Written by: SharRon Jamison
It was almost twenty years ago, but I can still vividly remember the pain of seeing my son’s frightened, battered face. There he stood with tear-stained eyes, a look of bewilderment, and swollen lips. Seeing him bruised and bloody was painful, almost unbearable. His six-year-old vocabulary was too limited to fully express what happened and how he felt, but I knew. Just imagining his slight frame being hit, pushed, and kicked by 4th and 6th -grade boys while trapped in a bathroom stall made me wince because I knew. I knew, and just knowing how powerless he must have felt as fists pummeled his face made me feel as if I had been punched, too. I knew. My God, I knew.
As I watched my son cry and sniffle, I became angrier and angrier because I knew that being punched and slammed to the ground had been excruciating, belittling, and humiliating. Also tasting his own blood after being jabbed in the face had to be horrifying. My God, he was six years old. How was I going to explain to him why this happened? I didn’t have words, and I knew that his experience would be a defining moment in his life. I didn’t want to know, but I knew.
My initial response had to seem rather odd to the school officials. I stared at them, but I was really looking through them and straining to look into my son’s soul. I was also struggling to make sure I was awake because parts of me thought I was dreaming. I hoped that I was dreaming, or maybe having a flashback, or having an out-of-body experience, or something. Was I hallucinating? Any experience would have been better - and less painful - than the truth staring back at me.
Seeing my son’s injured face was agonizing. I wanted to touch it, but I couldn’t. I wanted to clean off the dried blood, but I didn’t. Since I really didn’t know what to say, I just grabbed my son and hugged him as tight as I could. I wanted him to know that he was safe; mommy was here to protect him. I wanted to take the pain away. I wanted to erase the terrifying event from his memory. I wanted to give him my strength. I wanted him to feel loved. I wanted revenge. I wanted my Mommy. I wanted so much, but most of all, I didn’t want my son, my only child, to hurt now or suffer later. I wanted none of that.
The school officials tried to explain what happened. I don’t really remember what they said, because it didn’t matter. They tried to give me some sort of explanation for my son’s injuries, but any rationale was insufficient. Let’s be honest, what could a six-year-old boy have done to deserve being brutally attacked in the bathroom while he changed his clothes? What could a six-year-old boy have done to warrant being jumped by a gang? What could a six-year-old boy have done to provoke such a vicious attack? What? And why did the teacher think it was okay not to immediately notify me about the assault? How could a teacher, an educated adult, be so callous toward a wounded, bloody child and so apathetic about his emotional state? How could school officials justify sitting my battered child in a room for hours by himself with no love, care, and comfort? How?
The school officials had no reasonable answers, and none of the school’s politically correct I-don’t-want-to-get sued statements contained any empathy or concern. The principal and his staff just didn’t care, and none of their pre-packaged, non-caring explanations made any sense. My son was six, a first-grader. Nothing he did could have led to such an attack. Nothing he did could have warranted him being hit with so much force that this bloody face was so swollen that it looked like he had a mouth full of rocks. Nothing!
My son wasn’t a bully. He was not part of a gang. He was not devoid of love, home training, or parental support. I made sure that he had the best, the best of everything, especially the best of me. What could have motivated a group of boys to use my son’s body as a punching bag and to use his face for boxing practice? Were the bullies just looking for a victim, and my son was simply their unfortunate patsy of the day? What?
The sad truth was that my son was assaulted because he was Black. Yes, he was a Black male child with an Arabic name in a white, Christian school that supposedly promised and promoted love. That was his offense; his color. His color made him a target for home-bred hate. His color marked him for abuse and humiliation. His color made him vulnerable to a heartless school system. Yes, it was a color issue; my son was victimized because he was Black. That’s the truth. But of course, that’s not the truth the school acknowledged.
Despite knowing how risky it could be for my son to be the only Black child in a predominately white school, I trusted the Baptist Christian School to educate and care for my child. I trusted, but really prayed, that my son would have teachers who showered him with love and acceptance. I wanted, but really needed, his educational experience to be fun, and joyful, and not full of fear, humiliation, and isolation. I prayed so fervently because I wanted my son to thrive academically and to feel included; I wanted what all parents want for their children.
