16 Black Parents Share What They Hope All Children Can Learn From Ferguson
"There are people fighting for their right to exist and to be treated and viewed as human beings."
Natasha Nicholes; Chicago, IL
Everyone deserves respect. No matter how rich or poor. No matter their education level. No matter their height, weight, hair or eye color. Everyone deserves to be treated the exact way that we want to be treated. Each and every single day.
Taya Dunn Johnson, Baltimore
I hope that parents begin (or continue) to discuss race relations in America with their children. As the daughter of a police officer, my son has been taught that good policemen are our friends. I will not stop teaching this. Just as there are evil citizens, there are evil policemen. I happen to believe that there is more good in the world than evil. I would encourage parents to help their children recognize the things that make us different, while reinforcing the things that make us similar. My son is 5, so I explain to him that everyone in his class is special and unique, which makes them like a box of mixed crayons. We can not continue to act as if we are color blind because the truth is, we are more color-conscious than ever and doing so is a disservice to the children we are raising to inherit this Earth. When properly acknowledged, our differences make us rich and textured like a custom quilt. When ignored and rejected, our differences make us angry, defensive and resentful. We owe our children a better America.
Janeane Davis; Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
What I want all children to learn from Ferguson is that life is precious, and what happens to them and in their lives matters to people all around the world. Good or bad, their actions matter and have an effect on all the world; all children are important.
Ryan E. Hamilton; Gaithersburg, Maryland via Ferguson, Missouri
I want my son to understand that he has unlimited potential, and that he's living in some of the most incredible times the human race has ever seen. Given the open access to information technology, all of the information in the world is literally out there for the taking, and can be used to better your own life, the lives of those around you, your community, and the world at large. I want him to understand that there is plenty of need in the world, and would like him to develop a sense of duty and service to every human being. To the extent that I can instill self-confidence in him, and allow him to cultivate his talents, skills, and passions, and to use them to benefit all of humanity in a positive way, then I think he'll be making a positive contribution to the world, in a manner that transcends race, and perhaps, in the long run, eliminates any concern over it... because, let's face it, race is one big pain in the ass, and always has been.
Shay Stewart-Bouley, Boston
I just wish that white parents would stop being so tentative about talking about race, period. The skittishness many whites have about talking race personally leaves me feeling "Othered." Every time a racialized event happens, there is a flurry of activity from well-meaning whites about "how to talk race"... Why is that? Why in 2014 do so few whites actually know how to discuss race openly and with courage?
Vaneese Pattman, Omaha
I hope that children will learn that they are valued and that their lives matter. I want them to understand that what's going on in Ferguson (and around the world) is more than what is being portrayed on TV and in the media. There are people fighting for their right to exist and to be treated and viewed as human beings. I also want them to learn that violence doesn't solve the problem, but does dilute the message.
Danyelle Little, St Louis
I hope that all children learn, that despite the grand jury decision, they are all valued in this country; they are all worth something to our society. I want them to learn that they have a voice and they can stand up for the injustices in the world; that there is power exercising free speech.
I want them to learn not to fear another Ferguson, another Mike Brown, another Trayvon Martin. Because from this shooting, it should never happen again. As parents, we have to ensure the safety of all of our children, no matter their city, neighborhood, race, culture, etc.
But most importantly, I want all children to learn to love one another more than we did. Because it's that love that can stop the hate.
Arianna Rosado Silver; Newburgh, New York
One of my earliest memories of kindergarten was having a classmate walk up to me and blurting out, "You're black." He was the same boy who, four years later, teased me openly for having what he deemed to be "a giant butt."
Prejudice isn't something that just comes to us naturally. It's a learned behavior. Coming from a family of people with all different skin tones, eye and hair colors, I was taught to be respectful of everyone until or unless I was being treated disrespectfully.
That boy and I were never more than just polite to each other over the course of nine years that we shared a classroom, and as a kid, I really just could not stand him. As an adult, and now a mother, I can't help but wonder about the environment his parents created for him at home.
