai places during our time there, and reveled in all of it. We also enjoyed Heaven, Rwanda’s best known eating establishment. But The Hut–right up the dirt road from us–reigned supreme. The introductory fried avocados and goat brochettes accompanied by mounds of rice, chips, mashed sweet potatoes, or plantains were the odds-on favorites. The brochette platters, by the way, cost less than a cheeseburger at Five Guys. How I love this country!
  • Most Fun in the Arts: Like Baltimore’s Visionary Arts Museum, Kigali’s Inema Arts Center is a grand place to see old bikes, radios, bottles, cars, and metal fixtures transformed into contemporary art. But wait, there’s more! Inema also is a place for yoga, troupes of young drummers and dancers, wine tastings, mixology demonstrations, and an on-site women’s cooperative dealing in arts and crafts. What’s more, the small cafe is peaceful and cool; the sort of place you could find yourself chatting with a smartly coiffed young banker from Zimbabwe about to head off for her massage, or a group of medical students on holiday from their service projects in Uganda, or a Maryland couple working to bring a smattering of Jewish culture to interested Rwandans. (No, really.) Inema is that kind of place.
  • Best “Rwanda Is A Small Country” Moment: Chatting with a lovely student of tourism in downtown Kigali, only to have her turn up on the beach of Lake Kivu–hours from the capital and several days later– to reintroduce herself to us as an old friend. Did I mention that Rwanda is a small country?
  • Most Sheepish Feeling: The power went out? Oh my, how dependably undependable life can be in these “lesser developed countries.” Well, maybe if we had settled the pay-as-you-go electric bill like we were supposed to in the first place, the power would have stayed on.
  • Most Worthy Idea for Export: How about a presidential campaign that lasts for two weeks instead of two years? That’s Rwanda’s political practice, and it would suit me just fine. Of course, they know who’s going to win since the same guy has been in power for over 20 years. Still, what a rational, utterly appropriate time frame. Any takers, America?
  • Speaking of Which, Most Embarrassing Question: “How you in America find Trump?” I’m still not sure what they were asking. I’m even less sure what I was supposed to say.
  • Least Surprising Teacher Moment: Honesty compels me to report that faculty meetings in East Africa aren’t any more useful or interesting than they are here. Zzzzzzzz……
  • Best Pun: Jean Marie, APACOPE’s gentlemanly Dean of Studies, looked at his students dancing happily with their American visitors and proclaimed our visit to his school as a “Rwanda-ful time”. Clever, and so very nice to hear.
  • Most Sobering Venue: Peering intently across the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, you see a bit of Africa that isn’t Rwanda. The frontier is one of the busiest border crossings in the world, with a sea of men and women carrying goods and services to the other side. It’s less noisy than you’d think given the numbers involved, and there is a grimness to it all. Heavily armed soldiers are everywhere. Poverty is in the air in both countries, but there is a grayness to the squalor across the DRC line that changes the lighting in the distance. Granted, the Congolese make nice music; but they are not known for political stability, and there are those on the other side who wish Rwanda harm. The lack of ease at the frontier is palpable. How nice it was to know that we could just edge back and stay home in our new country.
  • Saddest Place: The mass graves at Kigali’s Genocide Memorial can break even the hardest of hearts, and there are exhibits that depict even more graphically the horrors of inter-tribal murder on the grand scale. But the small, poignant memorial to the 243 students, teachers, administrators, and founders of Ecole APACOPE who were killed in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide against the Tutsi is magnificently sad in its intimacy and simplicity. I looked at those pictures and read those names every day for six weeks, and feel as if Theogine, Pierre, Esperance, Claude, and the others have been ripped from my world as cruelly as they were from their own. The same photograph of APACOPE’s founder, Charles Shamugika, whose broad, sparkling smile lights up that wall of remembrance hangs in the living room of his daughter Christine, a gifted architect who currently serves as president of the school’s board of directors. Christine also lost three brothers to the madness. May their souls rest in peace along with the rest of APACOPE’s dead, and with the hundreds of thousands of Rwandans who perished from the twin evils of genocidal murder and world-wide indifference.
  • Most Lasting Impression: If any nation could be excused for pitying itself into the doldrums or tying itself up in knots of endless recrimination, it would be Rwanda. But a little over two decades removed from the 1994 genocide that claimed nearly a million of its people, Rwanda is a country full of kind, friendly souls doing their best to forgive and move on with life. The survivors have remade the notion of family, as uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends have come together to live as de facto parents, sisters, and brothers. Some of the country’s 30-somethings are so hungry for family that they’ll happily embrace white schoolteachers from Maryland as their surrogate mothers and fathers. So however painful its past or precarious its future, Rwanda’s present is a tribute to hope and reconciliation. And after living and teaching there for six weeks, I can tell you that they have blessed the world with children as smart, as beautiful, as friendly, and as precious as any on earth. May God be gracious to them all.


