Courageous Conversations about Race

As we continue to wrestle with racial equity and social justice in our country, I want to share resources with parents.  I have spoken about these topics several times over the past year.   I will periodically add resources to this list.

 

Critical Topics  in Parenting presented  by the Parent Encouragement Program (PEP)

I along with Dr. Linda McGhee presented a webinar entitled, Cultivating Racial & Cultural Awareness in Children.  You can view it here:  https://pepparentonline.org/p/cultivating-racial-and-cultural-awareness-in-children

 

A Conversation About Parenting and Race

I was interview by parent educator, Robbye Fox, on the Parenting With PEP in the Pandemic podcast.  Listen here:

We ARE the Frontline – Get In The Fight

*****As Previously Published at Medium.com on 11/28/2020***

 

Before you dismiss this as just another rant about the coronavirus, I implore you to consider what I learned today. Since this pandemic nightmare began, we have lost more than 1,100 people who committed their lives to healing, saving, and caring for the health of others. I could have referred to them as health care workers. It certainly would have made for a shorter sentence, but I wanted to drive home that we are losing PEOPLE. They are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, colleagues, neighbors, and friends — human vessels of love, companionship, nurturing, support, partnership, mentorship, encouragement, and the list of their virtues goes on. Let’s not forget the hard-earned expertise they passionately used in the service to the rest of us. They are not disposable. Their families and colleagues will tell you they cannot simply be easily replaced. I will tell you they are not the frontline. WE are.

It’s long past time that we stop denying the severity of this crisis. Before we can get there, everyone has to recognize the reality of this crisis. It very much exists; even if it hasn’t struck you, your family, or friends (though, how could that even be possible at this point?). The far-reaching impact of this pandemic is painfully obvious:

Food insecurity is evident in the long lines where families can wait for hours to receive provisions for their families. Sixteen percent of adults in households with children reported having insufficient food over the last seven days according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Let’s not forget the importance of good nutrition in fighting illness and disease.

Job losses have soared, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that 2.3 million people had been out of work for at least 27 weeks. In addition to layoffs from large and small organizations, we have also seen business closings at an alarming rate. At the local level, small businesses serve as community anchors, the loss of which has a deeply devastating impact.

Education at the formative K-12 level has been dramatically disrupted despite the valiant efforts of innovative, hard-working administrators and educators across the country. There is a very real concern about the diminished effectiveness of distance learning, particularly for students who lack adequate resources and guidance at home and who have limited access to external support they normally received. This crisis has laid bare longstanding inequities and failures in our nation’s educational system.

Mental health professionals are reporting record numbers of inquiries and consults during over the eight months since the beginning of the pandemic. People are scared. Their lives, and livelihoods, have been upended. Parents have children they must calm and protect during this crisis. As our children lost in-person contact with friends, halted recreational activities, and missed milestone celebrations, anxiety and depression set in. A study from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that emergency room visits related to mental health for children rose sharply; a 31% increase over the same period last year. There is also evidence that contracting the virus has a deleterious effect on overall mental health. Researchers from the University of Oxford reported that one-fifth of COVID patients went on to receive a psychiatric diagnosis.

Without a strong national mandate for attacking this virus in our medical system and on the street, we stumbled needlessly in the beginning. We received mixed messages from our leaders about what to do at the state and local level. Many of those leaders have reconsidered their earlier stance and are calling for more restrictive, yet protective, practices in their jurisdictions. Regardless of the missteps early on, we can no longer use them as an excuse for not meeting this moment. There a few, basic, preventative measures the experts have coalesced around for months. Let’s review:

  1. Stay at home except to take care of basic needs. Definitely remain at home, and isolated, if you are feeling sick.
  2. Wear a mask; if not for yourself to protect others. Numerous studies have shown that masks reduce community spread of the virus.
  3. Avoid large gatherings. Where possible, spend minimal time among people outside your household.
  4. Practice social distancing. Stay at least 6 feet apart.
  5. Wash hands often. As much as possible, keep hands away from eyes, nose, and mouth.
  6. Practice self-care. Make time for proper rest, nutrition, and exercise. Indulge in favorite hobbies and activities to take your mind off of the challenges brought on by these unusual circumstances.
  7. Stay informed. Follow latest developments and heed guidelines prescribed by the CDC.

