Last week, I had the pleasure of participating in the 2017 Transformational Leadership Forum hosted by the Georgetown University National Center for Cultural Competency (NCCC). I was not only honored to have had the opportunity to learn from highly skilled cultural competency trainers, but the icing on the cake has been to now be invited to participate in DC team’s Community of Practice on Cultural and Linguistic Competence in Developmental Disabilities (CoP), led by partners in the DC Department on Disability Services and involves other collaborators within DC government and in non-governmental agencies. There was so much useful content presented in this two-day forum and I left in deep reflection about what aspects of my culture inform my parenting style as well as my approach to disabilities advocacy.
The forum began with us sharing our culture. And without setting any parameters as to what constitutes “culture”, it offered us an opportunity to share a vast array of things that we identified as self-representative. I chose to present a Taos hand drum, gifted to me during my two-year sojourn to Santa Fe, New Mexico. While I am proudly West African (Igbo, to be specific), I have always felt a connection to indigenous cultures in the Americas and have been fascinated by the similarities in values and ceremonies with indigenous Africans. One shared value that I cherish is the importance of birthing and naming ceremonies, of which drumming is a big part of these forms of celebration. In the case of Igbo culture, naming a child is of the most important actions taken in early life. One earns their names eight (8) days after birth, and there are many participating elders that help new parents with this aspect of tradition through prayer, libations and, of course, music.
The Igbo believe that each person is born with a chi, or god-self, and to honor this chi, the child is studied by an elder while in the womb. At birth, the names are revealed with the first name embodying the essence of his or her chi, which is lifelong guardian angel-like energy. While there are variations of the naming ceremony within in Igbo culture and acorss different African ethnic groups, in my case I was named Chioma (which means “fortunate”) by my grandfather. By the traditions offered by the ancient Igbo, my chi having oma or goodness, would suggest that my life’s path is paved with chance encounters and opportunities that are commonly associated with “luck”. And truly, I have been lucky in ways that have surprised me. With every misfortune faced, I have been witness to the many blessings that seem to come at the strangest, most needed times. This sort of chance luck is what took me to New Mexico in the first place (a story for another day) and continues on even now, as I work with other families and concerned community members to build the Inclusive Prosperity Coalition.
While it’s not been an easy year in efforts to build our Coalition and win active participation from our families, whose hands are already so full with organizing care and support for our children. Nonetheless, we have bore witness to two great victories in terms of improving DC Child Find the short time of our existence: 1) the ruling in the D.L. v. District of Columbia case, championed by a great and capable legal team of Terris, Pravlik & Millian, LLP that are affiliated with our coalition; and 2) The Committee on Education of DC City Council, chaired by Councilmember David Grosso, who recently released a letter to Chancellor of DC Public Schools Antwan Wilson inquiring around the potential detrimental changes that Early Stages, a key agency responsible for identifying children with developmental disabilities and delays in the District of Columbia.
Besides the belief that we as a Coalition will be victorious, given what I already know about my chi, I am also greatly motivated by the love of the children. With consideration that my primary responsibility is to my own children, I am also in reflection on how to reduce my stress levels so I can better provide the emotional support in these early and formative years of life. Culturally speaking, my family and the many other Igbo families I grew up with, operate with the philosophy that children should be seen and not heard. The age-grade system that we practice tends to limit access and power in the family and community based on age.
Having non-typically developing children with delayed speech development, sensory processing issues that result in mal-adaptive behaviors, I am constantly judged as a parent for not controlling my children. And while I’m strong enough in character and grounded enough in another revered cultural value of nneka, (which means “mother is supreme”), I use all leverage as holding the revered title of mother, or nne, to shut down these sorts of attacks. However, I am less successful in creating a support system of emotionally available caretakers for my children in the times I have to be out of the home at work and in the community supporting other families. It’s a hard balance to achieve and isolation is a real threat to achieving quality of life for many children with disabilities and their families, mine is no exception.
Part two of this blog post will look at the research I’ve discovered that supports the need for greater attention to getting the tools to reduce stress as a parent and to develop a support system of other non-stressed and emotionally present caretakers.