Monday, November 3, 2008

Bringing heritage to child easier with help

Umoja 2008 - A black heritage experience
Green Lake, Wisconsin: Oct. 24-26

Kara Patterson column: Bringing heritage to child easier with help
November 3, 2008
It takes a whole village to raise a child. I've heard the African Children's Choir sing that phrase, and I've read it as an African proverb.
Recently, when my husband Josh and I took our Ethiopian-American toddler, Mihret, to our family's first Umoja, a weekend retreat celebrating black heritage and culture in Green Lake, I felt that phrase come to life through the actions of others.
As a transracial family, formed in 2007 when we brought our now 21-month-old daughter home from Africa, we take pride in our place in the black community. Umoja was an affirmation of that place.
Black leaders, college students and participating families from Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota came together for discussions, activities and events that helped us understand more about what it means to be black in America, and appreciate the rich diversity in the African Diaspora.
Our daughter marked a cultural milestone at Umoja by getting her hair braided for the first time. Over the past several months, we'd watched Mihret's springy curls grow and waited with anticipation to see if they'd be long enough for the hairstyle.
A black college student who had volunteered her time in Umoja's makeshift salon from morning until evening on Saturday reassured us that she could work with her, saying she had just the hairstyle in mind.
We knew it would be a challenge for Mihret to sit for her braids. They're pulled tight so they can stay in for a week or two, and we had seen older children that day bear the strain with some tears.
As Mihret squirmed and screamed in Josh's lap, the student deftly coaxed out a row of sleek braids that twisted back from her forehead and ended in little puffs.
One of the event's volunteers came over when she heard Mihret's wails. She tried to soothe her by playing an African drum she'd brought over because she'd spent time with Mihret earlier that afternoon, the two of them tapping on it and dancing.
Other children with newly braided hair encircled Mihret, telling her how pretty she looked. They made silly faces to take her mind off the hair "owies."
Mihret calmed down, and we wiped her face as she played with a spray bottle of water the student had handed her.
What we couldn't do for our daughter alone, we could do with the help of our weekend "village."
-By Kara Patterson, Post-Crescent staff writer

1 comment:

Melissa said...

It sounds like you had a wonderful time. We look forward to joining you with Micah next year. LOVE the braids. ~Melissa