Thanks to medical scientists and their teams who leaned into their expertise, and their compassion for human life in spite of early confusion about what we were facing. They applied a laser focus on understanding this virus and how it could be stopped. These efforts have been fruitful, yielding trial vaccines that look very promising. But again, they are not the frontline. WE are.

There is no doubt that we owe a debt of gratitude that we can never truly repay our healthcare workers, or those in foodservice, retail, delivery, and education who continue to labor in roles that place them in close contact with the public every day. However, we cannot sit back and merely applaud them. We have to get in the fight. Otherwise, we are ensuring that they stay on a relentless treadmill with fewer of their colleagues available to hop on give them a break. Whereas a patient death on their watch had previously been an irregular loss they could take a moment to absorb as feeling human beings are wont to do, they are now confronted with agony and death in unforgiving succession, every day. They should actually be the big guns we bring into the battle AFTER the breach in the frontline. WE are the frontline. It really is up to us to seal the breach and, let’s face it, we know how.

Study Secrets: A Guide to Setting Pre-teens up for Success (Grades 5-8)

It was my pleasure to participate on this panel where we shared homework and study secrets from middle schoolers.  Kudos to the Tutoring Club of McLean for hosting this event as the 2020 school year ramps up.  In case you missed it, you can watch here: Study Secrets for Pre-Teens.

August 2020 Community Visionary – She Unparalleled

I felt tremendously honored to be named Community Visionary for August 2020 by She Unparalleled (See story here:https://www.she-unparalleled.com/community-visionaries).  Rooted in faith, She Unparalleled is committed to providing a support system for women on their multifaceted journey through life.  Launched in 2020, the organization's visionary founders, Leia Towe and Nicole Woody are already making a positive impact on the lives of women in the community.  She Unparalleled proudly inspires, celebrates, and honors womanhood!

Want to End White Privilege? We Need All Hands on Deck

******As previously published at Medium.com, July 30, 2020*****

Ok. I have to admit I live in a bubble. In the midst of the double-pronged reckoning facing the U.S. in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resurgent fight for racial justice, my area is generally not seeing meltdowns over mask mandates or federal officers storming our neighborhood to quell protests (except for the notorious showdown in DC’s Lafayette Square near the White House). By and large, everyone here is taking the coronavirus seriously and they recognize that the police brutality and oppression suffered disproportionately by the Black community have got to stop. As white people wrestle with what to do next, what to read next, and who to talk to about it next, some people are slowly getting around to the self-examination that has to take place. Still, others continue wading in the pool of white privilege, only occasionally venturing over to the wall and peering over to see what’s happening in the real world; lobbing uninformed opinions and loathsome queries over the side like wayward pool toys.

My most recent experience in this vain: This morning, I went to the dentist with my two college-age sons. They’re still on our insurance plan, so I was just there to pick up the tab. So, I present my card (a ‘Preferred’ card of a certain color) to pay for both treatments. The white assistant takes my card and turns it over a couple of times in her hand saying, “Oh, what kind of card is this? I’ve never seen a card like this. I bank with XYZ bank [same bank] and my debit card is red…..” Taken aback by her determined intrusion, I simply respond, “It’s not a debit card.” The payment is processed and the transaction is complete and she proceeds to hand the card back to me. But STILL…”I’ve just never seen this color card before, my credit card is red (blah, blah, blah)…what kind of card is it?” Finally, I say “The card I have reflects my longstanding relationship and the level of service my family can expect at this bank.”

