When We Listen to the Children

Strong children speaking and asking the adults of Homestead child detention facility to accept the hundreds of letters and cards they made for the children trapped inside. They give us adults hope. Photo taken by Carlos Valnera Naranjo outside the Homestead child detention facility in Homestead Florida

The children are speaking to us. Loudly and clearly. Will we listen?

I use to teach at a small inner city (if city is the right word to use for a large town in Maine) school. Many kids there had many issues they had to deal with and they talked to me and other teachers about them everyday. We listened. They told us about their lives and their issues. About five years ago something quite remarkable happened. In our school garden our garden bed of onions were stolen. These onions were planted by the children and taken care of by the children all summer long. The children decided that the onions were going to be divvied up between our school cafeteria and our town’s homeless shelter. I remember it like it was yesterday because the repercussions from it were so immense. Within 24 hours our onion story went viral. We received onions and money from around the country. One letter in particular accompanied with a very generous donation said, “To tomorrow’s leaders.” I couldn’t believe it because it was from now Congresswoman Donna Shalala from Miami, Florida. She sent a lovely letter telling us how the response of the children touched her heart because the children were not upset. They explained over and over again that the person must have needed them. That the person who did this must be less fortunate than they were. This coming from kids with so many needs it would make most of our heads spin. So that tale leads me to today’s events in Homestead, Florida.

Once again children are trying to tell us grownups something. This time it’s children from Miami, Florida who were bused to Homestead on school buses to deliver hundreds, maybe even thousands, of cards and letters they wrote to the children stuck inside Homestead’s migrant child detention center. These children, like the ones years ago up here in Maine, are trying to tell us to slow down and notice, don’t look away, be kind, and take care of children who are less fortunate. The children the letters are for and who the letter delivery kids are telling us about, are the ones who are locked up in a prison in Homestead, Florida. Unfortunately this detention center in Homestead is not the only one in our country today. But it’s the biggest one and it’s the only for profit one. So some very greedy, immoral adults are making a lot of money from keeping these traumatized children locked up and separated from their families. The children who are stuck in Homestead, after traveling thousands of miles fleeing violence and/or poverty, were then separated from the only adults they knew and put into this tent city on the edge of a hot, humid swamp. We are slowly uncovering just how horrible these places like Homestead are. Yes, today, in 2019, the United States has detention centers that hold children taken from their parents and/or families. It’s hard to imagine, but we do. And many people are trying their best to let others know and to put an end to the policies and practices that allow such a thing. But even with all our might this place is getting larger and larger. More and more kids are being bused in. And more places are being built.

When the school children, with their many letters overflowing large boxes, arrived at this facility on a hot Memorial Day morning they were turned away. The security guards would not deliver the letters. To be fair and honest, we knew they wouldn’t. They don’t want us to know what is happening inside to the kids and they don’t want the kids inside the prison to know what is happening outside. They tell the kids inside that the protesters are paid and don’t really care about them. Kids aren’t dumb. I am sure they don’t believe such lies. And we adults aren’t dumb. We don’t believe the lies that we are told, that the children inside are being well taken care of. Because we know they are not. Today was one more piece of evidence to support this.

So let’s take some time and listen to these kids showing us how to be kind. Let’s slow down and think for a moment. Think about what we can do from our place to help the children stuck inside Homestead waiting to be reunited with their families. One simple thing we can do is call our representatives. Ask them what they are doing to stop this disgusting policy of taking kids and putting them in places far from their family members. Ask them which side of history they want to be remembered on. Ask them to go down to Homestead and see for themselves. And then mark our calendars to remind ourselves to make the same phone call again and again, every week, until this place and the others like it are shut down and kids are reunited with their families. It’s simple really. Just listen to the children.

In peace, love, and solidarity with the children who are held in places away from their families, the children who are trying to tell them that they are cared for, and those witnessing in Homestead,



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