I prayed and prayed because I knew the risks and the dangers of integrating predominately white schools because I had integrated a few myself. I knew how being different and feeling invisible could erode a child’s self-worth, self-concept, and self- esteem. I knew how destructive it was to learn false histories and belittling stories about your identity and community. I knew the consequences of not having enough affirmation and validation to bloom. Sadly, I knew the horrors of harassment and the lifelong effects of childhood bullying. I knew it all because it was my experience, and that’s why I prayed that my son’s experiences would be different. I didn’t want him to follow in my footsteps. Hell, I spent decades in therapy healing from classroom and educational trauma; I didn’t want that for my child. That’s why I did everything in my power to research schools and interview teachers to ensure that he would be safe so he could thrive.
After I recovered from the shock and anger, my son’s recovery process became my priority. I withdrew him from the school, purchased some school books, and I taught him myself. I didn’t know exactly how to teach, but I was determined that he would learn, and learn in safety. I was not taking any more risks or jeopardizing my son’s emotional health.
Being a single mom, homeschooling my son, and working a demanding job was difficult. I was in the pharmaceutical industry and my job required me to travel sixty percent of the time. Since I had to financially support us, my son traveled with me. If I could afford two plane tickets, he would fly with me to meet with customers. But if not, I would sometimes drive more than fourteen hours a day to fulfill my job obligations. It was a risk because having him on the road with me violated company policy. But I had no choice, so I devised creative ways to conceal my son’s presence from my manager and peers.
For months, I worked and drove, and drove and worked. Keeping up the charade was exhausting, but what could I do? I was not leaving my son in a racist environment that masqueraded as a Christian community. No Way! And I didn’t have any family support.
Eventually, the hiding, driving, and working took its toll on me and I could not take it anymore. I was so physically tired and emotionally drained that my lucrative consultant job lost its appeal. One day after driving six hours through Tennessee, I decided that I wanted to be done with the duplicity, grief, and constant dread; I wanted out. I could not take another day of juggling a demanding job, while homeschooling a child, while dealing with his post-attack nightmares, while driving six to eight hours a day, with no support. I just could not do it, and the constant anxiety of hiding my son while being on the road affected my mental health. One day, I had enough, and I decided that I was moving back to Florida. I was out of Kentucky. I hated it, and my spirit needed rest; it demanded calm and peace.
I told my manager what happened to my son. I shared bloody pictures and provided graphic details. However, senior management refused to transfer me because the company had just moved me to Kentucky the year before. They issued me an ultimatum; stay in Kentucky, or resign. I was fine with those options; I was moving. My son’s safety and my health were not negotiable; my sanity was at stake. When I announced I was leaving, they agreed to transfer me if I financed the relocation.
What senior management didn’t realize was that I didn’t need, nor was I waiting for their permission. I had already updated my resume, contacted my clients, put my home on the market, and researched new schools for my son. No one was going to determine my son’s future; I was the parent, and I was the provider, not a company.
My move back to Florida was difficult. For over eleven months, I had two mortgages which drained my savings. But money was the least of my worries; I had a traumatized son who was extremely distraught and was having nightmares. He was acting out; he was hurting. I didn’t blame him at all because he was grieving, humiliated, and angry but did not understand how to process it all. And how could he have known? There is no rule book that outlines how a child should heal after being assaulted. And why should a six-year-old child ever need to know how to recover from a hate crime, anyway? Heck, even adults have trouble healing after experiencing or witnessing hate crimes.
After we moved back to Coral Springs, Florida, my son started asking me questions that I could not answer. I didn’t know what to say because how do you explain to a six-year-old boy that being Black was the reason that he got punched and kicked? How do you explain to a six-year-old boy that his last name gave a few fools a license to violate him? How do you explain to a little boy that adults colluded and protected the abusers, with little concern about his well-being? What do you say?
Thanks to the advice of some wonderful therapists, I learned that you explain as much as you can so that your child does not hate himself or hate others. You don’t say too much, but you provide age-appropriate explanations and you tell the truth. I told my son the truth and sought support to rehabilitate his soul, mend his heart, and soothe his mind. And slowly, my son began to heal.
The healing journey was painful (yes, healing hurts), and I learned three powerful lessons about life.
