For the past several weeks, details about the conditions in the migrant detention centers along the southern border have been making national headlines. Many of us have been watching this situation closely since May of 2018 when a zero-tolerance policy for prosecuting every undocumented border crossing was officially enacted. This policy resulted in the separation of over 2,000 children from their parents, and reports of the children's’ treatment drew international criticism. Because of the widespread outcry, this policy was reversed six weeks later, and efforts began to reunite families.
While not at the same scale as during the time of the policy, recent reports suggest that at least 900 children have been separated from their families since the policy was rescinded.
It is difficult to get a clear sense of what is actually happening at the border, but a few first-hand accounts are coming to light:
A law professor who toured a children’s detention facility in Texas says, “what we saw are dirty children who are malnourished, who are being severely neglected. They are being kept in inhumane conditions. They are essentially being warehoused, as many as 300 children in a cell, with almost no adult supervision.”
An official statement from Customs and Border Protection notes that, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) leverages our limited resources to provide the best care possible to those in our custody, especially children. As DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and CBP leadership have noted numerous times, our short-term holding facilities were not designed to hold vulnerable populations and we urgently need additional humanitarian funding to manage this crisis.”
Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore says, “I am deeply concerned for the well-being of migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border. Having already faced perilous journeys, some children are now being sheltered at facilities that are not equipped to meet the needs of this vulnerable population...Children should not be in unsafe environments that can cause toxic stress and irreparable harm to their health and development. This is a dire situation requiring urgent action and funding to provide children and families with essential services and support.”
We also have statements from some of the children who have been held in the detention centers:
Regardless of where we individually stand on the United States’ immigration policy, the conditions along the border are traumatizing for children. Further, the U.S. policy of separating children from their families at the border and through ICE raids will have lifelong implications.
When children are separated from their parents, it disrupts one of the most essential bonds in human biology, and one upon which a child’s sense of safety is reliant. Forced and prolonged separation from parents causes damage to the part of the brain that deals with attachment and fear, and causes long-term damage. This damage includes higher rates of depression and anxiety later in life, as well as increased aggression, withdrawal, and developmental difficulties.
A Call to Action
Robert F. Kennedy said, “Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy or too frightened, when we fail to speak up or speak out, we strike a blow against freedom, decency and justice.”
As a child, I vividly remember learning about the Holocaust. As someone of German lineage, I struggled to understand how my own people could enact such cruelty to others, and how average citizens could turn a blind eye to the injustices taking place in their cities and towns. I felt ashamed to call myself a German and I promised myself that, if called upon, I would fight for justice and equality.
Now is one such time to act. Separating families and housing migrants in inhumane conditions, especially those that have already experienced deep trauma, run against one of our stated values as a country. This value is famously memorialized by Emma Lazarus’ poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty, a part of which reads,
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Far from opening a door and showing kindness to people who have already suffered so much, our current policies are doing further harm. And, let us be clear, this harm is not only being done to the individuals directly impacted by our policies, but also to the reputation of the United States on the world stage and to the soul of our country here at home.
Like with Nazi Germany, I believe that people will look back on this time and study our response to this crisis. As an adult with my own challenges and obligations, I am also starting to understand what may have happened in Germany almost 100 years ago--the nearly constant examples of hatred and cruelty, the deep divisions in our government, and the imbalance of power that is allowing an entitled few to dismantle the rights of so many, can be paralyzing. At a time when White Supremacists are being emboldened, when Women’s and LGBTQ+ rights are being rolled back, and when mass shootings are a way of life, it is easy to question our impact. How many protests can one person attend? How much money can one donate? To which cause should I dedicate my limited energy and resources? Do my voice and actions really make a difference?
Rather than dwelling on what I may not be able to do, I am trying to stay grounded in the agency I do have. This quote, drawn from the Talmud, sums up my sentiments:
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
Each one of us must decide how to contribute to this work, and all of our efforts are desperately needed. One simple way is to show more kindness--to ourselves and our loved ones, to strangers we encounter, and even to the telemarketers that disrupt our dinners. Each smile and gentle response chips away at the hatred that surrounds us.
If we have the means and the ability, we can also choose to do more. As someone who has dedicated my life to educating youth, the separation of children from their families is the place I am choosing to focus my attention. Children should not pay the price for our faulty policies and systems.
Since I have a voice and a platform, I plan to use it to the extent that I am able. I am also collaborating with my friends and colleagues to identify further ways that we can speak up and speak out. You can follow this link to learn about ways to get involved.
