“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream…” – Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream” speech, 1963
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is just another day without my children. Another day my children are being forcibly alienated from their mother, and their maternal family of origin (including our culture and family history).
Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2010… We sat shoulder to shoulder, huddling over a bright yellow piece of construction paper. JJ impatiently grabbed for the markers, she always had to be first at everything. My son, DJ, is more thoughtful, deliberate.
I read the “I Had a Dream” speech to my children, and talked to them about what life was like for Blacks when Dr. King gave this powerful speech by sharing with them stories from our own family. I flipped open our family photos, taking my children back to our family beginnings in Alabama, memories collecting in the overgrown back roads, sharing stories about the adventures my cousin and I had visiting the places important to our family.
Now we were doing an art project. I wrote on the paper some of the words from the “I Have a Dream Speech”… I have a dream that one day… Little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers…
My children and I then placed our hands on the paper, tracing our hands beneath those words. My big fingers touched the slender fingers of my daughter JJ. My son DJ traced his fingers over mine, one day his hand would be bigger than mine. One day DJ would hold my hand with the tenderness I had shown him, when I first held his newborn hand in my own, counting every finger. One day DJ’s bigger hand would wrap my hand in warmth, “Mommy come look…” He’d say, pulling me along.
On the backside of the paper, I wrote “I have a dream that one day…” And my daughter JJ wrote “little kids are okay and good” Then she drew a picture of a group of smiling children. In the middle of the group is “Mommy” wearing a dress and high heels.
I have so many dreams for my children…
I dreamed that I would cook big, hearty family meals for my children. I would show the children family recipes passed down from our cousin in Alabama who learned from the women in our family, who learned from their mommas generations back… cornbread, rice casserole, baked macaroni and cheese, smoked ribs… We’d eat until our bellies were full, then fall on the couch in exhaustion, cuddled up together to watch a movie.
I dreamed of watching my little girl JJ grow up. When JJ was little, she had such a sparkly spirit… she loved to sing. In my happiest memories, JJ puts on a pink party dress and a blonde wig. Her small legs wobble in my tall black boots. JJ grabs a wooden spoon as a “microphone” and sings to a rendition “Dancing on Sunshine” by Aly & AJ. JJ looks at me with a gleam in her eye then kicks one boot and me then the other! Then JJ rips off her wig and throws that at me too! JJ was never able to finish that song, she was laughing so hard.
I dreamed of exploring with my son DJ, traveling down back roads to discover unusual finds, such as the yard that was decorated with the two toilets with flowers stuffed in the bowel. DJ’s attention often wanders, he has big thoughts. When DJ was little he would sit in his walker, playing happily one minute. But when you turned your back, DJ would start running, crashing the walker into a baby gate like a battering ram. Once the baby gate was toppled over, a mangled mess, DJ would scream with triumphant joy. He enjoyed his freedom, swinging open cupboard doors, chasing the dog… Even now I remember the sound of his small feet thundering across the floor. Now those feet wear a size 12 shoe!
The dreams I had for my children were stolen. Not by men in combat boots carrying rifles, not by tornado or other disaster, but those dreams were stolen by judges in flowing black robes, whose unjust rulings have destroyed my family. When I told the Judge that my children are being alienated from their family, their history, their religion…he looked at me with a blank face and shrugged.
Those dreams were stolen by the pinched-faced Guardian ad Litem (GAL), Jamie Manning, who has actively worked to give sole custody of my two children, who have experienced abuse and were homeless in order to escape the violence in our home, to the man who has abused them. The GAL said that if an abuse victim is afraid of her abuser—as I am—then that abuse victim must be mentally ill. The GAL said that it is much worse to have fear of an abuser than to be the one actually causing harm to your family. All of these reasons were her justification to give custody of the children to the abuser.
Those dreams were stolen by their abusive father, whose rages are familiar to my children as a lullaby. In a final act of retaliation, the abuser is now alienating my children from their mother, and any connection to their maternal family; inflicting on my children incredible grief and loss.
I take a deep breath, and push back the pain, remembering JJ’s sweet soprano voice singing, remembering the one dimpled simple of DJ as he crashed through the baby gate… I have a dream. And I will not give up on that dream. I will fight for that dream. And one day that dream will prevail. One day my children will come back home. And one day there will be justice for the parents who have been victimized by the injustice and corruption in family court. I believe in that dream, even in the darkness of corruption, just as Martin Luther King Jr. believed, while sitting in the darkness of a jail cell.
— Emily Court/M21
Minnesota Statutes 2014, 518.17
(a) “The best interests of the child” means all relevant factors to be considered and evaluated by the court including…
(10) the capacity and disposition of the parties to give the child love, affection, and guidance, and to continue educating and raising the child in the child’s culture and religion or creed, if any;
(11) the child’s cultural background….
The Court and the court appointed Guardian ad Litem does not care, and will not protect the right of my children to be raised in the culture and religion of the maternal side of their family. I would expect there to be some compromises, and sharing, when co-parenting but instead, I have been totally excluded from the lives of my children. When I bring up my concerns to the court that my children are being alienated not only from their mother but from their family, culture and religion, I am simply dismissed. I am told “culture is not a factor” or “I am bringing up old issues”. This is my child’s identity we are talking about!