Phil Greenfield is a teacher, musician, writer and college adviser who taught at Annapolis High School from 1979-2014. Phil was a Fulbright Exchange Teacher to Great Britain in 1996-97, and when the opportunity was extended to teach in Rwanda for the summer of 2017, he couldn’t say no. He and his wife, a music therapist, flutist, singer, pianist and teacher live in Cape St. Claire, just outside Annapolis, MD.

Love and More Social Studies

It’s time for me to go back to the classroom where I teach teenagers about civics and current events. It feels enormously consequential, as it always does.

I’ve been known to jokingly hashtag social media posts #loveandmoresocialstudiesclasses when someone in the public eye says or does something that betrays their lack of knowledge. Recent events have had me saying it very seriously; America does need love and more social studies classes. Desperately.

The throngs of men waving guns and Nazi flags make that quite clear. But so do the frantic Facebook posts about how the removal of a statue is “destroying our culture,” the panicked wonderings about “who will go next – George Washington?!?!?!” and the angry insistence that “kids need a history lesson!!!!” followed by one link to a Wikipedia article on the Civil War.

When I read that kind of thing, I can’t help but think that decades of cuts to and devaluation of social studies education are at least in part to blame.

I’m fortunate in that I teach in a district and a state that have long valued my field, but the demand for more civics and history classes, in particular, is gaining nationwide momentum. This is good, and should put the fears prevalent in social media to rest.

A robust social studies curriculum includes national, state, and local history. It builds cultural literacy, empathy, mindfulness, and comprehension. Social studies classrooms are a place for students to develop their critical thinking skills – which make it pretty easy to differentiate between a Founding Father who would fall short of meeting today’s moral standards, and a military officer who took part in a violent rebellion against this nation. We teach that one source is not research, and that opinions are strengthened by the examination of multiple primary and secondary sources – not just Wikipedia.

Anyone who is truly concerned about the preservation of history should be attending local school board meetings and demanding that quality social studies education be a priority in all schools. This will bear fruits of thoughtful, engaged, civil discourse – and action – and through that we will create a more perfect union.

A generation educated with love and more social studies classes may well be a generation that decides we will no longer commemorate a dark era in our past with statues. But it won’t be one that has forgotten history, or failed to learn from it.


Kathleen Murdough has a hard time explaining where she’s from because she’s an army brat, but North Conway, NH, the town where she lives now, has been her home longer than any other place that she’s lived. She has been a high school social studies teacher there for twelve years, and can think of no more awesome privilege and responsibility.

Not Your President

To My Son,

As I watched you sleep that November morning, my eyes traced the delicate outline of your perfect upturned nose. I watched your chest rise and fall rhythmically with each peaceful breath. I paused to take this in because I wanted to cherish who you were in that exact moment, before you realized how dramatically the world had changed. I wanted to remember the sweet innocence of the little boy that you were yesterday, the one who was certain that, fundamentally, the world was good and that decency would prevail.  

I knew that the news I was about to share would be a lot for you to absorb. But more than that, when you awoke that day, November 9, 2016, you would awaken to a reality that you wouldn’t recognize. Our world would turn upside down.  

But not yet. In that brief precious moment, on the cusp of change, your innocence endured.

I leaned over your bed and wrapped my arms around you. I hugged you tightly, a little more than normal, because my heart was filled with such a heavy burden. I took comfort when you reached around to hug me back. Even before you opened your eyes your arms locked around my neck and you asked, “Did Hillary win?”  

I squeezed you a little harder and, unable to speak and afraid to look you in the eye, I shook my head from side-to-side in the crook of your neck. I couldn’t stand to look at your face as you took in the answer.  “What?  Did she win?” you asked again with a concern I hardly ever hear in your voice. I finally said “no” as my chin quivered and I found the courage to look into your eyes. I’ll never forget the expression on your sweet little face as your eyes filled with tears. I wondered how you could know, at eight years old, that the impossible had happened.  

