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‘Thank you for supporting this book because this is my life and I have experienced these things’

The Rev. Dr. Michael W. Waters, author of an acclaimed children’s book published by Flyaway Books, discusses how to support and protect children during dangerous times

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Michael W. Waters (photo courtesy of Michael W. Waters)

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Dr. Michael W. Waters, who wrote the award-winningFor Beautiful Black Boys Who Believe in a Better World,” published last year by Flyaway Books, brought a pair of show-and-tell items to punctuate his hour-long talk Thursday evening at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Waters held up a Ku Klux Klan hood, telling the crowd he’s “one of the few Black people who owns an authentic Klan hood.”

And he brought along his 15-year-old son, Jeremiah, the star of the book, who spoke briefly following his father’s talk.

Waters called his presentation “Empowering Children Through Story Amid Social Crisis.” He launched his talk, which was originally scheduled for a year ago but postponed because of the pandemic, by displaying a slide of Breonna Taylor’s image and asking the crowd to say her name three times. “I have to center myself by acknowledging the space,” said Waters, who lives in Dallas, where he pastors the Abundant Life AME Church. “It’s impossible to come all the way to Louisville without calling her name.”

Waters called his book, which was illustrated by Keisha Morris and includes a discussion and activity guide for parents and teachers written by staff at the Muhammad Ali Center, “intentional in its lifting up of Black boys.” The title itself is “affirming,” he said, displaying a number of photos showing how the book is being engaged by a variety of children, their parents and caregivers as well as by educators.

“It has not been limited to young Black boys,” Waters said. “The human family is having conversations about racial violence.”

An activist as well as an author, speaker and pastor, Waters called justice “a contract sport. You have to be engaged.”

Our children certainly are, he said, although sometimes not by choice. Among many other atrocities, many witnessed what Waters called “the public lynching of George Floyd.” In fact, members of Floyd’s family were in the audience Thursday. One member stood following Waters’ talk to thank him for his “outstanding delivery.”

“It’s incumbent on all of us to continue to tell the story,” Waters responded. “George Floyd has been that energy, that fire that has lit a movement. We will grow only if we keep that commitment to change burning in our hearts.”

He said his young daughter watched news accounts of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and asked her parents, “Is this a movie?”

Their children have also asked why Ahmaud Arbery was killed while jogging. “What did he do wrong?” they ask their parents. “It has to be more than jogging,” Waters said. “No one should lose their life for a recreational run.”

“There’s nothing [parents and caregivers] desire more than to ensure they can provide safety for their child,” Waters said. “What happens when you’re not so sure about that anymore? Parents across the nation have that sense of inability to protect their children.”

Over the weekend, Waters signed copies of his books at Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Kerri Daly)

Waters quoted the novelist James Baldwin, who famously debated commentator William F. Buckley in 1965: “You are 30 by now and nothing you have done has helped to escape the trap,” Baldwin said. “But what is worse than that is that nothing you have done, and as far as you can tell, nothing you can do, will save your son or your daughter from meeting the same disaster and not impossibly coming to the same end.”

“This may seem nihilistic, but there are limitations to what we can protect our children from experiencing,” Waters said. The goal, he said, is to give children “the tools to navigate and the courage to be part of the necessary change.”

What can we do as trusted adults? “I believe in the power of story,” Waters said. “Story borders on the existential. It helps us to ascribe meaning in the world, shapes our identities and often serves as the repository of our values.”

Waters espouses a model that can be remembered by the acronym CARE:

  • Communication is a key. After police killed a 15-year-old boy in Dallas, Jeremiah told his parents, “We need to talk. I’m tired of people hating each other and killing each other because they’re different. What can we do about it?” “That’s why I wrote the book,” Waters said, suggesting that adults and the children they love and care for not wait “for the next tragedy. Now is the time to be intentional and honest … Young people are experiencing things in real time.”
  • Actions can include taking children to rallies, demonstrations and marches. “Allow them to come with you when you vote,” Waters suggested. “If they are old enough to experience racism, they are old enough to see those standing up to it.”
  • Read books together “that speak not only of struggle but of those who have and continue to courageously resist,” Waters said.
  • Expose children to historic sites and museums to discuss with them the work that’s being done there.

“I do believe story can be an essential tool to create a better world,” Waters said. “But it’s hard for us to tell a story that we ourselves are not listening to. We have to open our eyes to what it’s going to take to bring about change.”

After he was done speaking, Waters handed the microphone to his son to offer up any closing remarks he might have.

“Thank you for supporting this book,” Jeremiah said, “because this is my life and I have experienced these things.”

The Rev. Dr. Michael Waters is scheduled to speak at 2 p.m. Eastern Time Saturday at Carmichael’s Bookstore, 2720 Frankfurt Ave. in Louisville. He’ll be reading from and discussing his most recent children’s book, “Liberty’s Civil Rights Road Trip,” also published by Flyaway Books. Nicole Tadgell provided the book’s illustrations. Learn more about the event here.


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