to keep our children safe

February 15th, 2018

Across the fields a cry heaves up as young bodies bleed out on native soil
What can we do
ten thousand echoes pound the sky
to keep our children safe?

I watched the news this week, and this is what I saw.

On Monday, a short black man stood on a stage in Washington DC and spoke words that were hard to hear. The microphone was positioned for a person much taller than him, and because he was either too nervous or polite, he did not draw the neck of the mic down to his own mouth. He gave a speech barely heard and returned to his seat, but then stood up again with unseemly insistence to interrupt the next speaker so he could say the one thing that had to be said.

“My mother,” he began. His chin quivered and mouth broke.

This was Kehinde Wiley, the painter of Obama’s portrait for the National Portrait Gallery, the son of a single mother with six children who ran a junk shop in South Central LA, the survivor of a notoriously dangerous neighborhood who had become one of the most successful portrait painters in the world.

“My mother . . . she bought me paints,” and now he is crying as he looks at her, knowing that the pigments were his sole power and privilege.

“She bought me brushes,” the word itself fluttering with impracticality, the whisper of impossibility. His face shines with tears. He doesn’t have to say more. The portrait is already drawn, and we’ve seen the invisible mother, we know her heart and the dire hope it held, the hope that her children would be safe.

Two days later, in one of the safest neighborhoods, one with good lawns and great schools, home of the lucky and best, came the terrifying report that repeats each week, of children killed in the hour they should be most alive and free, followed by the cynical insult unique to this country, the blatant lie that nothing can be done to stop the mass executions of the innocent except what is too early or too late or not enough or must be pried-from-my-cold-dead-hands. This familiar drone, so dull to the senses, subdued by the next day’s disaster, is forgotten, until the child among us stands up and says the one thing that must be said. “You are the adults. Do something.”


As it turns out, the famous portrait artist went to the same high school my daughter attends, a public arts school that by its very creed welcomes the free and shelters the brave. There, as a self-described “chubby 16-year-old,” he painted himself into the portraits he practiced on, painted himself as a nobleman, a conqueror and a hero. True, each of us creates the world we inhabit with whatever tools are in our hands.

What power have we handed to our children, I ask you, the power of goodness or villainy? The color pours out from our schools, streets and homes, and beauty lives or dies.


  1. Thank you sensei.

    Comment by NATHAN HAYES — February 15, 2018 @ 7:41 pm

  2. That so struck me. When he said ” you are the adults, do something.”
    Thank you Maezen.

    Comment by marcea pugliese — February 15, 2018 @ 7:49 pm

  3. Amen.

    Comment by Bonnie Nygren — February 15, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

  4. What can we do? I think we can hope that those strong survivors, those students, who are now standing up and speaking to Power, will register to vote in droves and with their votes will send the message that the NRA will no longer dictate how and when our children will die.


    Comment by Jude Smith — February 16, 2018 @ 6:24 am

  5. In gassho.

    Comment by Bronwyn — February 16, 2018 @ 3:19 pm

  6. Peace and non-violence, home and abroad. This is the message our children hear loudest – no exceptions for violence, words are always the right tool. Patience. Understanding. Not suspensions and expulsions. The most troubled children should not be turned out on the street, when they need the most guidance from teachers and staff. My son’s elementary school has a wonderful intervention program for students with behavior and social impairments/delays/problems – whatever you want to call it. They are in small groups with dedicated staff that love the heck out of these amazing kids. It’s no small feat. But they never ever give up on these kids, they keep asking “what are they trying to communicate with their behavior?” That sort of acceptance will go a long way.

    Comment by Jessica Sager — February 19, 2018 @ 7:08 pm

  7. Yes to this. I don’t live in the US so we don’t hear about a lot of these shootings. I was appalled to find out that children in schools practice what to do when a shooter enters the school. I can see the point for a fire drill, but this?
    I really cannot understand why any human being would ever feel that all this is a reasonable price to pay for the right to bear arms.

    Comment by Simone — February 20, 2018 @ 12:35 am

  8. The desperate grasping to the desire of keeping our children safe causes so much suffering.
    So, the gift of paintbrushes is that much sweeter.

    Comment by MJ — February 21, 2018 @ 8:15 am

  9. Oh, Maezen….this is so beautiful. I don’t know much about Kehinde Wiley, and now I know something. I do love the portrait he painted.

    As for the Parkland kids, I call them Warriors. They give me hope and remind me of the powers that are working underneath all the ugliness. These kids (and ours) are paying close attention. They see the lies clearly and will act (and vote) accordingly. If the cheating and meddling can be stymied, the liars and gunmongers will be outnumbered.

    Comment by Clare K. — March 8, 2018 @ 8:36 am

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