Interview with Evelyn Coleman

WE RISE, WE RESIST, WE RAISE OUR VOICES, (Crown Books for Young Readers, published in partnership with Just Us Books, September 4, 2018), an anthology edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, features diverse authors and illustrators answering the question, “In this divisive world, what shall we tell our children?” It’s a great resource for young activists, for children struggling with the questions being raised in today’s world, and their parents.

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Evelyn Coleman

I had the honor of talking to a few of the anthology’s contributors to learn more about their process and their pieces.

First up is Evelyn Coleman, the award-winning author of several children’s books including WHITE SOCKS ONLY and FREEDOM TRAIN about her piece in the anthology: “The Art of Mindfulness,” (Photograph by Zamani Feelings). “The Art of Mindfulness” is a beautiful, empowering ode to empathy. It’s a moving reminder that we are all connected, and that our differences make us better in so many ways.

Supriya Kelkar: In the beginning of “The Art of Mindfulness” you mention how your father taught you that “the heart of the living earth” was in you and every living being, and to think about that whenever you felt anger toward someone. Do you remember how old you were when you first learned this lesson in mindfulness?

Evelyn Coleman: Maybe 6 years-old. The first time our father took my brother and I to his flower garden where he always grew Sunflowers along with many other flowers. He told us to lie down on the ground and to put our ear to the earth, which we did, then he told us to be very quiet and breathe deeply and listen and we would hear the heartbeat of the earth. I heard it easily. After we heard it our father explained to us that that same heart beat was inside of him, us and every living being we would ever meet, which meant that if we hurt anyone on the earth we were also not only hurting him and our family, but every being on the earth and in fact the very earth itself. I took this to heart and begin to practice mindfulness when I went to the first grade.

SK: Was it difficult to practice in the heat of the moment when you were growing up?

EC: I have had very few “heats of the moment” in my entire life. I have always preferred to be the person who brings peace around me. I rarely had problems with others while growing up. When I was in my twenties my mother said to me, “I have never seen you angry before,” one day when a new neighbor said something mean to my two children. It was at that moment I began to reflect on the notion of me feeling anger. I ended up becoming friends with the new neighbor.

SK: What would you say to a child who is feeling hopeless because they can change the way they think but not the way others do? How can mindfulness help them?

EC: Hmmm this is a tough one because it truly requires knowing the heart of that child and their history to be able to help them use their mindfulness. Being mindful is made more difficult when one is hungry, cold, depressed, without shelter and yet many people without means do it all the time.

Here are some things you can help for children feeling hopeless 1. Teach them to meditate 2. Engage them in a form of martial arts (not dojos that emphasize rankings) 3. If they are old enough to write, ask them to list the things they can control that makes them feel better and encourage they do it. 4. Hug and comfort them (if you are in a situation that permits it) 5. Help children understand that hopelessness is temporary and help them remember examples where their thoughts, feelings and environments have changed.

SK: You offer wonderful advice for kids to really get to know someone from another race, culture, or ethnic group. What would you say to parents used to the old “color-blind” way of thinking who may feel uncomfortable encouraging this?

EC: When I encourage children in this endeavor I often say to them they may not be able to do this until they are older, able to drive or visit their friends as adults. Mainly because it is clear that just being friends at school or work does not necessarily tackle the underlying belief that white people are superior to Black people. Racism is a poison that has weaved throughout our Nations’ history and influenced the unconscious minds of children and adults.

SK: When do you first remember realizing the power in rising, resisting, and raising your voice?

EC: Hmmm when I was about 8 years-old and I began to question the Sunday School teacher about where Adam and Eve’s sons got wives. My father and mother always encouraged me to speak out against any injustice or inequality that I saw. My father also allowed us to have input into any type punishment we were going to receive and why it was an equivalence to whatever we had done.

When I was thirteen I went to a hot dog restaurant which only allowed Black people to come in and order at the counter but not sit down. I ordered 50 hotdogs and watched the man making them, counting as he went. When he got to 48 I sat down on the stool. Three white men sitting at the counter immediately started shouting at me and the man making the hotdogs said, “You can’t sit there. Get up.” I stood up and said, “well if I can’t sit in here I am not paying for those hot dogs,” and ran out. My mother who had been waiting for me in the car thinking I went inside to buy my own hotdog could not believe what I had done. The man did not come out after me. She said, “What were you going to do if he didn’t ask you to get up?” I smiled and said, I was going to come outside and ask you for the money. She smiled too.

Learn more about Evelyn Coleman: http://www.evelyncoleman.com

Learn more about WE RISE, WE RESIST, WE RAISE OUR VOICES

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