Perhaps another cause captures your heart and attention. Please consider ways you can support it--either in your own words and actions or as a part of a larger initiative. Do not discount the importance of your contribution. You are needed, just as you are, and in whatever way you feel able. Now is the time to act. Thank you!
Binford, W (2019). “A first-hand report of ‘inhumaine conditions’ at a migrant children’s detention facility,” PBS News Hour. Accessed from the internet on July 14, 2019, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/a-firsthand-report-of-inhumane-conditions-at-a-migrant-childrens-detention-facility?fbclid=IwAR1ptSdWHqFiJ2NrYCsRIpGdlZyimpMRuqmCMQT0A_3Jgbziz__LkGK2WUY
Burnett, J (2019). “How the Trump administration’s ‘Zero tolerance policy’ changed the immigration debate,” NPR. Accessed from the internet on July 1, 2019 at https://www.npr.org/2019/06/20/734496862/how-the-trump-administrations-zero-tolerance-policy-changed-the-immigration-debaDzung, X et al (2019). “Psychologists and pediatricians know that families belong together: A call to action.” Blog post, Union of Concerned Scientists. Accessed from the internet on July 13, 2019, https://blog.ucsusa.org/science-blogger/psychologists-and-pediatricians-know-that-families-belong-together-a-call-to-action?fbclid=IwAR1GIlTKA9Er08SCtKSX8tFkNLZQE5aSZ-m93caHE4yHehPFvyf8Mp5ecWE
Fore, H. (2019). Press Release, “Migrant children in the U.S.lack protection and services needed to ensure their wellbeing,” Unicef. Accessed from the internet on July 21, 2019, https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/migrant-children-us-lack-protection-and-services-needed-ensure-their-wellbeing.
Jervis, R and Gomez, A (2019). “Trump administration has separated hundreds of children from their migrant parents since 2018,” USA Today. Accessed from the internet on July 13, 2019, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/05/02/border-family-separations-trump-administration-border-patrol/3563990002/
Rhodan, M (2018). “Here are the facts about President Trump’s family separation policy,” Time Magazine. Accessed from the internet on July 17, 2019 at https://time.com/5314769/family-separation-policy-donald-trump/.
Sergent, J et al (2019). “Chilling first-hand reports of migrant detention centers highlight smell of ‘urine, feces,’ overcrowded conditions.” USA Today. Accessed from the internet on July 17, 2019, https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/politics/elections/2019/07/16/migrant-detention-centers-described-2019-us-government-accounts/1694638001/
Spagat, E and Galvin, A (2019). “More than 900 children separated from families at U.S.-Mexico border despite judge’s order that the practice be curtailed, ACLU says.” Newspaper article, Chicago Tribune. Access on the internet on August 1, 2019 at: https://www.chicagotribune.com/nation-world/ct-nw-children-separated-mexican-border-20190730-oweu26wvr5eetlgapc6v2sojxu-story.html?fbclid=IwAR2LGsamEE-6xCqCADDSdM623OTt2EUsbm28mccNz_slGpMXxyGWICok9S0
Unnamed chlidren (last updated June 28, 2019). “Statements from kids in detention centers,” Families Belong Together. Accessed from the internet on July 14, 2019, https://www.facebook.com/pg/fams2gether/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2372730559459601
Wan, W (2018). “What separation from parents does to children: ‘The effect is catastrophic.” Washington Post. Accessed from the internet on July 14, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/what-separation-from-parents-does-to-children-the-effect-is-catastrophic/2018/06/18/c00c30ec-732c-11e8-805c-4b67019fcfe4_story.html?fbclid=IwAR0hEEBROtCoZEifCdX0qAcqC-Pj-7WsQvmgSKZN9CG3gBTM6Fu7_-LW4jI&utm_term=.8931e77d4c46
Educating our youth is a calling, one that draws some of the most hard-working and dedicated people around. We enter this field with our eyes wide open that the pay is low and the work hours are long. Most of us also understand that educating our students will take all the love, attention, and energy we can spare. Education is a calling because, despite all these things, we do it anyway.
While educators are incredibly giving towards their students, we don’t treat ourselves with the same level of care. Overwork is a badge of honor that many of us wear proudly. We tend to equate the number of hours we put in as a measure of our (and our peer’s) dedication to our students.
The thing is, this kind of logic just doesn’t make sense. In a job where the physical, mental, and emotional demands are so high, how can we possibly continue to give our all every day if we have not spent time taking care of ourselves? If we imagine our reserves of energy like a bucket, we cannot continue to give from that bucket without refilling it. Many of us, however, empty our buckets and continue pushing forward without taking the time to rest and rejuvenate. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that we are prone to burnout and often leave the profession just a few years after entering it.
