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A Braiding Meditation
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Monica Z. Utsey, age 37, is a wife, mother and freelance writer in Washington, D.C. She homeschools Zion, age 4, her only son. Monica is a foreign language enthusiast who learned a second language at age 3, sign language. Today she and her son Zion are learning Spanish and Swahili together. Monica is also the president of the Southern DC Chapter of Mocha Moms, Inc.

I usually start around 4 a.m. and finish around 8 a.m. I do it every 3-4 weeks. It's one of the few times that I sit in absolute silence, alone with nothing more than my thoughts. I call this my braiding meditation. It's the time I spend braiding the hair of my 4-year-old son Zion while he sleeps. People often ask me, "Why don't you just get that boy a haircut?" I don't have an answer, I just know that Spirit said don't cut it. Years later, my son would tell me that he wants his hair like daddy's. Well, Spirit was right. I had no idea my husband would grow locs, but Spirit knew and now my son wants to do the same. I've decided Zion must wait until age 7 to make the transition. I don't know what's special about that number. Spirit is leading me again. Maybe it's because 7 is a lucky number in African numerology and it's the day of my birthday. Also, in Muslim culture age 7 is the age when a boy begins the work of becoming a man.

What does all of this have to do with homeschooling? For me it's teaching my son to not only know thyself, but to love thyself. I tie the hair piece in with the cultural piece and learning about Africa. To my son, natural hair is normal. Braids, locs, afros, twists, twist outs, are all normal. He's never heard anyone use the word "nappy" in a disparaging way. In the Utsey house, we are all "happy to be nappy."

When we read African folk tales or look through books about Africa, there is no laughing or squealing "ewwwwww." My son is intrigued and captivated. He identifies with his ancestors and embraces that part of himself so much so that when people ask him "where are you from?" He responds, "I'm from Africa." I don't have the heart to tell him that though our ancestors are from Africa, we are actually from Washington, D.C.

I remember as a child feeling sad that I didn't have "good" hair, or if not good hair, then at least "long hair." Today I rejoice in knowing that my son is learning from everyone around him, from his daddy to his pastor, to love himself. I don't worry about that rite of passage where he goes to school to learn that not everyone is in love with naps and in some case you could actually be teased for having nappy hair.

Homeschooling has allowed me to temporarily insulate my son while I fill up his soul with a love of self from history and culture on down to food and hair. Sure, there will be times when he encounters people who do not love their African selves. But it is my prayer that by that time my son will be so fortified in who he is that he will be able to protect himself from mental harm and in the process cause another person to stop and think.

Self Love Exercise
Inspired by a conversation I had with Paula Penn-Nabrit, author of Morning by Morning: How We Homeschooled Our African-American Sons into the Ivy League, I began to think of ways to teach my son about the beauty of Black women. I came up with the idea of making "Queen" collages. Using a large piece of black poster board, we stenciled the word Queen Collage at the top. Then we flipped through the magazines picking out beautiful women and natural hairstyles. I learned that he doesn't like makeup and he likes women who look like momma (what a compliment!) He arranged the pictures and glued them himself. Skills reinforced: letters, cutting, pasting, organization, and of course-love of self!

                                    of the African Ark: A Book of Postcards
Women of the African Ark: A Book of Postcards

In Praise
                                    of Black Women: Ancient African Queens, Vol. 2
In Praise of Black Women: Ancient African Queens, Vol. 2

                                    Talk Hair: An Instruction Book for Grown-Ups and Kids
Kids Talk Hair: An Instruction Book for Grown-Ups and Kids