Melissa Rohlfs: Help My Son Grow Up

2 min

Racism takes its toll on Black lives every day. Fear for a child’s safety is a particular burden for Black parents. Melissa Rohlfs has this Perspective.

My family lives in a middle-class neighborhood on the Peninsula. My husband and I have advanced degrees. He works in tech. I'm an academic.

Our son is only 12, but he's taller than me. As he grew, my anxiety for his well-being set in. You see, I’m a black mother living in America. And while his father is white, and his eyes are hazel green, by America’s "skin color-to-trustworthiness” ratio, my son’s tan skin puts him at risk.

My son has much to contribute to this world. He loves studying Mandarin, volunteered to plant a veggie garden for an elderly neighbor, and was just named "Student of the Year" by his teachers. Some days he wants to be a pilot, other days he wants to design the aircraft. He likes Spongebob and eats ice cream.

Yet time and time again, people in my own community see my son's size and complexion and perceive him as dangerous.

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My son started to walk to school solo this year. And every day for weeks a little girl three houses away pointed to him and cried, “Stranger! There's a stranger, Daddy.”

This child's fear and her parents’ action, or rather inaction, confirms my fears about how others often judge black men. Day after day. And the parents never once corrected their child.

My solution was to walk with our son and introduce him to the neighbors. I I need people to know who this boy is. That he's not a stranger!

I also must have a conversation with him about how to not appear threatening: Always keep your hands out front. No sudden movements. It's a lot for a kid.

You don't have to demonstrate to be an agent of change. You can recognize the humanity in black and brown families. Say hello to them. Include them in the play and conversations. Read books featuring black and brown characters. Make sure others see that you value black and brown lives. That’s being an ally to parents like me.

That boy you lift up, may be the student of the year. Mine is. That man you recognize may be a multilingual pilot. One day, mine will be.

Please. Help my son grow up.

With a Perspective, I’m Melissa Rohlfs.

Melissa Rohlfs lives in San Bruno and works in higher education.