It’s time that educators start filling their buckets by embracing self-care and self-compassion. Self-care means caring for oneself. Examples of self-care include getting enough rest, exercise, and healthy foods. Self-compassion means treating oneself with patience, kindness, and understanding. When we practice self-compassion, we use our mistakes as opportunities to soften and be vulnerable. Instead of beating ourselves up, we show ourselves heaps of love.
Dr. Kristin Neff is a self-compassion researcher, author, and professor. According to Neff, developing our self-compassion is important because it is linked to reductions in anxiety, depression, stress, over-thinking, perfectionism, shame, and negative body image (Neff, 2013). Additionally, research conducted by Juliana Breines and Serena Chen (2012) has shown that when we show ourselves compassion after a setback, we are more likely to take action towards improving in the future. In short, self-compassion helps us to feel better, rebound from our challenges, and fuels us to keep going down the path of self-improvement.
So how can you start showing yourself care and compassion right now?
In the end, learning to take better care of ourselves will enable us to continue to do what we love—educating kids! If we don’t, then we will continue to burn ourselves out, and the churn of teacher and leader turnover will maintain the revolving door of people in and out of our students’ lives. Our kids suffer when they experience persistent changes in teachers and teacher quality. Schools cannot maintain strong academic programs if the leadership changes year after year. If we really want to stay in our calling and educate our youth, we must learn to take care of ourselves first. Our students will thank us for it.
Breines, J. & Chen, S. (2012). “Self-compassion increases self-improvement motivation.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 38(9) 1133–1143.
Neff, K. (2013). “Resilience and self-compassion” [lecture]. Empathy and Compassion in Society.Retrieved June 25, 2018, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyjLKgfV7Sk.
We are living in dynamic times. Many of us feel persistent levels of anxiety and anger because of what is happening on a national scale to the rights of women, people of color, low-income communities, those who identify as LGBTQ+, and to the basic tenants of our Constitution. Much of our media and attention are drawn to a leader who uses his platform to spread hate and discord. As a result, since President Trump has taken office, hate crimes have been on the rise, and attacks on one another, our failings and mistakes, can go viral overnight. I believe this is true because many of us are releasing our internal pressure valves by mirroring the same hate that we are being inundated with day in and day out.
Our attention is a form of energy and we have a choice over what we feed, the positive or the negative. Right now, many of us are giving our power over to Trump and his cronies by engaging in the same tactics that they are using. While we may be voicing counter arguments in defense of basic human rights, if we do it with hate and fear, we are still contributing that energy to our collective consciousness.
As we continue to fight for our civil liberties, I believe that we also need to take back control of our personal energy and how we interact with one another. Just as I say to my son when he gets drawn into an argument with a classmate at school, we need to rise above the put downs and not lower ourselves to their level. The Obamas have a family phrase, “When they go low, we go high.” In 2019, it is time to go high.
How can we do that? I believe it starts with basic human kindness and making conscious choices about what we give our attention and energy to. Kindness can be defined as being friendly, generous, and considerate. What does kindness look like? It can be smiling at a colleague or a stranger, truly listening to some one share about their lives, or simply saying hello to the people we pass by at work. It can be anonymous, like the woman in my community who writes positive phrases in chalk all over town. One of those phrases is featured in the header for this article, and every time I read one, my mood is lifted. It can be volunteering our time at a local charity or just being more patient and gentle with ourselves.
The best thing about kindness is that it is free, can be expressed in a way that reflects our personal values, and is scientifically proven to have a positive impact. Research into kindness has shown that it reduces the effects of stress, improves our moods, and boosts our immunity.* Kindness is also contagious. A joint study by Harvard and the University of California San Diego found that kind acts had a ripple effect that reached out to at least three degrees of separation!* This means when we demonstrate kindness, the people we show that kindness to pass it along to those they interact with, and so on.
So, in addition to celebrating love on Valentine’s Day, let’s make February the month of love. Let’s try to find at least one way that we can contribute more love and kindness to the world each day. Let’s bring our focus onto positive and life-affirming things to balance out our attention on national and world events.
For me, this means that I am going to take a 28-day break from complaining and voicing negativity. I am going to do my best to keep my attention on all the things that are going right, and on all that I am grateful for. I am also going to share this positivity outward by posting stories of everyday love and kindness in my social media feeds. Some of these examples affected me deeply, others just made me smile, and I hope they will have a positive impact you too! I truly believe that spreading more love and kindness is a simple and easy way to shift the energy of our whole country, and I hope you’ll join me!
