Helping Young People Respond to George Floyd’s Death

The following column appeared in several APG of East CentralMinnesota newspaper during June, 2020.  This includes the ABC (Anoka/Blaine/Coon Rapids) papers.

Not once. Ever.

In 40 years as a parent, I’ve never felt fears that a Minnesota African American friend shares in a brief essay that I hope every Minnesota family will read with their children.

 

Marcus Pope, VP, Youthprise

 

Today, as a white educator and parent, I’m offering a few ideas about how families can talk with their children about the death (for many of us, the murder) of George Floyd.

My goal is promoting greater understanding and constructive action. It’s NOT to make anyone feel guilty.

Perhaps start by sharing with youngsters an essay by Minnesotan Marcus Pope that takes less than five minutes to read. Pope is vice president of Youthprise, a statewide group I admire that helps promote youth inclusion in decision-making.

Pope described a talk with his 6-year-old daughter about Mr. Floyd’s death. He wrote, in part: “The conversation was difficult … largely because it surfaced my greatest fear. The fear that I would one day lose my life at the hands of the police and my daughter would be left without a father. The fear that someone who is supposed to protect and serve would one day strip me of the opportunity to see and nurture my daughter’s growth and development.” The essay is here: www.youthprise.org/blog/dada-what-color-was-george/.

As a white man, I’ve never felt that fear. I’ve never experienced many things that African American Minnesotans describe as “routine,” such as DWB — “driving while black.” This refers to police sometimes stopping black drivers for no apparent reason.

Police have stopped me a few times. It always was justified.

Every African American Minnesotan I’ve known experienced DWB. When it happened, they feared for their life.

Families also could read together “Black Like Me,” by John Howard Griffin. I read this when I was 13. Griffin, a white man, dyed his skin much darker and then traveled throughout the South. He described a different, more dangerous, frustrating world than he had encountered as a white man. He described difficulties finding a place to go to the bathroom, restaurants that refused to serve him because he appeared black and much more.

Restrooms no longer are labeled “men, “women” and “colored.” Restaurants can’t refuse to serve people because of their race (although I’ve been in restaurants with African Americans where whites around us received far more prompt, courteous treatment than our racially diverse table). Progress is possible.

Third, please consider reading and discussing a story recently published in the ABC Newspapers. Two boys posted a picture that, according to the newspaper, shows “two boys, one lying on the ground with his hands behind his back as if handcuffed. The other boy was kneeling on the first boy’s neck and looking directly at the camera.” The story says they were “apparently mocking” Mr. Floyd’s death.

Their school posted a response reading in part, “The photo and subsequent posts directly contradict the values and teachings we work to advance with our students.”

One of their parents wrote that the picture was “insensitive and offensive,” adding: “My sympathies go out to the family of George Floyd. … I want to personally apologize to them, as a father and a businessman, for the photo that was taken by my son and one of his classmates that is circulating on Facebook.” He fired his son and friend from his business.

Hopefully, other youngsters can learn from this article: www.bit.ly/2XUQ1kA.

Then, if you attend a house of worship, or your youngsters are in a community group, consider asking if leaders would contact a comparable church or agency serving many African American Minnesotans. Ask if a Zoom meeting could be arranged where youngsters share, for example, joys, challenges, hobbies, etc. Two-way discussions could help young Minnesotans learn more about each other.

Finally, parents could ask their local schools to seek a Zoom meeting with white and African American students next fall. One district and two chartered public schools with many African American students that I contacted are open to this. If educators are interested, I can connect them with the schools’ leaders.

Doing some of the above can help increase understanding. Together, young people and adults can produce urgently needed progress.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school educator and PTA president directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at Joe@centerforschoolchange.org.