I’m sure that when I sent you to bed the night before, when the results were being announced and things seemed to be going awry, you didn’t understand the worldwide implications of the election. But that morning, you knew, even as a small child, that the implications were enormous.  

You knew that the same vitriol the next president bellows from podiums would get you in trouble at your elementary school. You knew that he talks to and about women in a way in which you would never want your sister or me to be treated. You knew that the venom he espouses about people from other countries and of different religions is aimed at your immigrant father. You knew that things should have been different.  

That morning, as I looked you in the eyes, I was terrified for our country. I was frightened for my immigrant students who weren’t sure if their parents would be deported, tearing their families apart. I worried about my sick friends, family, and neighbors who rely on health care through the Affordable Care Act. I worried about you and your sister’s classmates who fear for their safety and their rights because they’re gay or transsexual.  I was concerned about the protections for our local waterways in which you play, so happily, all summer long.  

There was so much that terrified me that morning; much more than I can express here. But the fear that I couldn’t seem to assuage, is that you, my sweet, sweet boy, were going to have this man as an example of masculinity during some of your most formative years. How will you and other boys across the country reconcile the ideas of manhood that he perpetuates with what you know in your hearts to be right?  The thought of this was eating away at me. I knew you deserved better.  

It is now early August, about nine months since that morning.  Since then, the absurd displays of power are almost too much to recount.  

We’ve seen Muslims banned from entering our country, then judges blocking unconstitutional executive orders, only to have partial bans reinstated by the Supreme Court.  There have been close-calls on healthcare, threatening access of millions to medical care.  There’s been mudslinging within the President’s own cabinet, where he seems to relish pitting people against one another as if watching gladiators fight to the death.  Liberties have been stripped of those in the LGBTQ community.  Women have been made a mockery of as he’s once again demonstrated his total disregard for our humanity as he threatens reproductive health services across the country.  He disparaged his predecessors and political opponents at the National Boy Scout Jamboree as tens of thousands of boys listened eagerly as he went off the rails, in something reminiscent of Lord of the Flies.  We’ve seen an increase in hate crimes and an emboldening of racism disguised as “diversity of thought.”   

While the president makes a joke of the United States, what I’ve seen in you was unexpected.  You protested, even when I suggested you stay home.  For better or worse, you shouted, “Not my president!” as loud as you could.  Even when I urged you to find another mantra, this was the one that resonated with you the most.  You passed out safety pins to your teachers, even when you were told that it was better if you just wore one yourself and didn’t mention it.  You donned your knitted pink hat in solidarity as your sister and I marched in protest in Washington, D.C.  You had begged to go, but with a broken leg, stayed home and watched longingly as history was made.  You asked me, with a tremble in your voice, if your Papi would be allowed back in the country after a visit to family overseas.  And then you thought pensively and stoically about what that would mean for our family. Your sensitivity and empathy at each ridiculous turn has warmed my heart and renewed my hope for your future and our country’s future.

You discovered that we all have a voice and that our voices matter.  You saw that each of us has a responsibility to those around us and that a community takes care of those who are vulnerable; we do this even more when things on the periphery look scary.  You’ve seen that even when your rights are safe, that it matters to defend the rights of everyone.  You’ve understood that being a man isn’t about being in power, rather that being a human is doing the right thing even when it’s hard.  

I had worried that this president would negatively impact your idea of manhood. Indeed, whether I like it not, he has an effect on children across the country.  What I’ve realized, though, is that this example doesn’t define who you are.  The examples around you in your family, your school, and your community are far stronger than the one on Pennsylvania Avenue.  

Now, when I watch you sleep, I don’t worry as much about the type of man you’ll be. I’m certain that as you grow, you’ll remember these tumultuous times and know that he was never your president.  


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Tema Encarnacion works supporting the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program as the ESOL Specialist near Baltimore,  Maryland. Previously, she worked as an ESOL teacher and in various other capacities in another local ESOL program. Tema has dedicated her career to working with immigrant students and their families. She has been honored as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow by National Geographic Education for her commitment to geographic literacy through environmental advocacy, by PBS Learning Media as a digital innovator for integrating technology in the classroom and by Maryland Public Television as an American Graduate Champion. She currently lives with her husband and two children, Nina and Jonas, outside of Annapolis, MD. You can follow Tema on Twitter @temabell.