In 1954, Robert Holmes was only 13 years old when his mother took him to a local swimming pool in Edison, New Jersey. As a black boy in a segregated world, attendants refused him entry and called the police. His mother stood firm. She looked at her young teen and said, “Son, climb under the turnstile.” Holmes later said he was more afraid of his mother than the police, so he obeyed her and climbed under.
Authorities told Mrs. Holmes she would have to retrieve her son, but she refused. She said, “If you want him out of the pool, you go take him out of the pool. And by the way, as you take him out, you tell him why he can’t go in the pool today.”
Robert stayed in the pool.
As the first African-American president, Barack Obama came into office amid hopes of lessening racial tensions. Unfortunately, if anything, tensions have become even more pronounced over the past few years. This is not a commentary on Obama’s presidency, but rather a commentary on the fact that serious change in race relations won’t come from politicians or activists.
Deep and lasting change begins with courageous parents like Mrs. Holmes who are not only willing to stand up against all cultural odds, but even more importantly, who are willing to teach their children about equality. My guess is Mrs. Holmes taught her son many other important lessons throughout his childhood.
The debate on social ills, like the role of race in American culture, has been a part of public discourse since the founding of our country. But whether the issue is race, economics, religion, sexuality, politics, or any other social hot potato, opinions and positions are established first at home.
Some months ago, President Obama made a comment that he and his wife were not “fortunate enough” for either of them to be a stay-at-home parent earlier in their marriage. I was disappointed to hear his use of the word “fortunate.” Their income at the time was well over $100,000 a year. Many single-income families make far less and still decide to that one parent will stay home with the children.
In exchange, they have hours each week to invest in raising their own children. This decision doesn’t have anything to do with fortune. It has to do with a decision to sacrifice personal interests in order to invest in one’s children.
A stay-at-home parent has nearly unchallenged involvement with his or her child’s upbringing, thinking, and education. Suppose Mrs. Holmes, who I doubt made over $100,000 a year, had chosen to give up her parenting responsibilities to a daycare or babysitter? I can’t imagine the nanny, the babysitter, or a daycare worker having the courage, or even being motivated, to tell a 13-year-old boy to climb under the turnstile.
Many years ago an elementary school asked me if I would make a public statement against homosexuals in teaching positions. I refused. My refusal had nothing to do with the person asking or my own personal opinion. Rather, my decision was based on the fact that I am my child’s teacher.
If I do my job teaching my child, interacting with her, and discussing important issues of the day – academic, political, religious, and social – then it won’t matter whether her teacher is a good one or a poor one, homosexual or heterosexual, Republican or Democrat.
An involved parent has the luxury of teaching his child how to think. The involved parent can help mold a child’s perspective on important issues, working through those issues over time. Deciding to teach your own children comes from years of personal, one-on-one, thoughtful interaction. It isn’t about fortune and it won’t happen by accident. Like Mrs. Holmes, be a good teacher.
(You can read Dr. Holmes’ story at NPR – http://www.npr.org/2012/06/01/154100293/when-mom-is-right-and-tells-police-theyre-wrong. Today Dr. Holmes is professor of law at Rutgers University.)
Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D.