Reesha Howard considers her family to be something of a unicorn — they’re a homeschooling, Black, vegan, Christian family with a deep entrepreneurial spirit. She and her husband, Ron — they’re high school sweethearts originally from the South Side of Chicago — lived abroad for many years while Ron played professional basketball before settling down in Fort Wayne, Indiana about 10 years ago. They now have four children: Chloe (13), Peyton (9), Nola (5), and Justin (2).
I talked to Reesha recently about everything from homeschooling and managing toddler tantrums to how she and her family have been coping in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests to combat racial injustice.
This is how Reesha parents.
You are starting your ninth year of homeschooling at a time when the pandemic has caused many parents to consider attempting it for the first time. How did you decide to go that route?
Yeah, so the thing is, it was never my plan. Not only was it never my plan, it’s actually a concept that I’d never thought would fit well for us because my experience with what other homeschool families looked like when I was younger was not the ideal for me. I attended public school K through 12, and so did my husband, and we had really good experiences with that. It made us have thick skin, and you learn a whole lot in that type of environment; especially on the South Side of Chicago, it will make you be ready for just about anything.
But when he and I got married, he was playing professional basketball abroad, so we were finding ourselves in a different country every year and so we had three options. We could either split up the family like a lot of basketball families do — I could hang back for up to 10 months out the year with the kids. But my husband didn’t have a father around, so he was like, that will never be the case with us. The other alternative would have been for us to enroll them in schools abroad, but that would have meant that we would be finding a different international school every year in a different country.
So the last choice, which was best for us, was homeschool. We thought initially this is just until he retired from playing, but every year we found that it was such a blessing for our family. We have a closeness that’s unlike what I’ve seen before. The level of trust and communication between the kids and I — I know that it’s because we spent this type of time together all these years just really learning each other.
What does a typical day look like when you’re homeschooling? Or is there no such thing as a typical day?
One thing that I really value about the homeschool life is that our typical day probably looks very different from the next family’s because it’s based on what’s going on within the fibre of the family at that time. One thing that we did implement, even after my husband retired, was that there is no alarm clock. When my children wake up, that’s when our day starts. I feel like it’s one of those few perks that you can have in your childhood that you don’t have the obligation of getting up to head to work. So they get to enjoy that summer feeling all year round. They wake up when they wake up, and that’s when we get started.
What I love is that if one of my children is really loving something, we can switch things around in the schedule, you know, like we’re gonna go harder at this today because I’m seeing that you really are having some enthusiasm on this. This is bringing you joy, and you’re learning, so why not stick to this? We can we can alter the plans as much as we see fit.
And then at other times, if I’m noticing someone is extra jittery that day or they just need to get the energy out, we can adjust because there’s so much flexibility in our day. And that’s something we don’t compromise because I think it is so good for everybody’s disposition and their mental health. I don’t have to follow this template that’s been laid out because that’s the whole purpose of being home. We can make changes and you can have your own culture that you built for your own family.
We see a lot of that culture in your YouTube channel, 6 Howards. You’ve got close to 2,000 subscribers now; I’m curious what made you decide to start that channel, and who are you hoping to reach through it?
I like to describe my family as a bit of a unicorn because a lot of people have a misconception that a family that looks like ours and operates like ours does not exist. You may know what you think a homeschool family looks like, or you may know what you think a Black family looks like, or what you think a family who was from the South Side of Chicago looks like, or what a Christian family looks like. We’re all of these things rolled into one.
I have seen very few families that resemble my own, but I feel like God made us this way because he knew that we have so many unique things that we will be able to love and be loved by lots of different demographics. I personally really enjoy watching YouTube vlogs and following other YouTube families, and there might be some great homeschool families or, you know, some really cool vegan families. But I had just never seen anyone who has the particular set of characteristics that we had. So we realised there was a space for that.
I think it’s refreshing to come to a channel like ours where you see a Black family, where you see a family where the parents came from the hood but have been able to build something for themselves. Where you see a family who doesn’t shy away from their belief system and shows the things that they’ve come from and the things they’ve overcome and how that’s happened. Most people are really encouraged by our content — and it doesn’t hurt at all that our kids are really big characters.
I understand you’re also business owners. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
This would have also been year nine of our sports camp. It originally started out as a summer camp back in 2012, but then it also moved into a winter camp and other special events. We did not hold our summer camp this year because we didn’t feel like we would have ever forgiven ourselves if any of those children who have grown up as extended family of ours ended up contracting COVID. We did such a wonderful job in those eight years that we’ve had up until now and we would love to get back into it but we’ll see what happens with that or how we pivot from that particular business.
