Thoughts from a white mother raising a black son as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. | Personal

• January 20th, 2015 •

Copyright ©  Devon Shanor Photography | All rights reserved

I have an amazing son. He is so sweet and sensitive. Of my three children, he is the most affectionate. We have a silly little kiss routine at night that includes about ten kisses and if one kiss gets placed in the wrong place on my face, we have to start over!  

He’s sensitive to others’ needs. Without being asked he has befriended a young lady with Cerebral Palsy in his classroom. His teacher told me she doesn’t even have to ask anyone to help the her with getting her books, or clearing the aisle, or getting extra supplies; Messay does it every time, on his own.  

He’s smart. He learned his math addition and subtraction facts without any help (thank God, because I hate math!) and is cruising along with his multiplication now! He’s a peacekeeper–which is super helpful as his older brother and sister fight constantly! He’s funny, and has the BEST laugh which we often compare to a hyena!


He’s also black. Which makes NO difference in how we love him, and really shouldn’t make a difference at all in how we raise him. But it does. There are conversations we will have with him that we won’t have with our other children. Conversations we, as his parents, have a responsibility to have, even though they are hard. Conversations we will ask his black Godparents to have with him, as we as white parents simply may not be able to fully comprehend and explain to him.

It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day and I am SO blessed to be raising my son in this time frame and not in MLK Jr.’s time. Would we even have been allowed to adopt Messay back then? If we had, how different would raising our mixed race family have looked for all of us? It is something I ponder often, and in the end I often thank God for those like MLK Jr., Frederick Douglass, and Rosa Parks in times past. With their inspiration and leadership the mind of a nation was changed, and my family along with so many other multicultural families are allowed to exist.

But we aren’t a perfect nation yet. Hate still thrives in many hearts. Prejudice and stereotypes still exist. You only have to see how many hate crimes are still prosecuted, watch the KKK still march, and often prevail, and watch the evening news and hear yet another incident of racism causing injury or death to another. I hear about the killings oTrayvon MartinJordan DavisRenisha McBrideEric Garner and Michael Brown and cry because it’s horrible and sad and scary… but it is also a sad reality of the world we live in.

In our family, our church plays a large part in our life. Aside from work and school, we spend more time there than anywhere else. So we had to make sure it reflected our family. It is a multicultural, multi-generational church of believers (Freedom Fellowship; where our family doesn’t stand out because it looks like so many others! We have friends from so many different cultures. A larger get together at our home will showcase a melting pot of culture and ethnicity. We’ve worked hard to establish that. We want our children to grow up surrounded by love. To BE loved by people of many different backgrounds. To learn that skin color is not an indicator of a person’s character.

We are so happy to say that our kids haven’t seen much hate directed their way. Yes, we have had an incident or two here and there, but for the most part, my kids have only felt love and acceptance from the people around them. That will change. I cannot live in the world with my eyes closed to the ugliness that also lives in it. I must raise my children, especially Messay, to be prepared for it. I have a responsibility to make sure he knows how to carry himself and handle himself in a world where hate, racism, and ignorance still exists. I am blessed to be doing it with a network of people that help me.

As a white mother, I don’t always see the dangers before they appear.  I don’t know how to prepare my son for situations that I have never had to experience.  I remember a recent conversation I had with a good friend, Nikki, that really opened my eyes to this.

NNikki is African American and has a teenage son, Dnzel. He is a great kid who often works for me assisting on photoshoots. He’s funny, gets good grades, goes to church every week, stays out of trouble, and helps to care for his little brother and sister. He’s sixteen and is ready to drive, and is kinda obsessed with cars (like most sixteen-year-old boys!) Like most kids his age, he doesn’t wear a suit and tie, but instead prefers jeans and a hoodie. She told me about a recent incident she had with Dnzel that truly opened my eyes to the fact that I need to do MORE to make sure I am preparing my son for a future that very likely will include profiling.