My own son is now in kindergarten. He's a friendly, charismatic, and empathetic child, but there are times when I feel nothing but guilt for bringing him into this world. I'm a big believer in letting kids be kids and not weighing them down with adult realities. Today I couldn't hold in the tears of my disappointment and frustration, and my son asked me what was wrong. I told him that a young man with brown skin like his was killed by a white police officer, and that because of a decision made today, we'll never know why. He just hugged me and said, "Don't be sad, Mommy. I'm not scared."
If only it were so easy.
I know I'm borrowing trouble by worrying myself sick over the way he may or may not be treated in 10 years' time, but it's so hard not to when the message being broadcast to the world is that taking the life of a black boy doesn't even warrant a trial.
I personally am not saying that Mike Brown was innocent and I'm not saying that Darren Wilson is guilty, but I really feel that had this case gone to trial, there wouldn't be nearly as much backlash as we've been seeing. It truly hurts to log onto social media and see so many people claiming that "justice has been served." I don't think it has, and we all need to talk about it.
I want people to question the decision not to indict Darren Wilson. I want it understood that Mike Brown's parents and his community deserved real answers. I want words like "thug," "demon," and "animal" to not be tossed around so lightly when referencing human life. I want people to question the notion that just because someone is an officer of the law, they are always, unquestionably right. I want to be free from the fear I feel when it comes to all of our children, their futures, and the path we're setting them on if we continue to silently accept decisions like this particular one in Ferguson as the status quo.
Amiyrah Martin, New Jersey
My hope is that parents will finally realize that it's our job, not the media or the school system, to teach our children about injustice in America. This is a rough time, but it's necessary if we are going to raise a generation where race is acknowledged, but racism is not tolerated in any form.
Tshaka Armstrong, Los Angeles
There is truth and there is perception. When we know the difference, we'll be able to better see through to the heart of a matter.
We must separate the ignorant looting that's going on from the protesting. People are protesting because they're fed up. Perception is more powerful than truth and the perception of minorities in this country is that the system doesn't work. There is no justice for them.
There is only the Tuskegee Experiment. There is only John Crawford who was killed in a Walmart with a toy gun in his hand because someone called in an erroneous 911 report. There is only the Reagan/Contra scandal which may have allowed the CIA to flood poor communities with crack cocaine so our government could foster relations with South American rebels. There is only a 50-some-odd-year-old grandmother who was beat down MMA-style on the side of a freeway. There is a history of systemic, institutionalized inequity, where persons of color are on the losing end.
Whether it is prejudice, evolutionary anthropology, nature, or nurture, you will have to be twice as good in your pursuits and twice as mannerable when dealing with police and people in authority in the criminal justice system. This is the reality of living in a land where you are only 13% of the populace. This is our reality. This is our truth.
Take care though, even with a system seemingly stacked against you, if you don't let it, it can't stop you. When you know the nature of a thing, you know what it's capable of. Know people, study people and with that knowledge, pursue your life and its ambitions to the fullest. Shoot for the moon, that way if you fall short you'll be among the stars. Our family, your grandmother, and others, have been a part of changing policy in this country. My father had white men throw their feces at the bathroom walls to spite him because he wanted to be an on-air DJ at a radio station but they would only allow him to be the janitor (today he's a post-production editor who has worked on The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, and Smallville and won multiple Emmys).
My sons and daughter, don't let this plant the seeds of hatred in your hearts because it poisons you. There are good and bad people of every creed and color. This is why I tell you to learn people… so it's easier to learn to discern who is lovable so you can love. Who is angry, so you can pray for them. And who would wish you ill… they need your prayer the most. Pray for Ferguson. Pray for America. Pray for injustice anywhere it is carried out.
Andre Moore; Kennesaw, Georgia
Being openly racist has costlier consequences now than any other time in American history. This does not mean race relations has improved or that there are less racist people in the U.S. since the Civil Rights movement of the '60s. It is also important to note that having a biracial president does not mean racism is over! The underlying issue is that racism exists in the subtleties of everyday life and the imbalance of power that still exists in our country.