Before you tell me this was all innocence and curiosity, let me tell why I’m not having it:

  • At 50+ years old, I’m not ‘elderly’, but clearly this young lady’s elder. Where I come from, you don’t address your elders, or people you don’t know, this way. Further, it smacks of the condescension shown toward Black adults in decades gone by when younger white adults, or even children, addressed them by their first names despite having no personal or companionable connection to them.
  • The questioning of my credentials was unfounded. The name on the credit card was the same one listed as payer/guardian on the accounts and my sons’ dentist obviously raised no concerns about treating them. More importantly, the card proved to be valid and the transaction was processed successfully.
  • I am (or was) a longstanding client of that dental practice — 18 years. The thickness of my sons’ files certainly would have suggested this as she settled their accounts. There was no doubt about who I was.

I appreciate the awakening that is taking place among many white and other non-Black people around the unwarranted use of force, detainment, and other injustices inflicted upon Blacks in this country. Upon seeing media reports on these incidents, complete with smartphone footage, you are quick to finger those perpetrating these actions as ‘racist’. Harder for you to recognize are these offenses that we have to contend with to execute the most basic of functions in the course of a day. Instead, you want to make grand gestures like posting the stacks of books on race you’re reading, sporting Black Lives Matter t-shirts or kente cloth, and maybe even denouncing your ancestors’ actions from ‘so long ago’. In the past, we’ve seen you latch on to our culture, drape yourselves in our styles, and speak our vernacular, only to shed it all when you’re in a space where it won’t serve you, so pardon us if we are wary. We want to see you acknowledge and examine the baseless judgments you make about us every day, or their implications, as you question our rights to even be, let alone function, in spaces where you readily assume your white brothers and sisters just ‘belong’.

Even as our Black ancestors collectively fought for justice and equality, away from the battle lines, many had to exercise a little finesse about dealing with what we now define as microaggressions. They had to pick and choose when they were going to speak up vs. keeping their eyes on the larger goal, be it keeping their jobs, their homes, or their lives, but I can promise you, today’s youth and young adults don’t have that kind of patience. They want to change. Who can blame them? This foolishness, day in and day out, is exhausting. These experiences aren’t merely discouraging and disrespectful, or simply paying “the black tax”. Young folks are calling it what it is — an affront to our humanity.

And our humanity is at the heart of everything we’re asking for at this point. See us as humans that breathe, need love and care, deserve respect, have potential, and have aspirations just like you and your family. If you could just let go of the strongholds you have in these areas and trust that your egos can handle that neither your group nor any other group in the human race is inherently superior, we could all get to a better place, faster. Here’s just some of what we wish for:

  • Parents: Enlighten your children that they, and your family, are not the standard by which the rest of us are measured. Expose them to people who are ‘obviously’ different from them, AND remind them that there are differences among white people, within their families and beyond. Above all, acknowledge (don’t ignore) differences, but emphasize that diversity does not imply deficiency. Don’t fail to point out that they share similarities with people who don’t look like them as well. Consume media that reflects the diversity of our population. In age-appropriate ways, have honest discussions about our country’s history and the practices and systems that developed as a result.

. Law enforcement: Don’t assume we’re dangerous just because we’re Black. Give us the same benefit of the doubt when you’re called to the scene as you would non-Black persons of interest. Give us the same opportunity to explain our actions and even ask you why we’re being detained. If we are found to be in the wrong, follow the same procedure that somehow allows white gunmen who shoot up schools, churches, and movie theaters to survive long enough to make it to the police station, get booked, and secure representation.