Nikki and Dnzel were walking down the street together and he was wearing, yep, a hoodie and jeans. They walked by a nicer car and he stopped next to it to look at it. He bent down and looked in the window of the car, just checking out the interior. She had continued to walk, not realizing he had stopped, but when she did she quickly reprimanded him and told him he needed to keep walking and get away from the car. He asked why? “[He] was just looking at it.”

She explained that he is a young, black, male teenager. He is wearing a hoodie, and his face is hidden. To a passerby, he could very likely look like he was trying to steall the car. ALL HE WAS DOING WAS LOOKING AT A CAR!!! But she is right. In today’s age, many people would look at him and only see that… a young, black, male teenager, hiding his face, read to commit a crime. We have seen how quickly things escalate when someone is falsely accused of something; look at Trayvon Martin. A young, black teen walking home after buying candy and soda. We may never know what REALLY happened that day, but he ended up dead. Why? Because he was wearing a hoodie, was black, and got angry that someone accused him of something he didn’t do.

It opened my eyes. My son will soon face this same scrutiny! My sweet, sensitive, funny, smart, young man will face judgments on him SIMPLY because of how he looks. I have always known that, but until Nikki shared this story with me, I hadn’t realized how important for it was for me to start SEEING the dangers before they exist. To start SEEING behaviors he will do that will cause those who are ignorant to see him as a threat, a criminal, a menace. 

Am I raising him to be prepared for that?  Am I preparing him to handle these instances in a way that will allow him to stand up for himself without getting himself arrested, beat up or shot? Am I even ABLE, as a white mom, to guide him down this road?

If you know me, you know I tend to see the silver lining, the bright side, the very best in every one.  When Messay was very young we had three black men confront my husband in an IHOP parking lot, angry at him for raising a black child.  I had noticed them looking at us in the restaurant, but in my eyes I saw only mildly curious men interested in our colorful family.  I had smiled at them many times while we were seated.  I never once thought they were holding hatred towards us.

It’s hard for me to see the ugly of the world unless it is right in front of me.  I tend to see the world through rose colored glasses. I guess I see the world I WISH we had rather than the one that is.  And the world we live in still has so much hate, prejudice, and stereotypes.

And it is MY responsibility to make sure my black son is ready to live in that world.

It makes me realize how much easier it is to raise my white son than my black son. There are situations I will not have to discuss with Logan.  Conversations that don’t apply to Logan, but may be life or death for Messay.  I worry about both of my sons.  I worry about them growing up into young men.  I worry about them not looking both ways when crossing the street and getting hit by a car.  I worry about them not doing well in school and not living up to their potential.  I worry about them making bad decisions and making the wrong friends.  I am a parent: I worry.  But I am beginning to realize that with Logan, I have it easier.  I don’t have to worry about Logan being profiled and shot simply because someone saw his clothes and skin color and made a decision of his character.  I realize that with Messay, I have so much more to worry about.

Raising children is NOT easy, ever.  Whatever color they are. There is no manual, and we’re going to make mistakes.  And I am blessed and so thankful to raise my children today, instead of back in the civil rights era.  I am thankful of how FAR we have come as a nation. I am thankful I have friends who will share with me and help me see the areas I must address with my black son that I don’t with my white. I am thankful for a church full of color and culture that love my family.  I love that we can all live life TOGETHER and that when I need support, I have a great loving group of people that will stand beside me and help me.

Dr. King, thank you for your leadership and sacrifice. You helped change the heart of a nation. After you many more leaders took your place and began to help shape this great nation into a place where families like mine are able to thrive.  And yes, after everything I said, we do thrive.  There are A LOT of terrible stories in the world revolving around prejudice and hate.  But there are also many many stories of love, redemption and success.  I am so proud of how far we have come. Remember, I see the world through rose colored glasses, so I see the amazing progress we have made!  We have a black PRESIDENT!!!  No matter how you feel about him, it does show how far our nation has come.  We aren’t perfect yet, but I do see so much progress, and I hope Dr. King is proud.

