Much can be learned about butterflies by watching them. I had the privilege of doing so a couple of days ago. With the Spring weather now glorious in Saint Louis, we went for a walk around my neighborhood. The eastern rosebuds were in full bloom along the road and so were the butterflies you see along the way. During our walk, I came across one that allowed me to take its picture from a close distance without flying away. I would later learn it’s name as I am not familiar with butterfly species. The one I saw was an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly. The researcher in me did what I know how to do best.

My first glimpse of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly.
A closer look.

In the process of learning about this butterfly, I came across the following worth sharing. For this butterfly, even its beauty is fragile and a major source of predation. But of all I read, that they live an average of 2 weeks kept me alert. Not only do they spend their winter as pupae in extreme cold, but when they break their chrysalis and become butterflies in the Spring, they only last for about 2 weeks. Aggressive encounters with all sorts of predators including birds often result in their demise. That they would do all they can to survive harsh winters, just for Spring to arrive and still not make it is a reminder to keeping knowing just how multiple forms of predation, aggression, even oppression interact to still kill us. Despite our best intentions, despite even our pleas for our lives, our breath, our being, we are still killed whether directly as with the death of George Floyd, or indirectly as with the collective trauma many of us feel now, listening to expert after expert detail how life was sucked out of a man in handcuffs during a trial that should not be. Our presence, our appearance, our being, no matter how beautiful, no matter how dutiful, can and will kill us. It is for this reason that we have to do our part to dismantle racism and protect ourselves. These Eastern Tiger Swallowtail engage in elaborate mimicry to survive. It works in the short term as it helps them proceed from a pupae to a butterfly.

Getting close.

To understand why we find ourselves here, with racism now being declared as a public health threat, we are fortunate to learn from the the experience of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly. What if we learn from them and use the lessons they use to survive a fragile life where their demise like stark racism is pervasive, severe, far-reaching and unacceptable. What if we gather all the resources we can find and use them to become resilient in the face of potential exposures to racism and racial traumas. We are afterall, all George Floyd. Every Black person in America can be denied to opportunity to live, to breathe, play, or even gather, because of racism. Now imagine the trauma that can entail, the burden not just for ourselves but for generations of children yet in the world. We can also become his legacy and use his presence, his appearance, his being to survive. We can and will survive because George Floyd paid the ultimate price to do the work necessary to dismantle all forms of racism. For him, our appearance like the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies will be beautiful, our survival profound, and our legacy lasting and our resilience, sterling. That’s the lesson I’m keeping. A desire to still be resilient despite exposure to racism, an opportunity to be and to still remain beautiful like the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly despite living in a fragile world.

Final closeup photo of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

I came across an article that ushered today’s musing. The authors concluded that ‘minority youth have access to valuable resources within their families and communities, yet in the general population, these youth have poorer outcomes than their majority counterparts.’ This conflict between what minority youth have and how they fare, is a conflict that ought to remain a conflict but with attempts at solutions. It’s a conflict that should make all of us in this line of work uneasy, troubled, restless, until we permit harmony in a life for minority youth at risk for numerous negative outcomes. The statistics are dire and I won’t belabor you with them for I want solutions. There must have been a time when access to valuable resources protected the lives of minority youth, protects them still. How do we get back there? How do we move forward from there? What will it take so that this harmony is realized?

A small remnant of these resources can be observed in Black churches where other mothers cater to every child as if it where their own. It’s the very reason why I am always on the look out for one, a Black Catholic Church whenever I am in a new town. They have been a source of community, where myself and my children feel welcomed, feel safe, feel warmth, even from strangers we are meeting for the first time. We tried a non Black Catholic Church yesterday for Good Friday. Our church’s service was at 6pm and with four children, time was of the essence. So I looked around our neighborhood for any mass at 3pm, the time when Good Friday services are performed. We were the only Black family in attendance. The stares where intense. Not the kind that is welcoming, but the kind prepared to annihilate. It didn’t help that this was baby’s second time in church so he screamed and cried and the stares grew louder if only they could speak.

I took the boys outside and spent a good portion of time outside. By the time service was ended, I promised myself never to be back. It’s for this reason I truly value my Black Catholic Church. Sometimes one needs to step outside their comfort zone to truly appreciate what one has and the black church is full of resources that will keep any minority child and their parent feel warmth. Maybe it’s the strong sense of identity. Everything evokes a black presence, down to the saints plastered around the church. Plus belonging and connection to a people, a place, one’s peers. Strong familial ties, generations, multiple ones, protect and provide stability and positive well-being, even mental health outcomes. And yes, the church service is only about 2 hours or so. It’s is all worth it considering the benefits. And the benefits are endless, so too are the possibilities. Which is why for minority youth, keep the Black church in mind. It’s has endless valuable resources that matter for their overall positive outcomes.

At our church, even our Nativity scene, evokes our presence, evokes our identity.