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HEADS UP, SEVEN UP

Sheree Renée Thomas

Our children, sacred seeds planted upon the rich, beautiful earth, came to us before the spin of human fires, before the great dreaming that uncurled and grew out of itself. Precious and present around the world, the sleeping dreams of Black children rise through the night. They cross the big waters of consciousness, time, and space to awaken, bursting with hope and energy to enter the bright new day.

A child’s joy is as natural as breathing, but what does it mean to be a Black child today in a world that doesn’t see you? One that does not view your joy, your nature as that of a child, as human, as a being full of life, one who is worthy of dignity, love, shelter, sustenance, a future?

With the relentless televised images of Black children treated by those who should protect them as everything but treasured, as everything but precious, I marvel at how little regard is given to the lasting invisible scars our children might carry into whatever days are promised them. I am reminded how much of who we are is shaped by who we once were, by what our families, communities, and societies tell us who and what we are and can be.

How often does our world see the joy and play, the immense imagination, creativity, strength, innocence, vulnerability, or resilience that can be found in the hearts, minds, limbs, and eyes of the young people who are the heartbeat and blood of our families, our communities?

Whether boy, girl, nonbinary, or beyond, our children and young people must travel a sometimes treacherous path toward wholeness, a space that must continue to be fiercely guarded from those who might make a mockery of their inherent beauty, brilliance, and innocence.

It can be challenging to maintain that natural gift of confidence, curiosity, and courage that is so necessary when young ones blossom to become their very best, full selves. How do we protect our children as they join the circle of adulthood, self-determination, and agency?

As I reread the following stories crafted by gifted writers, I am reminded that the fact that we still exist is a blessing and a miracle, even when the world has marshalled tremendous resources against us, destructive forces that would make others extinct. Each of these stories moved me in unique ways, some with laughter, some with pain and anger, others with hope and wonder. Penned by writers who have all travailed the tempestuous road through their own childhoods to adulthood, each story explores and reveals a different aspect of what it means to be a child and how the experiences of our youth can impact and linger with us, even into our adulthood, sometimes for the rest of our days.

“Cassius” by Alex Jennings reminds us of the haunting nature of coming-of-age, how some experiences in our childhood, whether love or trauma, can haunt us indefinitely. “Your Name” by Stefani Cox evokes the liminal spaces that inhabit our imaginations, the other selves that tie and bind us to hard truths we may not wish to know. She reminds us what it means to navigate adolescence and its bewildering, shifting spaces as we struggle to identify where we fit and where we don’t. In her story, the boundaries between a young girl’s inner world and the world beyond are blurred as she finds a way to express the full range of her true emotional self. Like improvisational jazz, sharp and somber, the “Kroger Cart” of C. Liegh McInnis offers a sobering bird’s-eye view of a child shuttled between the absences and a grandfather shouldering the burden alone. “On the Red Line” writer Jarohn Johnson shows how sometimes we are most seen amongst strangers and chosen family, how the inflexible ways family envision their children can keep them from clearly seeing themselves. In “Stars Over Mississippi,” Kristina Kay Robinson honors the voice and vision of a young one, an old soul, wise and observant. She reminds us so skillfully that children often see the world in bold relief, and they have insights and opinions that are uniquely their own. In “Black Girl Magic,” Chinonye Omeirondi takes the popular anthem and remakes it in her own creative image. She skillfully examines how external beauty aesthetics can be internalized and weaponized against us but also shows what can be saved through a mother’s love. Brianna Johnson’s story, “Baby Boy,” asks us hard questions that do not offer the most satisfying answers. When does a mother stop mothering; where does a mother stop and the child begin? Do we hold onto the links that bonded us in the womb beyond our being? This work challenges us to think and consider: Is true motherhood in the eye of the beholder? The generous, loving gaze of artists Candace Hunter, Kimberly M. Harmon, and Andrea Walls (in the Visual Art section of this issue) is an inspiring answer, reminding us to see the world through the eyes of children and to always seek the beauty in each other, the beauty in ourselves.

As you read, ask yourself who will stand for the inherent innocence of our children, all of our children? Who will help erase the cruel boundaries and systems designed to harm, the calculated policies that circumscribe lives and burden young minds with memory? Who will interrupt the embedded patterns of injustice that no longer protect but present our children as criminalized, captured bodies to be fed for profit and malice as fuel for federal, state, and local prisons? As fodder for wars and the expendable essentials? I hope these stories complicate what it might mean to be a Black child living in a world that every day seems to want to remove you from it. I hope it reminds us how vital it is to support and amplify the work of those who continue to advocate for our young people, wherever they are, across eras and regions, and that you will embrace trying to rise from sleep, full of dreams to seek a new kind of light to thrive in.

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