The crazier this country gets, the more I think about the values and lessons my parents taught me and my brothers.
First and foremost in our household was the Golden Rule — “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is something I will never forget. My father talked about it often and it sticks with me to this day. Living by this makes you think twice about your words and your actions. I see it sometimes as simple as saying hello to people when you see them. I notice people easily bury their heads in whatever they are doing or thinking and can easily walk by without speaking. I see it daily in my work and travels. Take time to acknowledge others, at the very least. It might be the last time you lay eyes on them.
My parents were sticklers about exposing us to new things and including others. To this day, I see it as one of the most valuable gifts my parents gave me. They exposed me early on to a childhood filled with people from all walks of life. We shared dinners with a Polish family in Aberdeen regularly. The Kawatchi family from Hawaii visited and stayed with us on many occasions. My parents threw a wedding for their Haitian friends.
There were many, many interactions with people outside of my Northwest Baltimore home. I went to school with blacks, whites, Asians, those who had money and those who didn’t as well as those from all faiths. We also spent time with relatives in Baltimore’s inner city.
With my own children, I wanted and was able to make sure they knew everyone didn’t have a safe, clean and easy place to live. We went to church in the heart of West Baltimore where we volunteered and spent time. It wasn’t for them to feel more fortunate — simply, I liked the church — but to see that everyone has different circumstances and their circumstances don’t dictate who they are and what they become.
To see and understand how others live, worship, love, work and struggle instills empathy. Empathy is something many lack these days. It’s one thing to protect your children — and another to shelter and hide them. I was shocked when some of my school mates in college told me in 1982 that I was the first black person they ever met, or that they thought all black people lived like TV’s Cosby family.
As parents, it’s our duty to give our children the tools to live in an ever-changing world with all people. Exposing them to that is one of the greatest gifts.