1. Always do what is best for you. People love to offer advice without knowing or appreciating the variables of a situation. So, you must listen to your soul, and don’t forget that it is YOU who must deal with the consequences of your decisions, not the advisors. Yes, listen to wise counsel, but always make the final decisions in your life. Don’t abdicate authority to others. It is YOUR life; you have to live it for you.
2. Always listen to your intuition, which I know is God’s voice. I must admit that hearing your soul is not always easy, especially when your ego screams while your soul whispers. But listen! Get quiet and get still. God will speak to you. God will use words, signs, people, and dreams to direct your path.
Sadly, I didn’t listen to my intuition, and my son suffered. My intuition said, don’t move to Kentucky; stay in Florida. My ego said, accept the consultant position in Kentucky; build your resume. My intuition said, the school does not feel right; blacks are not welcome. My ego said, you are just being dramatic; stop being a wimp. My intuition said, your son is not being treated fairly; make an unannounced visit. My ego said, you are overacting; the world is not as racist as you think. My intuition said, honor your gut; Tariq is not safe. My ego said, focus on your job, make money, and advance your career. My ego was loud, and it muted the quiet, still voice from my soul. I didn’t listen to my soul and my son suffered.
3. Forgive yourself. My son suffered, and I felt extremely guilty because it was my careless decision that put him in harm’s way. And boy, the guilt was unbearable. I was so guilt-ridden that I stopped parenting him; I stopped disciplining him and preparing him for life. I checked out because I felt so ashamed. I felt unfit to be his mother, and at times, the guilt was so intolerable that I wanted to die.
But, I had to forgive myself because I wanted to be whole again. I didn’t want to continue to doubt and hate myself. I wanted to reclaim my power and agency so I could function with confidence and grace. I wanted to restore my self-trust so I could make sound decisions for my son and for me. I yearned to liberate myself from the gut-wrenching guilt so I could free myself from the inner demons and gremlins that were emotionally dismantling me from the inside out.
I didn’t want to forget my son’s bloody, tear-stained face, but I no longer wanted the image to haunt me. I wanted to move on, grateful that I learned a powerful lesson, and hopeful that I would never make decisions that endangered him or me again. I wanted to start over and I wanted to parent my beautiful son again.
Dealing with my son’s attack was one of the hardest times of my life, but I made it. Even when I was drowning in despair, too ashamed to ask for help, and too overwhelmed with my son’s care, I persevered. Some days I struggled, but quitting was never an option because somehow I knew that everything I needed for our healing journey was within me. I’m not sure how I knew, but I knew.
My son’s attack was traumatic. It changed him, it changed me, and it changed our relationship. We grew closer, wiser, and stronger. We grew spiritually, and by God’s grace, his attack did not cause irreparable harm to his spirit or soul. Sometimes he still has flashbacks; we both do. And every now and then, the guilt and the resulting grief grip me and I weep. I weep for the woman, the old me, who felt so broken, so invisible and so insignificant that she chose a career over what mattered most, her son. Just thinking about that dreadful decision still makes me cry today.
What does this experience have to do with purpose? I believe our pain equips us for our purpose. I believe that our pain stretches us and strengthens us to prepare us to serve humanity and to answer our divine call. I believe that our pain purges us, refines us, and fortifies so we can face Goliaths without wavering. Our pain softens us so we never become so conceited, so arrogant, and so financially wealthy that we forget what matters most, people. Our pain is a reminder to stay humble, to stay open, and to always trust in God.
If you have made decisions that negatively affected a loved one, I understand. The guilt can consume and cripple you and make you feel as if you are not worthy of your purpose. But, you are worthy and you still have something to contribute to the world. God still has something for you to do that only you can do. You have not been disqualified or pushed aside. You are still wanted, needed, and loved, so please don’t be so generous with judgment and stingy with grace; mercy suits your case.
My friend, the healing process is a journey, not an event. And with prayer and support, you will make it to the other side. You will heal. I know you can do it because it is my testimony too.
Your purpose is waiting for you. Use the wisdom you gained and let it help you win! You got this!
Blessings to you! It’s Time To Soar!
Originally published in Issue 3 · May/June 2021 issue of SOULACY.
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