Five Lessons Black Boys Can Also Learn from the Indomitable Bree Newsome

by Ryane Nicole Granados

I typically don’t allow my young sons to amass large amounts of conventional media. Raising them in sunny California, surrounded by likeminded families while carpooling to our local constructivist charter school also helps in my efforts to protect their developing mental skies. As a result, it shocked my 7-year old when I told him to sit down and watch the news with me. The story I wanted him to see was the story of a heroic woman named Bree Newsome. I made it a point to let him soak up as many images as possible of a valiant Ms. Newsome scaling the flagpole at the South Carolina statehouse and taking down the confederate flag. “She looks like a soldier Mommy, but why is she taking it down? I responded, as I often do, with an eager, “Good question, son.” Usually this retort is met with slumped shoulders and a child sinking deeper into his seat. He knows an unsolicited educational lesson is about to commence. This time, however, my “Good question, son” was met with wide-eyed enthusiasm. While she is undoubtedly an icon for little black girls worldwide, below are five things my sons and other little boys can also learn from Bree Newsome!

Lesson #1: They matter.

That someone would climb a flagpole to remove a symbol of hate and racism shows how much children matter. This flag, which I had to sadly explain away on one of our many family road trips, was directly tied to the South’s Confederate history, which was directly connected to a deep-seated desire to uphold slavery! All children today deserve to cast their eyes upward and see nothing but open sky and endless opportunities. Relics of racism and failed wars have no place blowing in an American breeze. Like a modern-day Rosa Parks, Bree Newsome was quoted explaining: “My prayers are with the poor, the afflicted, and the oppressed everywhere in the world, as Christ instructs. If this act of disobedience can also serve as a symbol to other peoples’ struggles against oppression or as a symbol of victory over fear and hate, then I know all the more that I did the right thing.” Bree Newsome took the flag down because we are free and we matter.

Lesson #2: To change the future, you must acknowledge the past.

Those who believe slavery was not a central component of the Civil War should read the documents from South Carolina—the first state to secede—as well as Georgia, Texas, and the other Southern states, all claiming that ending slavery would be a risk to their economy, and thus was a reason for secession. It does not require extensive reading or even reading between the lines to understand that the words of those who bore and created this flag were words of hate and supremacy. It is for this reason that contemporary hate groups adorn this flag with celebratory pride. It is for this reason that my parental responsibility calls for me to extend the history lessons beyond the schoolhouse walls and into my very own home. In order to truly fashion a better future, we have to acknowledge the pitfalls of the past.

Lesson #3: Sometimes, in life, you have to take a stand.

One of the many trials of parenthood is teaching your children which battles to fight and which ones they should toss to the side. Refereeing fights about who did what to whom and dissecting end of the day grade school drama also requires a keen ability to help children discern where to plant their flag. Every action doesn’t require a reaction, but sometimes in life you have to take a stand. The term “civil disobedience,” coined by Henry David Thoreau and embodied by the life and work of Martin Luther King, sheds light on the courageous freedom fight of Bree Newsome and her fellow non-violent direct action compatriots. On a much smaller scale, I am reminded of the day my son came home with an expectation sheet in school for “unsafe behavior.” While one teacher felt it imperative that he be reminded of the school rules—a reminder of which I wholly support—another teacher proudly exclaimed to me that my son ran across the yard and retrieved a ball from a peer who had repeatedly taken it away from a fellow classmate with cognitive differences. The teacher went on to explain that she was headed in the direction to address the matter, but my son had gotten there first. It seems, on that particular day, my son was tired of witnessing the ongoing bullying of a friend. I can attest to how tired some of my fellow American friends, especially those living in South Carolina, have been feeling. While we should always be confident in where we plant our flag, sometimes we must also have the courage to take a flag down.

Lesson #4: You can’t be ruled by fear.

In a helmet and using a climbing harness, Bree Newsome took down the Confederate flag. On her way down she could be heard quoting Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation -- whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life -- of whom shall I be afraid?'" She was also later quoted saying: “I refuse to be ruled by fear. How can America be free and be ruled by fear? How can anyone be?” This is the heart of the Confederate flag lesson. On the Sunday following Newsome’s heroism I was flying back into town. In between TSA checks and airplane modes, my phone was flooded with glorious images of Bree Newsome. My excitement at what the world got to witness was bubbling over with every new post. Because of my travels, I also didn’t get to take my children to church that Sunday. Nonetheless, as we later watched a woman my son has now come to affectionately refer to as Super Bree, we got a sermon and a civil rights lesson all rolled into one. The book of Psalms took flight across Columbia, South Carolina. The book of James soon followed for James 2:17 reminds us: “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Our good works, bolstered by faith, shall never be overruled by fear.

Lesson #5: Women Are superheroes.

In a house where dramatic play often includes action figures and superheroes, this particular Bree Newsome lesson was perfect for my son’s artistic wheelhouse. Superheroes maintain a strong moral code and they are often willing to risk safety to oneself in the service of helping others. By that description, Ms. Newsome steps boldly into the limelight of the many female heroes who came before her. My son knows of Wonder Woman and the Black Widow, yet after this successful flag removal mission, he’s inspired to learn of Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Angela Davis, Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Chisholm, and the countless other women warriors on the front lines of humanitarian causes. Then and now, women have soldiered in the battle of good versus evil and they have climbed to new heights of freedom in their bold attempts to save the world.

With these five intentional lessons, I can proudly boast, “I did it!” I captivated my son’s fleeting attention and he punctuated the exchange with yet another perfect sentence: “Mommy, next time we play superheroes, do you want to be Bree Newsome?”

“Good question, son! Good question! What a beautiful, brilliant, hope-filled question!”

A version of this piece originally appeared on Role Reboot.

Photo: Adam Anderson / Reuters 

Ryane Nicole Granados is a Los Angeles native, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University. Her work has been featured in various publications including Dirty Chai, Gravel, Role Reboot, For Harriet, The Manifest-Station, Mutha Magazine, and most recently in Specter Magazine. Additionally, she teaches English at Golden West College and has authored a student success manual titled Tips from an Unlikely Valedictorian.

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