FWD – Fundraising While Black – Survival Tips

What we internalize, and how we respond and engage, very much reflects our lived or learned experiences, or the fabric and dynamics of the society(ies) in which we operate, and shape our social interactions and belonging.

Over the weekend, during one of our family activities I had a piercing experience of Fundraising While Black (FWB). I am not claiming the experience of FWB is uniform to all Black folks, but the visibility of color, race, Blackness, is the ‘sad’ reality, of living in America.

Particularly, as a Black person in America, even a simple act of hanging “Scouts Popcorn Fundraisers” door-to-door in Popcorn Door Hangerpredominantly White suburbia neighborhood, can be quite traumatizing! Don’t be turned off, I am not gonna badmouth my neighbors as nasty, racist and mean-spirited; I do not know plenty of them to opine about their sentiments toward me. Perhaps, that is a problem, on its own.

The ones I have met and interacted with, are a mixed bag. Some, are really good people, who I have meet while dropping off or picking up our children from the bus stop, or while walking in the neighborhood, with their dogs, at the mailbox or enjoying the outdoors. They have stopped to say hello, and we have engaged in extended conversations. Others have seen me running on snow, sleet, rain, humid, pollen days, and let me know they were in awe of me!

Friends in my neighborhood have also introduced me to friends. Engaging in community activities has also broadened my social network, like Valentine’s Day celebration at my immediate neighbor’s, Child of Mine’s “Kids Patrols Laurel Lake CleanUp” on Earth Day, or Halloween “Trick-Or-Treat”, or selling icy’s with my child’s cousins this summer.

But there are also neighbors who don’t give a rat ass whether I exist here or on planet. Some won’t respond when I give them a, “Hi” or smile. Others will not control their dogs charging at me, while running on the streets past their house. Sometimes, the dogs unexpectedly run after me, before their owners reluctantly call them back. But the Oscar for “worst neighbor” goes to an old man we met this past summer, while chaperoning child and his cousins to sell Icy’s in the neighborhood.

One of our immediate neighbors, who we had never met, accused us of “importing immigrants from abroad to live in America on his tax revenue, then sending them to NYC for school.”I tried to explain to them that, “No, those are Child’s cousins, who come over from New York to visit.” Instead, threatened to call the police on us, to investigate us, and spelled out his Penn Law degree credentials. I apologized for knocking at his door, gathered my entourage and left his home immediately. But Child was already and sobbing, terribly traumatized by the mean nasty old man threatening us. He has since vowed never to walk by his house again…[except, the times he did not seem to recognize the house each time, we have passed by].

Anyway, back to FWD. This weekend, we decided to step-up our Cub Scout Popcorn sale to “Support Our Troops”, with only a week left. We went around hanging flyers on doors in our neighborhood, avoiding to knock at doors, unless we personally knew the occupant(s). We felt safe to put the Door Hangers with information about our fundraiser, name of Cub Scout, contact phone number and email address.

Still, it was quite a scary exercise, entering people’s yards and walking up to their doors. Even if the inside door was opened, we simply hang the flyer and left, unless the owner saw us and came up to speak with us. We literally crept away from the door, and out of their yards, ensuring we were not visible. We caught a couple of prying eyes peeping through windows; some open the doors, others did not come out.

Moreover, because we are black, I made sure we took extra caution. I gave Child extra ‘warnings/instructions’ and “Do Not List”:

  1. Do not wear your hood on your head, or you might look like Trayvonn Martin.
  2. Do not run to and away from the door, or you might be mistaken for a thug and trespassing. 
  3. Do not look through people’s houses or windows, but stand in front of the door, or someone could shoot you for peeping.

Yes, he is just a 7 year old. But, this is Our America!

I know he does not understand right now all these “Don’ts”, but he will understand when he grows up. When his innocence, as another school, community and neighborhood kid and friend, is stolen from him, because of the color of his skin relative to his society. No doubt, some people are already judging him, from the little they see and know of him, by the way he speaks, the way he walks, the way he carries himself.

At seven years of age, this Black Child of Mine has the responsibility to carry himself to “Societal expectations”. I should not appear scared or scary, or he might look suspicious.

Once, shortly after his fifth birthday, someone close to him told him, “Don’t shoot me; we have to learn to live together,” because he said he did not like her [in reality, he was not yet comfortable with her].

I told him people could shoot anyone caught peeping through their windows or trespassing on their yards, and would not go to jail because they can say they were defending themselves. More over, chances are higher, if you are Black; there is not much safeguard to hide behind, not even for a Cub Scout.

How I wish we could raise money standing by the streets! But that has not been practical nor fruitful in a neighborhood without sidewalks. Maybe, if we were in the city or in a more familial environment, like Uganda, less traumatizing about standing out or more optimistic about friendlier reception. Somewhere I would feel I have the Right to Belong, where I could just knock at the door, with my child, without the politics of race, color laden in my head. That’s all I wish.

Throughout all my years of fundraising, I keep learning new lessons about “identity formation” or “identity contestation”. Who I am, in the particular society, who knows or does not know me, and how that shapes their engagement with me. This time, I am learned first hand, the burdens and responsibility of FWB – Fundraising While Black!

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The Joys and Pangs of Being a Single Parent and Black…..

