(This blog is from the Summer of 2016.)
At the end of this past week I asked my students to write a journal entry on any emotions they were experiencing, or something that had been on their hearts and minds at the time. I was quite surprised and instantly saddened when I read over the reflections and realized that 7 of my 9 scholars wrote about topics related to police brutality and racial discrimination. While I was very aware of and deeply affected by the incidents that occurred last week in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, St. Anthony, Minnesota, and Dallas, Texas, I did not realize how cognizant my 9, 10, and 11 year old scholars were of the troubling events as well. Personally, I have had a very difficult time processing everything that took place, and my heart had been hurting ever since I watched the video footages of Alton Sterling’s death, Philando Castile’s death, and read the initial news article on the killing of the 5 police officers. With the deep numbness and sadness I felt (and still feel), I was not sure how to have a conversation about these recent events with my class in a productive way while maintaining my composure. I ultimately decided, however, that it was important to not shy away from having that conversation despite the discomfort or difficulty that could accompany it.
“Why they keep killing black men for no reason?”
“Sometimes I wish I was white, but at least I’m light skinned so hopefully that helps me out a little bit.”
“I’m afraid of police officers except for the one here at Sedgefield.”
“Why can’t we just get treated like white people? Slavery is over so shouldn’t we have the same rights now?”
These were a few of the many comments that came up during our discussion. The most concerning part to me was how so many of the scholars voiced their desire to be white instead of black or Latino, or how they were pleased or unhappy with the complexion of their skin – pleased if they had a more fair complexion, and unhappy if they were darker. This internalized oppression, self degradation, and rejection of their racial identities based on how they see and know people of color to be treated and perceived was truly heartbreaking. While the bulk of the conversation was heavy and emotionally exhausting, it was inspiring to hear the scholars naturally transition to talking about how they all want to commit to make our country a better place by bringing peace and equality to all. Towards the end of our talk, a 10 year old boy said, “I really just want everyone to be happy and safe and get along. I also just want to be treated fairly because I deserve it and so do all of you.” One of the 11 year old girls then started chanting, “Black lives matter!” and a 9 year old girl asked, “Why do you say black lives matter? Don’t you think all lives matter?” The girl then responded, “This is how my mama explained it to me. Pink is a great color. That’s not saying that blue, orange, green, and purple are bad colors… It’s just saying that pink is a great color. Saying ‘black lives matter’ doesn’t mean that other lives don’t matter. I’m just focusing on black lives because it seems like a lot of people have forgotten that we also matter.” The 9 year old girl who initially asked the question then excitedly started chanting, “Black lives matter!” with the 11 year old, and the rest of the class quickly joined in. I was so glad and relieved that we ended up having the discussion because I truly think it benefited everyone. The scholars were able to voice their thoughts, ask questions, learn from one another, and ultimately unite during such a difficult time. And for me, the sadness I faced going into the discussion transformed into a deep passion for action and social justice, fully inspired by my 9 amazing scholars.