We still have a ways to go.  And really, we can only start with ourselves.  To love each other.  To stand together to fight discrimination, prejudice and hate.  To help each other raise our children of all colors.  If you are a parent, talk with your kids.  Parents raising white children: talk with your children about the issues black children face.  Help them to see it so they don’t grow up and perpetuate it.  Help them be the ones who stand along side their black friends defending them and stopping the cycle of hate. Teach them that white is not good, and black is not bad.  Color and character have nothing to do with each other.  Parents raising black children: talk with your kids about seeing and protecting themselves from discrimination, but also teach them that there is a lot of love in the world too. Show them how far our nation has come.  Show them white doesn’t mean bad; that every white person out there ISN’T judging them.  A select few, don’t make up the whole.

Sorry if this post rambled.  There is just SO much to be said about Dr. King, racism, parenting, raising a multicultural family, and prejudices.  I tried to put it into a cohesive post, but I am sure it rambled at times!  I am just passionate about it.  It is my life.  Celebrating Dr. King is important to us as a family.  We watch his speech “I Have a Dream” every January, and we discuss many of the things in this post.  It’s important for us to remember where our nation began and the struggles we went through.  It’s important to remember the past and the mistakes we made, so we can learn from them.  I hope you will also watch the video with your family.


Click here to watch Dr. King’s I HAVE A DREAM speech

I love the line in Dr. King’s speech where it says, “I have a dream that little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”  I love it because it’s a picture of my family, literally.  I love my life, my country, and my family.  It’s not perfect, but it’s better than it was.  If we join together, work together, TALK, SHARE, and help each other we can continue the fight to make Dr. King’s Dream a reality. And someday, a white mother raising a white son and a black son in the same household will not notice any difference in how she raises them.  I pray that day isn’t too far away.






Josh: Class of 2015 | Virginia Beach Senior Portrait Photography

• January 13th, 2015 •

Copyright ©  Devon Shanor Photography | All rights reserved


It took us over two months to do Josh’s portraits!!  We haven’t had any snow but we have had lots of cold rainey days this winter!  We had to reschedule Josh’s Senior Portraits three times before we actually got to do his session.  Like some high school guys, Josh wasn’t thrilled to to do his portraits, but agreed to them anyway because he loves his mom!  So on a chilly, but rain free, new 2015 day we met at his home and got started in the backyard.  After some great shots in his yard, we moved to a local water source and had some fun with the geese.  (The geese looked great floating on the water behind Josh, but they sure did stink… WHEW!!!  Be glad pictures don’t carry scents!)


Josh may not love the camera but the camera loves him!  He rocked his session and we had a great time!!  I especially loved Josh’s comment at the end when he said “I actually had some fun, it wasn’t that bad!”  AWESOME!  I’ll take it!


Thanks Josh for being a great sport and I am so happy we got some great portraits for mom.  Someday you’ll be very glad you captured these moments of yourself at the cusp of adulthood.  I hope the rest of this year is amazing and next year bring lots of amazing, wonderful new experiences!

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New Years Baby | Newborn Photographer Virginia Beach

• January 12th, 2015 •

Copyright ©  Devon Shanor Photography | All rights reserved

TECHNICALLY Little Johnny was born in 2014 but we didn’t photograph him until the new year, so he’s my first newborn in the new year making him my New Years Baby!!!   Little Johnny (or JB3 as he is Johnny the third!) was about a month old when we did his portraits, as the fuss and bustle of the holidays didn’t allow us to do them sooner.  He was a perfect gentleman and I had such a wonderful time photographing him for my longtime clients Jennifer and Johnny.  I so love seeing my families grow and expand!  Little Johnny has long been prayed for and I am honored and blessed to be a part of his life!  Big sister Cheyenne is so in love and is already an amazing big sister! 

Jennifer, you are doing a great job!  Thanks for allowing me to be his first babysitter!  🙂 

Enjoy the cuteness!

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