A friend told me that he appreciated what Jambo Books is trying to do because he believes that all of us have quirks, personality traits, some discrete and insular, others that can be hidden at great cost, that set us apart from whatever the “mainstream” has decided is acceptable at any given time. If people of color are allowed to be ourselves, truly ourselves – with our religion and our accents and our hair and our talk – then maybe there will be space for everyone else to be themselves too.
You may think this doesn’t apply to you. Maybe you think you are the absolute median, the most regular of regular people. You are free to be wholly yourself because you are the mainstream standard. And that might be true. But you might end up like me. You might have a child. A child who you love obsessively, fiercely, comically, and she might be different. Really different. Maybe she is born on the autism spectrum. Maybe there are concerns about her development. But all you know is gaining success by bearing down with all your brain power and all your social-emotional skills and working. You can work a room and a standardized test. But she, the most important thing in your life, may never be able to do those things. So you bargain with G-d, the universe, and whoever else might be paying attention – you are finished with your brain, please please please transfer whatever brain power is left to your child. Please let her have at least those small talents you had.
Once you accept that you’re stuck with your brain and your child is stuck with hers, you realize that you can’t change her. You can’t make her fit. And so, because it is easier than trying to change your child, you set out to change to the environment she will live in. People with lower than average cognitive abilities have the right to live with dignity, as independently as possible. They should be able to find gainful employment (here is where I want to put in a dig at the POTUS, BUT I WON’T BECAUSE I’M TRYING TO BUILD THE BELOVED COMMUNITY. Anyone who wants to join me for coffee in the Petty Corner, can DM me). They should be able to move through the world comfortable in their skins – without stares, without pity, and without having the bear the burden of having to explain themselves.
And so I read and curate books. Books about boys, girls and kids who are still figuring it out. Books about people from all sorts of backgrounds, with all kinds of abilities. I send Knots on a Counting Rope, about a blind Native American boy who became a master horseback rider and Hello Goodbye Dog, about a little African-American girl in her wheelchair with her service dog. I send Charlotte and the Quiet Place, featuring an African-American girl who seeks out a place where she can find quiet and solace away from overwhelming noise.
I send out books. And I hope that if I keep sending out books, books that examine and celebrate all kinds of existence that when my child is 30, people will be as kind to her as they are now that she is 3 and small and cute. She will probably still not look you in the eyes. She will probably still not acknowledge your existence. But she will still be a person. And although she won’t be like most of us, she’ll still be OK.
Be You. It’s Enough.