  • Employment. Assume we are capable. Especially, when we have the same diplomas, certifications, and experiences (or more of all of that) as the perfect white candidate you’re so sure you’ll find if you just keep searching.
  • Education. Assume Black children are capable. Assume Black parents care about their children’s education. If a child needs assistance or support, work with the parents and educators to provide it. Just don’t decide their future based on this moment of need. Provide guidance to correct behavior as needed, but don’t over-discipline or ‘adultify’ Black children. Give them the same space to make ‘youthful’ mistakes, and learn from them, as their non-Black peers. School is not the safe place it should be for many of our children as research shows here.
  • Community: This includes neighbors, business owners, and other faces in public spaces. Assume we belong. Assume we’re decent people, operating in good faith until we’ve unequivocally shown you otherwise. Learn about people who don’t look like you, but don’t invade our physical or emotional space with confrontations or intrusive questions just because you need to feel more comfortable.
  • Healthcare: Be open to the fact that we actually experience pain. Uphold the oath of your profession and administer care like our lives matter. Because they do. Somewhere, someone loves us and wants us to live; the same way your tribe feels about you.

Understand that I am neither rejecting nor negating the support that you’re showing as you to try to grasp of our country’s true history or marching with us to show your sincere support of the cause. We need allyship. But along with that, we need a sincere change in mindset and heart-set. You have to genuinely understand and feel that we are not here to serve you, elevate you, fascinate you, or entertain you. We’re just trying to LIVE. Just like you. If you really seek this understanding, get out of the pool, and dry off. This is going to take a minute.

 

How Attending an HBCU Impacted My Life

***As previously published at Medium.com on March 1, 2020.***

During Black History Month, I was asked by a high school student to describe my experience attending an HBCU, a historically Black College and University. It was indeed a seminal experience, but it had been some time since I really tried to put into words just what it meant to me and I appreciated this opportunity to do so. Attending Cheyney University, the nation's oldest historically black college, had a remarkable impact on my life. From the first day I landed on campus, and walked on the quad among the historic buildings, I felt a spirit of hope and great expectation from the elders - that I would make the most of this opportunity and be excellent. Of course, there was the hope from my parents, that I would make sure to achieve all of my greatness in four years; and I did!

Cheyney was small; about 2,600 students, including commuters. There was an opportunity to get to know a lot of people from around the country and a few international students, but still not so diminutive that I knew EVERYbody. The majority of enrolled students were African-American and African, with most of us staying in on-campus housing. While some African-American students commuted to school each day, there were a fair number of Caucasian and other groups as well. There was definitely a sense of family among those who stayed on campus. We celebrated our sports teams, enjoyed parties, played intramural sports and occasionally commiserated about such slights as not getting seconds on ‘Steak Night', swiped pizza deliveries, or long waits in the laundry room. We also felt close to the employees who worked on campus, including residence hall deans, campus security, and even the cafeteria staff. We felt very secure knowing there were a lot of folks looking out for us. I think that is unique among smaller HBCUs.

Another aspect of my time at Cheyney that I really appreciated was the genuine investment professors felt in our success. Throughout my education, I had definitely seen educators who were passionate about their expertise and enjoyed imparting their knowledge to students. However, at HBCUs it seems that there is an extra sense of obligation that professors feel to ensure students learn the content and are able to apply it. They were counting on us to take the baton and run with it. By no means did they lower their standards for us. In fact, they were very frank about what we would face out in the world if we were not at the top of our game, but there was an extra level of care and concern about us doing well. To be honest, my experience was the same with professors who were not African-American. I can't speak for today, but I think back then, if you decided to teach at an HBCU, you really needed to buy into the culture, no matter your race or ethnicity.

On the topic of race and ethnicity, I cannot overstate what it meant to have so many African American scholars and administrators as role models on our campus. I attended public school in Washington, DC, so being taught by smart educators who looked like me was not a novel experience for me. Still, it was inspiring to see people of color in teaching positions across disciplines including the humanities, mathematics, sciences, industrial arts, education, etc. There were career academics as well as professors who infused their curricula with insights gleaned from previous careers in the corporate space as well as public service.

