June 25th should be Tamir Rice’s birthday, but he was killed in 2014 by police officers who thought he was grown, they said. I have read accounts that say the call to 911 was from someone who said she thought she saw an adult. He was 12.
Tamir’s mother held a Sweet Sixteen party for what would have been the beginning of his rite of passage into his becoming a young man. Black mothers, especially, have had to learn how to transform the dehumanizing separation of us from our children — permanently or temporarily — into something less tragic for a long time.
Had Tamir survived, like Antwon Rose, like so many other of our children whose youth is taken from them, he would have had to battle for the rest of his life to overcome what health experts call Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) or the kind of trauma that some children survive that shows up in mental and physical health problems that can last for the rest of their lives.
This heartbreaking story about a father separated from his 6-year-old daughter evoked in me the memory of being taken from my mother in the same way that Tamir’s death and the death of young black people often has. In my case, it was foster care, and probably necessary, because of neglect.
I was 5 when I was sent on a year-long journey through the homes of strangers in the Philly area. Around 6 years old when I was returned to her and we arrived in New York. I don’t remember much of that year, in part because I was young. I know that there are formative things that children learn from their parents that I did not — how to ride a bike, brushing my teeth twice a day, eating the right kind of foods in the right amounts — that year. I remember feeling as if the entire world was unsafe from the moment I was taken from my mother’s home and placed in a strange environment without any understanding of when — or if — I could return.
I don’t think it’s the kind of thing you ever really recover from. It took me many years of therapy and incredible friends and faith to get even close to healing and I’m not all the way there.
No matter what happens now, the hundreds of children who were stolen from their parents have had their lives irreparably changed to prove one man’s political point.
But just like it’s a privilege to grow old and to grow up, it’s also a privilege to have the humanity extended to you to be allowed to be a child. When the humanity of children is recognized, we protect them. We show them that the world is safe for them to grow in, that we will give them room to be and flourish, that they will not have to live in spite of their wounds, they will not have to begin their lives by overcoming the traumas of their beginnings.
The hardest stretch of time, after all, is between when we are young and when we find out who we are supposed to become, if we ever get a chance to get to the latter or if we ever get to be the former.