We also own a vending machine company; we only serve vegan food in our machines, and they are here in the hospital systems in Fort Wayne. That has been really cool and was something that was born out of our family’s transition into veganism and there being limited options when you are in a setting that requires vending.
Then we have a clothing line called It Will Happen. It’s all about promoting a positive attitude that anything that you’re praying for or working towards, that you can achieve it and it will happen as long as you continue to push for it. So that’s been really cool watching people wear that merch and sharing with us what things they are believing will happen. Sometimes it’s about jobs, sometimes it’s about health or financial freedom or things that they’re trying to overcome in their past regarding trauma. It has opened us up to being able to really have a lot of conversations with a lot of people.
Oh, also, I sell real estate and my husband has two corporate jobs. He works for the Indiana Pacers, working in their front office for their local Gatorade league team here in Fort Wayne that he retired from playing for, and he works for a hospital here, as well.
So, you guys are busy.
Yeah, we are busy, but it’s a lot less chaotic than what people probably picture because the really cool thing is that there’s not anything I do that my kids can’t be involved in. My kids designed the vending machine — they drew out the actual design. We let them be a part of everything with the camp; they grew up going through the camp. It all ties back to their education. Some of the subjects they’ve been trained on are much different than what most kids are receiving. They know all types of really odd things, like how to send an invoice, or how to edit and upload videos using Final Cut Pro. Things that you would feel like little kids would never know.
I was watching one of your more recent vlogs where you were talking about how, around the beginning of May, you felt compelled to take a long break from social media. And then, of course, at the end of May, George Floyd was killed and the protests began and spread across the country. Can you talk a little bit about what led you to take a break then and what that time was like for you?
I’m gonna get a little deep here but, as my prayer life intensified around the last quarter of 2019, I kept telling my husband that I was feeling this urgency of things to come. I felt like I had to really be heavy in prayer that there were some things coming, and I did not know what they were but that having a really serious prayer life would be required. Well, we entered 2020 and that feeling not only did not subside, it was gaining momentum. It was intensifying by the day. I did not know why, I just felt this heaviness, I just knew that I needed to be in prayer. So I spent that time drowning out all the other voices.
And sure enough, things started happening, and I think it was important that I had that time to pray about those tough matters. I also think it was important because so many of the voices that were out there at the time — and are still out there — are voices that are going to pull people apart, and that is just something that we don’t want to perpetuate as a family. There’s enough of that. So I feel like it was a protection. He kind of removed me and strengthened me. And now, when people are kind of burned out, I’m not burned out. And I can kind of impart whatever strength I have at this moment.
How are you and your husband talking to your kids, given their different ages, about everything that is happening in our country right now?
They’re all four years apart, so my eldest, we can talk to her. She’s always been extremely emotionally mature for her age. So with her, my husband and I can sit down and talk to her, much like we can talk to one another. But then my second child; she has a much more sensitive heart. So there’s a lot of this that she does not fully have information on yet. We tell each of them whatever they need to know that’s not going to crush their spirit.
It’s a delicate balance of wanting your children to know what’s going on because they need to know, because these are things that are happening. And they are things that, if you don’t address them, will repeat themselves. But also, they’re children, and they have that innocence that you want them to hold onto. I don’t want my kids having to be in therapy over this. I don’t want my kids to have nightmares over these things that are happening. So we’re trying find that balance.
I have one more question that is totally off topic, but I have to ask it because you are now in the midst of raising your fourth toddler: What is the best way to manage a tantrum? You must have tricks — or else you’re just immune to the effects of them at this point.
All my kids were different in that department. My oldest was always the negotiator; she’s going to tell you all the reasons why she should get what she wants. This little one…he’s the one who will fall out on the floor. There have been times I’ve literally pulled my phone out, turned the screen on him and said, “I want you to look at what you’re doing right now,” and he’ll have this look on his face like, “Oh yeah, that does look crazy.” And I’m like, “That’s how you look! That is how people are going to look at you; you need to understand how you’re representing yourself.” People crack up that I talk to my kids like they’re grown, but that’s also why they are so articulate and able to express their emotions so well.
I’m not the type that wants to do much yelling. I’m not about to stress myself out because your frontal lobe isn’t where it needs to be yet. The best thing I can say is it’s just about picking battles. My son has been wearing the same pair of rain boots that my friend bought him for three days now. He is only taking them off for baths and sleeping, and that’s it. I don’t care. He can wear those rain boots until he outgrows them for all I care; I’m not picking that battle. But if he does something mean, like when he called his sister “stupid” other day — that was something we had to have a conversation about.
I’m not trying to raise perfect kids. They just have to be good people. That is a must. You have to be a good person; the rest of it will work itself out.