Professors' engagement with students extended outside the classroom with them showing up at sporting events and extracurricular activities which I'm sure happens at a lot of colleges. However, I found that our professors cared about our well-being, overall, including social, emotional and spiritual like elders in our family or community. They had no problem pulling you aside to let you know if they thought you were doing less than your best in class or were not carrying yourself with honor and decorum. One Wharton-trained professor told me I wasn't exactly ‘rockin' Accounting, and that I had better come to her office and get a handle on it. And you know I did! Seriously, I never planned to be a ‘star accountant', but putting in that extra effort provided a baseline of familiarity that helped when I got to graduate business school. Caring about us outside of class also meant that they kept us in mind when they learned of jobs, fellowships, or other opportunities that might enhance our learning experience. I had a professor ask me to deliver her speech at a campus-wide event when she fell ill. That awakened a love of public speaking in me.

Finally, attending an HBCU left me with a large collection of brothers and sisters. We have formed strong bonds across graduating classes, Greek organizations, industries, etc. We celebrate each other's successes, band together in times of need, support each other's businesses and lend a hand to each other's children. Homecoming is truly a family reunion at Cheyney. I attended a large, predominately white institution (PWI) for graduate school and I don't have the same feeling though I did make good friends, and certainly appreciate the education I received there. I hear this sentiment from others who attended predominately white institutions. There are exceptions, but in many cases, the number and intensity of the connections among African American students, just don't compare. In the end, I believe everything I have described comes back to family. I was a pretty good student and I could have made the most of just about any environment to earn my education; however, I am certain I walked away with something extra having attended an HBCU.

It’s Valentine’s Day – Show Your Kids Some Love!

It’s Valentine’s Day!  Leading up to the big day, there is so much focus on choosing the perfect card, the right gift, and setting the mood for romance.  It can be stressful placing so much significance on this one day, but we do it, year after year.  Why?  Because we want to let that special someone know we care and it’s fun.    

Even as we celebrate romance this year, let’s use this day to make love connections with our children as well.  Busy parents are pulled in many directions, running between work, school, and their children’s activities.  They are present, but not connected. Aside from hearts and candy, here are some things you can do to make sure your children know you treasure your relationship with them on Valentine’s Day or any day:

Speak love.  Seek to understand.  Take time to communicate clearly and respectfully.   Communicate your expectations thoughtfully and confirm understanding.  Guide and teach with the intent to empower and encourage.  Focus on resolution and reconciliation when correcting behavior.  Encourage respectful debate and dialogue for parents and children.  

Put love on the menu.  Pack a special treat in their backpacks where they’re sure to find it at lunchtime.  Prepare their favorite food for lunch or dinner.  Plan one night a week where you and your children cook together.    

Put love into words. Leave a note on your child’s pillow  Express what you admire about them, thank them for doing a good deed, or encourage them in their endeavors, on a card or poster.   

Make time for love.  When you come home from work, try to be “off the clock”.  If you must circle back to complete work, do so after your children head off to bed.  Turn off the electronics and tune into what your children are doing and thinking.  Invest 15 – 20 minutes of your undivided attention in talking with them before they start homework or at bedtime.  

Model love.  As parents, you can model loving, cooperative interactions with all family members.  Your relationship can set a standard for the kind of healthy respectful relationship your child can hope to build with a partner or spouse when they grow up.  This might be the greatest gift of all.  

Winning Is About More Than The Score

Coming out on top is what we all strive for.  Everybody loves a winner, right?  Well, a winner is defined by more than the score.  Today’s match at the U.S. Open between #1-ranked Naomi Osaka and teen phenom Coco Gauff provided a glowing display of what winning looks like.  At 21 years old, Naomi is still making a name for herself in the elite ranks of tennis. Her play was focused and nearly flawless. She came to win.  Coco, too, came to win. Coco had inspired moments, though she could not overcome Osaka’s brilliant performance. After two sets of thrilling play, the match was over with Naomi emerging victorious.  