Time and again, reality check strikes me that I am Black and a single parent, in a sea of Whites and Marrieds. I have felt both the joys, and pangs of being Black or a single parent, even when I am the ‘token’ in the group. It happens where I reside, in my travels, social engagements and networks, and at community events.

Not that I am blaming anybody for my “black-single parent status”; it is the story of my life! Particularly now that I am a parent of a child – a single parent. That reality set in during the recent Child of Mine (COM)’s Cub Scout Pack #85 2015 Annual Weekend Camping at Knoebels Amusement Resort and Campground in Elysburg, PA.

I love social living, I love involving my child in social activities, taking him places and engaging him in educational experiences. Joining the Cub Scout was my way of introducing him to civic responsibility and good citizenship at a young age. Moreover, as a woman and a single parent, I cannot give him all the lessons on “Becoming a Man”; so I need the help that the Boy Scouts of America can provide him. Plus, as the only child, he benefits greatly from broadening his social networks, meeting new friends and interacting with little boys his age. Plus, mommy gets a break from being the “sole playmate”.

In most cases, I do not let “being the only black family or single parent” keep us away from partaking of the many fun activities Pack#85 organizes. I take him to as many activities that his Cub Scout Pack organizes, hiking, Day Camp, baseball games, Veterans Day and Flag Day celebrations, and most recently, the annual Pack Weekend Camping Trip. I am very aware of my single parenthood at most of his Pack events, where I am visibly the only single parent. Most non-custodial parents of other cubs show up to Pack meetings, and not many single parents participate in Pack outings. At least at Pack meetings, I do not stand out alone because there are usually two or three Black families in addition to us.

This past weekend Camping at Knoebels was an “In Your Face, You’re Black Moment”. Walking through campsites to the bathroom, that strange feeling of “Blackness in a sea of Whiteness” engulfed me. I wondered whether anybody was looking over their shoulder seeing me going through their campsite. While I love to wear my hood sometimes, I could not risk being mistaken for a “dangerous trespasser” and getting shot at in “self-defense”. The simple things others may take for granted, I was self-aware and highly cautious.

Because I barely saw any full Black families on campground. The ones I saw had white spouses and mixed race children. In a sea of whiteness I wondered, where are all the Black people that love to do “white people stuff” – Don’t say you have not heard that saying before, that “Black people don’t hike, don’t camp, don’t do crazy adventures.” I wondered, is it really true? I bet there were some Black families, but there are over 500 campsites, and I was only exposed to a small section.

In my camping group, I was the only single parent among seven other families, in addition to being the only black family I saw on ground. Don’t get me wrong, I have my joys of being a single parent – that I can make decisions without the encumbrance of a disagreeing non-supportive other parent, in my case. But there are also pangs of single parenting, especially the absence of an extra helpful hand, a male figure for this male COM, or a companion for myself. I am always making these lonesome trips and activities with COM.

The pangs of single parenthood struck me for a minute over Scout Camping Weekend, among couples and their children. While I was solely responsible for COM – preparing him meals, making the bed, taking him to shower and bathroom and taking him onto weekend entertainment, none of the other parents! I watched with longing the unspoken/automated division of responsibilities between husband and wife or father and mother, as well as the children.

Time for dinner or breakfast, the women/wives/mothers in our group dived into the kitchen, prepared pancakes, eggs, sausage, toast, and all for their families/husbands/fathers of their children. Time to erect or put down tents, the men, unquestioningly took on their responsibilities like pros, ensuring everyone had a place to sleep. Yours truly benefited from the Camp organizers’ teenage son, a Boy Scout, who offered to erect and bring down our tent. Fathers and sons also worked together to carry the heavy stuff and stepped up as men should.

Note to self: Don’t believe the “equality hype” western white feminists preached, that men and women in marital relations equally share family and household chores. Equality is not Sameness. True, fathers and husbands have stepped up from the days when they did not babysit. However, the gendered division of labor still exists, even here in America, my America.

Men are still the predominant breadwinners, and women nurture the children and take care of the household [expectedly]. Husbands do the heavy lifting, repairs and chores around the house, women produce the food out of the kitchen, feed the children, put them to sleep, prepare them for school, attend PTO meetings and chauffeur them from school to after-school programs.

Before you start claiming such couples are ’traditionalist in their marital relations’, without [advanced] formal education, plenty of the women I know, as mothers and wives, have graduate degrees. They simply quit working away from their homes, or quit paid work all together to focus on running their families and homes. Such decisions are as much a luxury, as they are a sacrifice, for the best interests of their children. After all, employers are not making it so attractive for mothers to stay at work and ably raise their young children, without offering great benefits packages for maternity leave, vacation, personal days off, child care or health insurance packages.

The kind of security and harmonious relationship I watch among Cub Scout couples gives me a kind of nostalgia for finding a good committed relationship for myself, which may not necessarily lead to marriage. I am not saying this kind of harmonious, secure relationship is only found among white couples; I am simply citing the white couples who predominate my Cub Scout’s Pack. It feels good to see couples providing unconditional and unsolicited support to each other, in the traditional way. In such moments, it is hard being the strong Black woman and single parents I have to be each day. I just wish to be loved and pampered. But the work continues!