*Science of People (2019). Blog article: Kindness: Six selfish reasons to always be kind to others. Viewed on the internet on January 29, 2019, https://www.scienceofpeople.com/kindness/.
Since the lead up to the 2016 election and for the two years since, we have all been inundated with messages of hate, division, and fear. When our leaders show such callous regard for basic human decency, for honesty and integrity, we cannot be surprised when the rest of the country follows suit. This time in our country (and in the world) can feel frightening and disorienting—like we’re in an Alice in Wonderland kind of alternate reality; where what’s down is up, where what’s wrong is right, and where, what we assumed were common standards for behavior, no longer apply.
Here’s the thing though, when we point fingers, wring our hands, and mock our current leadership, we’re only making things worse. The Obamas have a phrase, “When they go low, we go high.” For them, this means that when their detractors spread lies or discord about them, they rise above it. Rather than defending themselves or attacking back, they keep to the high road of truth and decency.
As a country, it’s time for us all to go high. When we spread mean memes about the President or the Republican leadership, we’re also guilty of sending messages of hate. When we refuse to speak to those who still support this administration, we’re helping to build the wall. Our self-righteous indignation can be just as divisive as their biased views. Our refusal to see the commonalities we share with people whose beliefs differ from our own makes us guilty of the same kind of judgments that are threatening some of our civil liberties.
In this time of so much hate and fear, we need to respond with more empathy and kindness. This is not to say that we should stop voicing our concerns. We must continue to fight to protect the rights of all who live in the United States—to ensure that people from all races, religions, genders, sexual orientations, and countries of origin have equal rights and equitable access to opportunity. I’m not advocating for passivity. I am saying that part of the action we take must include making a conscious effort not to mimic the same hate speech, isolationism, and bias that is being exhibited by many of our leaders.
Van Jones, author, speaker, and CNN commentator does a beautiful job describing what I mean. Check out this clip of a recent speech he gave on empathy. Going high isn't easy—at least not for me. I am angry and frightened, and like a wounded animal, my impulse is to isolate and defend myself. As much as I'd like to stay in my corner and prepare for battle, however, I need to remember that the people I am most upset with share that same impulse. When we attack one another, we become more entrenched and the divide between us widens. To heal our country, we must remember our common humanity and seek to understand one another--to disagree with love and to enter into debate about the issues with curiosity. Energy is catching. While the president and many of our leaders hold sway over the country, we hold sway too. Compassion can spread just as effectively as hate.
Oakland is changing. Rapidly. I suppose that places are always in some state of flux—people move in, raise their children, grow old, and then a new generation of people move in, and the process starts over again. The neighborhood I grew up in, for example, was once filled with kids. We ranged over the streets on our bikes and on foot, playing hide and seek in our neighbors’ yards and dodgeball against the metal door to the reservoir. As we grew up, this same place gave way to empty nesters, some of whom moved away, as my parents did, some stayed. As people left, others took their place. They made changes to the houses and had children of their own, transforming the look and feel of the neighborhood I once called home.
As an educator, I have supported school communities to grapple with even larger-scale changes. Neighborhoods that were primarily one ethnic group transitioning to being mostly another. Areas that were low income slowly becoming more affluent. As I’ve worked in these communities, I’ve felt the tension there. For folks who are seeing their neighborhoods transform before their eyes, there can be confusion, anger, and suspicion. For the new people, the feelings can actually be the same. Unaware that their presence represents a change to what “home” feels like to some of their neighbors, they nonetheless sense the uneasiness and either pull inwards or unapologetically stretch out and take over. In our schools, the result can be a painful clash of interests and needs that challenge even our most talented leaders to navigate.
What’s happening now, however, is unlike anything I have seen before. Oakland seems to be transforming overnight. Some of the changes have been gratifying. It has been wonderful to watch the desolate and blighted downtown area come to life again with art studios and restaurants. I love going to Friday nights at the Oakland Museum to eat dinner from food trucks and watch live music with a cross-section of people. And the Warriors! My Warriors! They’re on fire!
Warrior’s Ground has been in Oakland since the early 1970’s. They've always had a fiercely loyal and passionate fan base, even during the more than forty years when they never won a Championship or even came close. In recent years, our arena has been sponsored by the tech company Oracle. Warriors fans are so passionate that Oracle has been re-dubbed Roaracle—we get loud! We’re known throughout the league as being one of the most intimidating places for visiting teams to play.
