August 15, 2014

Dear Shiv,

We took you to your first rally tonight, a peaceful protest.  We put on red shirts (yours new, acquired at Target just an hour before), held a homemade sign that read “With liberty & justice for all,” and stood in a public park with Houstonians of all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors.

THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE | Blue Jean Gourmet  #Ferguson

You didn’t know what was going on, of course—I had told you on the way there that we were going to see a lot of people, for something important—but you were content to watch from my shoulder as half-a-dozen individuals got up to speak and tell their stories.  You peeked and flirted with nearby faces.  You made friends with a little girl and chased her around a tree.

When we got back home, I held you in your room and we sang “This Little Light of Mine” before going to bed.  You have always loved listening to music, but only in the last few weeks have you really begun to sing, renditions of tunes recognizable enough for us to join in.  Tonight, you kept repeating the line “I’m going to let it shine,” over and over and over again, your enthusiasm bending the words to sound like I nama nennit SHINE!

You didn’t understand why I started crying, fat tears rolling down my cheeks while I kept singing along with you, my mind a mirror that sees not my own face, but that of Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, tears rolling down her own cheeks as she deals with a reality that I’m terrified may some day be my own.  You didn’t know any of this.  But when you saw my tears, you held your hand up to my face, palm cupping my cheek, and said Mama.  Mama, heart.

Before you came into our life, when you were just an abstract notion, the sentence “We’re hoping to adopt,” I worried about becoming the mother of a black son.  I worried because I wasn’t sure if I were the right person to do it.  Could I do right by you?  Would you someday wake up and think What the hell am I doing with these people?  More than anything, I was determined to not be ignorant about the world in which we live, this world in which we would be raising a black son.

THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE | Blue Jean Gourmet  #Ferguson

I am not an essentialist; I do not believe that your blackness defines you any more than my brownness defines me.  But I knew that, in the sight of so many, your color would define you, would become the only thing that people saw.  Black male equals threat, equals thug, equals less than, equals other.  I knew that you would be forced to reckon with realities that no one should ever, ever have to explain to their child.

I didn’t know the half of it.

Still, when it came down to actually filling out the forms, the one where they ask adoptive parents to mark which babies they’re willing to adopt, with boxes for gender, race & ethnicity, possible drug exposure, I didn’t think twice.  I was the one with the pen, and with your Gigi looking over my shoulder, I checked all of the boxes.  Every last one.  And then, against every odd & adoption industry statistic, your birth mother, Mama D, chose us to be your parents.

Tonight, I am heartened, if only for the briefest moment, as public outrage seems to have brought a shift to the situation in Ferguson. There are many people fighting the good fight—and so many people paying attention—that I can’t help but have hope.  That our tweets and our journalists and our witnessing and our solidarity can actually affect change—this has always been the promise of America.  It is a promise I still so desperately want to believe in.

THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE | Blue Jean Gourmet  #Ferguson

My son, I can’t promise you that things will get better.  There are so many layers of hate and injustice and willful ignorance and systemic inequality that I don’t even know how to realistically envision improvement at this point.  Here’s what I can promise you, though; I will shout, shake with anger, write, pray, petition, protest, cajole, debate, inform, disseminate, rally, cry at my desk, and whatever else is within my power to do, for all the rest of my days.

And you, my son?  Promise me you’ll keep singing.  Nice and loud, so everyone can hear.

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.



  1. May I add to the bottom of your post, Nishta – that, in addition to your many promises to your dear son (to all the dear sons and daughters) – you will also sing, as you did yesterday? Music comes to us at times of great suffering, and it’s not at all a fool-hardy notion that singing can indeed become an important part of social movements; we’ve seen it happen in this country time and time again.

    Comment by Kapila @ Prelude Music — August 15, 2014 @ 6:04 am

  2. I was waiting for you to write that.
    I can only imagine what these events do to both of you.

    Comment by Sally Williams — August 15, 2014 @ 7:14 am

  3. What a beautiful piece to start my day! Thank you for sharing your fears, hopes, and promises!

    Comment by Mac — August 15, 2014 @ 7:27 am

  4. So, in chapel this morning, I’m going to be talking about not knowing the words. Not knowing what to say. But knowing how to show up. Thanks for showing up. For showing me and a lot of us how to show up. And maybe sometimes when we don’t know what to say, we can still sing.

    also. storycorps. this morning. when you’re ready.

    Comment by Katherine — August 15, 2014 @ 7:44 am

  5. Beautiful essay. Today is the 10th anniversary of the day I adopted my daughter. She is not the same race as I am, and I often wonder how my Chinese American Jewish daughter will feel when she is grown–about life, about a partner, about the prejudices of others….
    We raise our children with values, struggles, triumphs. My job is to give them solid roots and great big wings.

    Comment by Lisa — August 15, 2014 @ 8:40 am

  6. So, the boys kept asking all the way to school, “Dad, why do you keep humming ‘This little light of mine…’

    Comment by stephen — August 15, 2014 @ 8:43 am

  7. Nishta, with you in heart and soul (and song)– all the way.

    Comment by Jean Croye — August 15, 2014 @ 8:47 am

  8. I don’t know you, but am friends with many who do. I’ve read your beautiful book – and teach at your alma mater. I woke up singing this song (perhaps because I have two small children, or perhaps because of where I work). Thank you for your words, your tears, your honesty. This is a beautiful and grace filled message to read at the end of a difficult few days.

    Comment by Mary Henry — August 15, 2014 @ 8:56 am

  9. Nishta,
    This was so beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this.

    Comment by Nandini — August 15, 2014 @ 9:22 am

  10. Nishta,
    So moving. I had so many tears I could hardly read. Thank you for sharing. You are both such caring, loving parents.

    Comment by Dominique Shu — August 15, 2014 @ 10:59 am

  11. Beautiful.

    Comment by sheri — August 15, 2014 @ 12:26 pm

  12. I knew from the time I taught you in first grade you were one very special person. I have followed you through your beautiful writing. I am so proud to say I knew you when… Your son is blessed to have such a loving mother.

    Comment by Louise — August 15, 2014 @ 1:33 pm

  13. Haven’t had the opportunity to meet you and Shiv yet, but Joe & Carolyn are best friends, so am anxious to make your acquaintance someday soon! I really enjoyed This Little Light of Mine!! You three make an awesome family!

    Comment by Bennie — August 15, 2014 @ 2:28 pm

  14. We know love and pain when we see it, say it, hear it, and feel it. I’m the grandmother and great aunt of 7 children, all of them beautiful and precious, three of them bi-racial. I raised two fine white women and one fine Black son. They are now raising their families to reach across the divide and grasp hands with all who reach back. I know we are part of a powerful bridge. Sing out sisters and brothers: our voices have meaning.

    Comment by Tama Zorn — August 15, 2014 @ 5:33 pm

  15. My family is like your family — thank you for writing.

    Comment by Ellen — August 16, 2014 @ 3:01 am

  16. my sincere thanks to each of you for reading and for your empathetic, loving comments. please keep shining lights in dark places – xx

    Comment by Blue Jean Gourmet — August 26, 2014 @ 9:39 pm

  17. I found your blog from your article about Shiv’s mundun celebration. I am so moved by your post here and I’m so happy you shared your thoughts on race in America, parenting and adoption and more. Thank you for that.

    Comment by Subha — October 9, 2014 @ 1:25 am

  18. @Subha–I’m so glad you found me! thank you for taking the time to post a comment. I truly do appreciate it.

    Comment by Blue Jean Gourmet — November 20, 2014 @ 10:42 am

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