My 8-year old didn’t want to go to school today. And, while I normally send my children off no matter what’s going on, today, I let it slide. In all honestly, I wanted to be with her, too. I spent much of last night, November 24, 2014, stunned, angry, confused, enraged. Sad. Just after 9:00pm, a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri decided that they were not going to indict Officer Darren Wilson — a man who shot and killed a Black man in that same town. For months, vigils, protests, and social media activism kept us all engaged.
I kept refreshing my Twitter feed expecting — sort of — cheers of joy that justice was on the right side. Instead, disbelief, anger, frustration, and sadness filled my screen.
Now, I certainly have my very strong beliefs, and I’m trying to remain open about how others are processing this. Some say it wasn’t racial. Some say it wasn’t gendered. Some say it wasn’t offensive.
I just can’t process that right now.
But, what it has done is continued the cycle of violence towards black and brown bodies, people, and issues.
As we got out of the car and walked to my office, I turned to my 8-year old and said, “So, I want you to know that I have a few meetings today, but I also have a very important workshop. In that workshop, we’ll be talking about Michael Brown.”
“I know about Michael Brown, Mom,” she said. She turned her big brown eyes, covered by her bright blue and green glasses, and I saw my own reflection.
‘Michael Brown, he was the kid who was wearing a hoodie and was killed by a man who said he was protecting the neighborhood, right?”
Before I could correct her, she replied,
“Oh, wait. No, that was Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown… Michael Brown…. oh, he was the young man who was shot and killed and had his hands up. Yeah, I know about Michael Brown.”
I was both proud and deeply sad.
See, my husband and I both believe that our children should know about our world and our communities. We have talked with them, gently, about the lives of Trayvon Martin, of Michael Brown, and of DJ Henry. We ask them about the young Black and Brown boys in their schools and in their classes. We surrounded them with college-going Black and Brown men and women so that their first messages of our community is that We Matter. Their first messages will be positive messages of Black and Brown people as contributors to society rather than criminals of society. Their first messages are that their friends, their peers, their loved ones, and their neighbors with Black and Brown skin are people.
In the past 12 hours, my husband and I have received texts and messages from friends who are asking how to process this with their children and families.
I don’t have the answer for you.Simply put, you need to have the conversation in the way that you can have the conversation. If you are afraid of the conversation, talk about that. If you are angry about the conversation, talk about that. If you are loving in your conversation, talk about that. I can’t tell you how.
But, I AM asking you to have it.
1. My children learn about the beauty, contributions and successes of the Black and Brown community; they do not just hear about the violence and injustice. Balance those. Find ways to honor and privilege contributions of music, art, literature, politics, philosophy, and histories of Black and Brown people.
2. Find out what message you want your own children (or people in your life) to have about you. I may not be marching out there with my fellow activists, but I am talking about protest, civil disobedience, anger, hurt, productivity, and activism in my home. At least one of my children will witness the forum I put together at work, and she will tell her own siblings what happened and what she heard. Figure out how you want your children to see you, and make that happen.
3. Believe that some people feel this is about race. Believe it’s true. Don’t spend time arguing that it’s not about race. Just listen. Listen openly. Black and Brown communities have witnessed and been impacted by a great deal of hurt, pain, and anger. Believe that it’s true.
4. Do not wait until big moments like this to talk about race with your children. Having the talk about Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown was not scary for my children because they had already begun the conversations. That’s sort of a 20/20 hindsight remark, but if you haven’t been talking openly about race, start now.
5. Yes, we can be angry and prayerful at the same time. We can hope for peace and also be frustrated. Those are not mutually exclusive feelings. Allow room for both to exist.
“When we are neutral in situations of injustice, we have chosen the side of the oppressor.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Choose action. Choose response. Choose dialogue. Choose peace.