I am one such loyal fan. The Warriors have been an integral part of my life since childhood. My dad and I watched the games together, usually from home and with constant interruptions from my sisters who wanted to watch nearly anything else. During a particularly painful period when I was in college, my dad splurged on a pair of floor seats for a game. While he didn’t know how to talk with me about the pain I was in, he knew we could share a special outing to watch Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway, and Latrell Sprewell do their thing. He was right. During the game, I was transported from my troubles and was awed by the sheer size of those men (they are so big up close) and as well as by their style of play.
As a season ticket holder now, I still think about that night every time I go to a game. While my dad has since passed away, I have often imagined the thrill he would get at watching the Warriors of today. Not only because they’ve won three championships in four years, but also because of the character, integrity, and pure sportsmanship of the team we have now.
The Warrior’s resurgence as the premier team in the NBA has coincided with Oakland’s rebirth as a town. The more each has improved, they have drawn increasingly positive attention from outsiders, and new people are streaming in—both into the arena and into our neighborhoods. Everyone wants a piece of the action! The demand has led to changes seemingly everywhere. For example, many parts of Broadway Avenue that were once desolate and empty are being transformed into condos and apartment high rises. Abandoned warehouses are now luxury live-work lofts. And, the Warriors are leaving Oracle to move across the bay to San Francisco and a brand-new arena.
While all of this growth is not a bad thing in concept, the changes are pushing out the people that made Oakland and Roaracle great. Housing prices in Oakland and the Bay Area are staggering, and rents are going up at an alarming rate. So, while Oakland has more housing units than ever before, it also has a critical homeless problem. A recent visit to the Bay Area by the United Nations’ expert on housing identified San Francisco and Oakland as the only two United States cities that are a part of what she calls a ‘global scandal.’ She described our homeless encampments and their lack of access to bathrooms, fresh water, or sanitary conditions as cruel and inhumane.
Here's one of our most significant problems. As Oakland gentrifies, many of the people who have long called Oakland home can no longer afford to live here, but they have lives and jobs firmly attached to this town. For example, I have colleagues in my school district whose livelihoods are tied to a seniority-based salary scale and retirement plan. If they move somewhere else, they’d have to start over and work for lower wages and lose their accrued years towards retirement. This means that while they cannot afford to leave, they also cannot afford to stay. With nowhere else to go, they’ve moved onto the street.
Even for those of us fortunate to still have homes, the changes all around us can at best feel disorienting, at worst, distressing. The movie “Blindspotting” captures the complex range of emotions that many locals feel—Kwikway suddenly serving only vegan food, an Oakland native sharing an Oakland-based tattoo with a millennial newcomer, and so on. The movie artfully demonstrates the issues of race, class, and access to opportunity that polarize our community.
And, my Warriors. Last year, the priority waiting list for season tickets was over 40,000 long. It’s a hot ticket. With the Warrior’s move to San Francisco, ticket prices will be increasing. Season ticket holders must also pay a seat licensing fee that comes with a 30-year commitment. This seat license amounts to an interest-free loan on the part of season ticket holders to the millionaire owners of the Warriors and the arena. The lowest-price license is $4,000 per seat and it goes up much higher from there.
As with other parts of the rapid transformation of the Bay Area, the Warrior's move pushes out people like me whose season tickets are their one luxury that they sacrifice and save for. I get that I am privileged to be able to make such a sacrifice, as is everyone else who has tickets. Nonetheless, the licensing fee and increases in ticket prices will significantly change the look and feel of the fans coming to the new arena. Those of us on the fringe of this luxury will have to bow out while more affluent fans will step in. I don’t begrudge the Warriors getting a new arena, they deserve it! I just wish that it could have been done in a way that allowed for the rich diversity of fans that currently fill the seats to continue. I cannot help but believe that games will feel significantly different next year.
Oakland’s allure is a direct reflection of its history, diversity, and people. As the have’s continue to pour in and squeeze out the have-lesses and have-not’s, Oakland, like the Warrior’s fans, will change. Ironically, these changes will impact the very culture and feel that drew everyone here in the first place. While change is already underway, I have to believe that there is still time to slow down and ensure that everyone can come along for the ride. For example, we can still put in place fair housing and mixed-income housing policies that would allow people of all economic backgrounds to stay. The Warriors can have a scholarship of sorts for long-time season ticket holders who cannot afford the seats but whose devotion to the team has earned them a place in the new arena. The Town can afford it. The owners can afford it. While Oakland and the Warriors can go on without pausing to bring everyone with them, I believe that they will lose a core part of what makes them unique if they do. In a time where our national economy and policies are advantaging the wealthiest among us, it's time for the Bay Area to embrace it's independent and community-centered roots and retain what makes it special--the people.