By Rev. Katrina Shawgo
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” -Frederick Douglas
We live in troubling times. Many days the future seems bleak and uncertain. As a mother, I wonder what will be left of the world into which I birthed my son. As a white mother, I worry that secret, unspoken worry…what kind of white man will he be? With white men at the center of white violence against people of color, against women, against innocent children in schools, the weight of the responsibility of raising him is always heavy on my mind.
Raising children who are justice-minded is a task critical to us all, whether we are parents or not. I yearn to do what Frederick Douglas speaks of, “building strong children,” so that my own son doesn’t become another broken man, doing violence in this world in any variety of manifestations.
All of us can have a part in building strong children. Every interaction you have with children has the potential to introduce and model the very principles of justice and liberation that are close to our hearts. We can teach and model and guide them to deeper levels of empathy, of greater understandings of systems and how they function, and invite them to ask critical questions of themselves and the world.
My family recently participated in a protest at an immigrant detention center in Taylor, TX. Along with the opportunity for my son to hear voices and stories he wouldn’t normally hear, we took the chance to model asking questions for deeper meaning. What would it feel like to live somewhere in which our family was in danger every day? What would it feel like to be separated from your parents? How might being detained affect a person, even if they ultimately stay in the U.S.? How might being held in detention be different for transgender people? For sick people? For people with disabilities?
As parents, caregivers, leaders, and friends of children, we are raising and engaging the stewards of this world, trying to create habits and practices that will give them the confidence to do what is right on behalf of themselves and on behalf of others.
The systems of oppression that exist will try to convince our children of their superiority or of their inferiority, both of which damage them and us. Our work is to equip them with the tools they need to be strong and courageous in character in the face of whatever injustices may befall them, their loved ones, or their communities.
To build strong children who seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly, let us…
- Treat them, their bodies, their opinions, and their feelings with respect and dignity.
- Encourage their engagement with their communities and the world.
- Apologize to them when we are wrong.
- Model equity in our relationships with others.
- Teach them, in age appropriate ways, about the unjust systems of the world.
Let us care for children in a way that creates fewer broken men and more gentle souls…fewer hearts broken apart and more broken open. Let us do our part to light the spark of justice, kindness, and love in our children so that this world, their world, may be just a little more peaceful…a little more just…a little more whole.
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Rev. Katrina Shawgo (she/her) is a Presbyterian (PCUSA) minister serving a non-profit hospice as a chaplain, a role she has been called to for nearly a decade. She is a parent to a pre-teen, a spouse to a computer geek, and a lover of Austin, TX, where she currently resides.