Young people need to realize that non-whites have less influence and less political power, which has resulted in hiring practices, educational policies, and judicial processes that more often (and in larger numbers) have negatively impacted non-whites. This does not mean that all non-whites are doomed to be a "victim to the system" and that personal responsibility is absolved, but it does suggest that we will continue to hear about unfortunate events like Ferguson in other cities and towns across America until policies and laws are in place that can adequately support and affirm all of our citizens.
Parents need to talk with their children about race and privilege. These conversations need to be more dynamic and organized than the awkward and almost nonsensical "birds and bees" conversation many parents have many years too late with their children. Instead, it should be an ongoing dialogue that will only continue to grow as you and your child's worldview increase.
As a parent, it is my hope that Ferguson will be the catalyst for meaningful dialogue at home. I hope that all children will learn that regardless of race or background, NO family is immune from the far-reaching and multigenerational impact of racism.
Arnebya Herndon; Washington, D.C.
You are worthy. You are kind. You deserve every opportunity the world has to provide. Accept them and settle for nothing less.
Brandi Jeter; Northern California
Even though there may be people who don't recognize the value of her life, I want my child to understand that she matters. I don't want her to minimize her voice, or downplay her personality to make other people feel comfortable. They said that Mike Brown was "big" and "scary." He was tall and husky. That's not unusual for an 18-year-old boy. It would be better for some folks if he had been invisible. He took up too much space. I don't want my daughter to ever think that she has to be invisible in order to be able to peacefully exist in this world.
Creed Anthony; Indianapolis
I think it is important for children to know that we are still learning. We, as a country, have made great strides, but we aren't "there" yet. I hope we learn that people don't fit in tidy, convenient labels or categories — these might play well on TV, but they are presumptive and restrictive in real life. I hope we learn that sweeping generalizations, absolutes, are often inaccurate and dangerous. I hope we learn that dialogue after a tragedy is what helps to prevent it from happening again. I hope we learn that just because someone disagrees with you, it doesn't make them your enemy. I hope we learn that the "us" and "them" is what constitutes the "we." I hope we learn that every life is valuable.
A'Driane Nieves; Austin, Texas
My black and brown sons are human beings. They are living and breathing flesh, blood, and bone. Proof a person's heart can physically exist outside of their body. They are humans and they are children. Not beasts. Not demons. Not animals. Not thugs. They are boys who love and embrace life with arms wide open and shrewd brilliance. They are my sons and no matter what the violence of whiteness tries to tell me about them, I know otherwise. Their Blackness is not a threat. It is beautifully human and glorious. Their Black is not dangerous to anything other than your conditioned bias against it. Their Black is worth living... not shut up and off from a world that can't see past it to their person, but out loud, living to its fullest potential and fullest extent of self. The grand jury verdict of no indictment in Ferguson and the continual execution of Blackness at the hands of law enforcement officers may say otherwise, but I know better. My sincerest wish in this life is that you would choose to as well.
Isom Kuade; Austin, Texas
It's impossible to look at Ferguson and not think about my own son. I want him to know that in spite of how this world may view him, he does not need to be afraid. He does however, need to be aware. Mindful of the world's perceptions because they shape the reality in which we live. I hope other young men, of all backgrounds, use events such as Ferguson to shine a spotlight on a part of our society that millions of people never witness, while millions of others must live their daily lives intertwined in.
I hope young men and women see the value in becoming involved in the process of active participation. I hope other young people see how their voices and contributions matter to the whole of society. I hope young people, such as my son, will eventually learn that there are no leaders to wait for. You lead as an individual by simply speaking loudly about the values that are right to you. Let your voice cut through hate, the fear, and the divisiveness. Let your actions fall in line with your voice so you can help lay the foundation for the society you want to live in. If you are not active, how can you expect action from another? No one person has all the answers, but seek out others asking the right questions. Social media has allowed us to band together in ways never before available in human history. I hope that when we witness injustices in the world, we can all see someone who reminds us of ourselves staring back at us — regardless of their skin color.