Mom: We’re all on the same team

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Crunched in a courtside center seat at a sleek sports complex for my 9-year-old son’s first travel basketball game, I feel like the lone crazy person pondering the promise of America while players pound points and pizzas and parents praise progeny.

On my right are the fired-up families of our opponents, teams in this tournament that all happen to come from urban, predominantly African American areas. On my left is the support for my son’s team, composed of mostly private and elite public schoolchildren, almost all white with a bit of diversity sprinkled in.

My son and his teammates benefit from schools for “financially gifted parents,” as I’ve heard us referred to, and I know that even if they don’t make it to the NBA their educational opportunities will likely create a runway to help them soar. I wonder from the vigor and passion of our opponents whether more may rest on the outcome of these games for them. 

Six months ago I wrote a column in The Ann that contributed to opening conversations, curiosity, connections and childhood reflections about racial dynamics in the Ann Arbor area. My call to action was spurred by maternal instincts. I felt compelled to learn where I might otherwise have chosen to stay in my comfort zone. I found myself lingering in spaces, books and movies where I could learn more about why things are the way they are, rehashing the sometimes hellish history faced by many Americans around me and considering the present-day repercussions. These days I can feel the hurt of every child facing a steeper climb and wish to hug and hoist her up.

Since the column was published my children’s school principal opened a dialogue about inclusion and diversity; I joined 18 devoted teachers and parents on a brisk Saturday morning to help him outline a plan to create an even more compassionate environment for everyone. I believe leaders like him make a tremendous difference in communities, but we all need to do our part and I wonder what mine is.

A neighbor sadly shared a story of inviting a kindergartner from a different socioeconomic group at her daughter’s school for a playdate, and the child’s mother finally confessing that she had said no because she didn’t have gas money to drive across town. It jolted me back to the casual conversation I overheard on a city playground a year ago, where a mother justified to a friend that “We’ve tried to invite them but they just don’t show up,” talking about kids from different backgrounds not coming to her daughter’s birthday parties. I now wonder if some of the invitees were single mothers working midnight shifts and too embarrassed to say so, or perhaps couldn’t afford a birthday gift. We should all watch the PBS film “American Promise”; it helps explain some of what we typically write off as a lack of interest.

There are renowned race and anthropology experts among us. I am not among them. I am, however, as each of us is, a human being with many forms – spouse, parent, professional, community member – and I wonder what we would wish for if we paused on the playground or court to really see someone for the entirety of who they are and where they rose from.

I envision sports scenarios where families, even those from non-similar neighborhoods, parade across the court and embrace and make eye contact with each other, maybe even sharing a pizza. Maybe that’s the new American Promise.

Anuja Rajendra

The author, Anuja Rajendra, is the mother of two sons. A U-M grad, she’s lived in Ann Arbor for 16 years. She’s the founder and CEO of BollyFit.