If Wakanda is an example of what happens when the genius of Black people is not restrained or corrupted by racism (read: white supremacy and anti-Blackness), the incredible leadership of Zaya Wade is an example of what happens when Black children are loved unconditionally.
Sociologists Asa Hillard provided an essential key to the liberation of Black people when he taught us there is no such thing as a Black child who is not a genius. He went on to say there is no secret to how we support them. We must first acknowledge them as human and we then support them with love. Anyone who knows what it means to be Black in America knows that too often we are forced to fight for our humanity and are not nurtured. Zaya Wade’s decision to invite the world in — to share with us important parts of who she is and how she makes sense of the world— helps us to think about what’s possible for the Black community when we lead with love.
The ability to help overcome the vestiges of racism and white supremacy by protecting and defending the Wade family was made clear to me when I received an emergency text message from a 73-year old, Black Baptist preacher who’s a basketball fanatic. Over the years, my mentor and I have had many discussions about the messy place where traditional conversations about faith typically stop short of making space for all of God’s children to receive the benefits of God’s love from all of God’s people. While our conversations have not always been easy, I celebrate that we can engage in active conversation. When I responded to the text message that read “it’s an emergency, call me,” I was unsure what was waiting for me as I dialed the phone.
“Help me understand what’s going on with the Wade child,” my mentor asked before sharing at least four different conversations he recently had with members of his congregation about Zaya and public discussion about how her parents, Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade, and her brother Zaire Wade can love her unconditionally. There are three important things I tried to share in the course of the conversation that, I hope, explain why we should protect the national treasure that is the Wade family. I hope they help convince anyone unsure of why they should join the Wade Family Wakandan Army.
Protect Black Children
Black children have always been under attack and it’s important for us to love and protect them unconditionally. The story of Black people in America is one that includes Black children being ripped from the arms of their parents and forced into institutions and arrangements that were designed to rob them of childhood, and joy, and the freedoms typically enjoyed by white children. These attacks have been sustained over time and are frequently punctuated by national moments where we’re invited to mourn over the loss of our babies. Memories of Emmitt Till, Trayvon Martin, and more recently Nigel Shelby—a 15-year-old Black boy who died by suicide in Alabama for being both Black and gay — color vivid pictures of the pain and trauma that our children have endured simply as a result of being born into American society with skin that has been kissed by the sun.
Zaya, at the age of 13, has already endured virtual bullying and harassment that would cause most adults to call out from work—we can only imagine what she’s experienced in school or from adults who are ignorant enough to express their fears to her in person. Knowing that the attacks against Zaya’s ability to live and experience joy without hiding or shrinking will continue we should protect her (and other Black children) at all costs.
Stand With Those Who Stood For Us
The Wade family represents all that’s possible for Black Americans pursuing the “American Dream” and they’re demonstrating that the path to public success is riddled with landmines—challenges that are designed to prevent us from showing up and showing out. Most Black people have stanned for Gabrielle since being introduced to the Compton Clovers decades ago. Basketball fans have rooted for D. Wade since he lit up the court at Harold L. Richards High School and Marquette University before a nearly 20-year career routinely making highlight reels in the NBA. Collectively, the Wades are beautiful, brilliant, and anyone who doesn’t stan for Kaavia James Union Wade is tripping. I say all of this to remind us that we have many reasons why we should protect and support them. The fact that they’re loving Zaya unconditionally is like adding an additional championship ring. In Trump’s America we should all be clear that white supremacists will use every tool available to attack Black people—each of us. While there are debates to be had around important differences within our community, Black people should stand with and for those who stand for us (see Gabby’s recent stand against racism at America’s Got Talent for receipts).
Being Lucky In Love
Knowing what we now know about how society seeks to rob Black people, namely Black children, of the opportunity to experience joy, we owe it to ourselves to protect Zaya as she leads Basketball fans, Black people, and the world, more generally, toward appreciating the beautiful diversity that has always existed within our community. The Wades’ parenting style exude family goals and we should all be so lucky to be seen and loved the way they’re publicly loving Zaya.
My mentor and I spoke most about the proper pronouns to use when referencing Zaya (she, her, and hers) and the many reasons why adults concern themselves so passionately with how Dwyane and Gabrielle are raising their children. We spoke about the fear that many parents have for the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of their children. We spoke about how Christianity has been used in America to justify the enslavement of African people and the power that the Black church has to heal the wounds caused by racism, homophobia, and white supremacy.
Before ending the call, I reminded my mentor that making space for us to name members of the Black community who are also lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and same gender loving will not be without tension. While we have always existed, the language we have and public examples of how we show up in the world are relatively new to some. Recognizing our diversity, I encouraged him to focus on the universal power of love.
In communicating his love for his sister, Zaire provides the pathway we should all follow. While we all use different socially constructed identities to make sense of how we show up in the world we can all agree the desire to know the power of unconditional love, the love contained in the following words: “I’ve told you that I would lay my life down to make sure you are 10 toes down and happy on this earth. I don’t care what they think Z, you are my best friend and I love you kid, and if it means anything, just know there’s no love lost on this side.” Zaire
Let’s get free. Protecting the Wade Family is a critically important step along this journey.
David J. Johns is the Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition, which works to end racism and homophobia so that all Black people can get free. He is an educator, researcher, federal policy expert, and advocate.