A few days after the election I was still in shock. I tried to stay away from the news, social media, anything that would remind me of the reality that what happened on November the 8th wasn’t a dream. Like most folks, I was going through the stages of grief, spinning my wheels in denial. Almost 2 weeks later, I’ve finally moved into acceptance, ready to move forward.
The evening of the election my wife and I let the girls stay up with us to watch some of the early election returns. We even videotaped some of their thoughts and reactions, hoping that this would be a historic night that one day they would want to look back on. My oldest, Riley spoke about her excitement of the first woman president. My middle daughter, Olivia (always the wild card) wanted Donald Duck to win (her words, not mine). We spoke of the importance of elections, the pride of democracy and the responsibility of citizens to participate. It was an awesome teaching moment. By the time we put them to bed around 9, we still no idea how much of a teaching moment this election night would become.
I stayed up until well past midnight, long enough for it become clear to me that Donald Trump would indeed become our nation’s next president. Waking up the next morning, I was saddened, mainly because I knew the girls would want to know how the election turned out. Here goes the first of many teachable moments from election night. Things don’t always work out the way we hope or expect. Delivering the news, my wife and I were straightforward with the girls. We simply told them that Donald Trump would be our next president. Then, later after breakfast as the girls got their book bags and headed to school, we recited the daily motto that I tell them every single day: remember that you are leaders, and leaders make good choices.
A friend later asked us, what do you say to you kids about what happened? I simply told them the news, and reaffirmed what we’ve been saying to them all along: you are leaders, and leaders make good choices. We’ve been fortunate to have a president the past 8 years that we feel like models this value of ours, but the truth of the matter is that we can’t rely on others to affirm the values we teach at home. A big part of our family’s motto is that at some point in your life, you’ll be confronted with choices. How we respond determines our leadership. Nothing changes for the girls, our expectations of them and what they’ll accomplish is still in tact. If anything, this past election was a reminder for all of us that we need to remain vigilant about raising the next generation of leaders.
Speaking of which, coming out of the past week there were numerous opportunities for me to model this connection to leadership for the girls. A few days after the election night, as protests were erupting across the country, we celebrated veterans day. I come from a family with a long line of military service, as do many African Americans. We’ve always risen to defend and protect the freedoms that often, we were barred from participating in, because we believe in the future of our country.
So, in the heat of the tension, I had an excellent opportunity to model something small, but important for the girls. We were at the grocery store on a different side of town (read between the lines there) and I’m standing in line behind an older white gentlemen wearing a retired navy cap, American flag gear, and overalls. Given the side of town I’m on (for those who know GA, there’s metro Atlanta, and then there’s the conservative state of Georgia that surrounds ATL), I begin to make some assumptions. It’s natural, it’s what we do as people. What matters most though is what we do next with those assumptions- do we challenge them directly or do we allow those assumptions to dominate our interactions with others?
I turn around and ask the gentlemen, “excuse me sir, were you in the military?” He seemed a bit surprised, but then breaks out in a broad grin, “yes I was, retired navy!” I stretch out my hand and thank him for his service to our country and extend a happy veterans day congratulations. We exchange a few more pleasantries before I thanked him again and headed on my way. This small moment, for me just days after the election where in my mind I’m still pondering how do we move forward in such a divided country hopefully left a mark on my girls.
You never know what does leave a mark, all you can do is model the type of leadership you expect, and give them the tools and opportunities to practice on their own. My hope for that small moment is that the girls saw their father, despite his own fears and concerns for what the future may hold, reach across the aisle and defy a few stereotypes of his own to establish a bridge to the other side. Because that’s really what leaders do, they make good choices.