What came next were moments parents live to see for their children – grace in victory and in defeat.  Naomi was pleased with her win and who could blame her?  Coco didn’t simply roll over out there.  As the match concluded, the players approached the net, shook hands, and embraced pleasantly with words of congratulations and admiration.  Naomi could have seized this moment to  revel in the adoration of the crowd.  Yet, Naomi only took in a few moments of it before inviting Coco to participate in what should have been Naomi’s post-game interview.  Though clearly disappointed about her loss, Coco accepted Naomi’s compliments on her game, and the invitation, with a little gentle prodding.    

We parents try mightily to instill certain character attributes in our children.  We model desired behaviors in our families, we bring our children’s attention to positive interactions among others, and we encourage them to practice kindness and compassion when dealing with their friends. We allow them to tackle challenges and develop skills in order to build courage and self-confidence.  In the end, though, it’s really up to our children to decide whether they will open their hearts to show grace toward others recognizing that it doesn’t diminish their own accomplishments or standing to do so. We hope they make that choice. Naomi made that choice.

Naomi won the match, fair and square and deserved the honor that comes with it.  Coco lost the match, without a doubt, and deserved respect and dignity as a determined competitor.  As Harry Sheehy put it, “[i]t is your response to winning and losing that makes you a winner or a loser.”  In the game of tennis, the score tells us who wins and who loses; that’s the way the ball bounces.  In the game of life, these two ladies are #winning.

What’s In a Smile?

The other day, I was poring over hundreds of photos with my mother as we placed them in new photo albums. I ran across one of myself while out on a field trip with my sons.  They were 4 ½ to 5 years old, at most.  We were in a Moroccan restaurant and the boys were off with other children learning to belly dance, no doubt.  

As I looked at the face smiling back at me, I’d love to say I saw hope, and confidence, but it was probably more like relief that I had a moment to breathe.  You see, bringing up twin sons is not for the faint of heart and, certainly not for the weary.  Looking back, my real work was really just beginning.  We were way past the days consisting primarily of sleeping, bathing, eating, changing, playing….<repeat>.  They were busy now, soaking up experiences, deciding how the world works and what their place was in it (at the center, of course).  

Originally, I thought I could just physically power my way through and everything would fall into place. This approach occasionally worked in college and on the job, but at what cost?  How about physical and mental stress, errors that could have been avoided, and missed opportunities to absorb useful, new information?  For the task at hand, my boys deserved better.  This  was no short-term project and I had to work smart if I was going to last.  I didn’t know it that day, but help was on the way through valuable lessons that would come to me:

  1. “Ask for help.”  There seems to be a stigma about seeking help where parenting is concerned.  You’re just supposed to know how to do it.  We don’t feel that way about any other job.  As a parent, you are shaping a whole person who will go out into the world and influence it for good or for bad – that’s kinda scary when you think about it.  Lean on your spouse, partner, family members, or friends, for help if you need it. They’re usually waiting for you to ask. Think carefully about it.  My experience has been that if you know what you need, and can articulate it, people have a much easier time helping you, whether it’s a friend, family member, or outside help that you hire.  Being clear about what I needed also helped me figure out whom to ask.  Not everybody is good at everything. Plus, some people are only open to doing what they want to do instead of what you actually need done.  That was a weird lesson for me, but anyway….  
  2.  “There’s strength in the village.” I found that my personal connections expanded tremendously as our children become more active.  The parents of their friends become our new friends, even if for a season.  We had to be open to them.  I found they were sometimes wrestling with the same challenges we were having, and putting our heads together, we conquered them.  We were rooting for each other.  
  3. “Sometimes, you‘ve just gotta move.”  Once you figure out what has to be done, don’t deliberate too long.  As a professional organizer once said to me about tackling projects, “Good and done is better than perfect and none.” I was not totally immune to procrastination, but once I figured out what was important in the moment, I knew I had to get laser-focused on getting the job done. 
  4. “You can pay now or you can pay later, but you’ve gotta pay.”  This lesson applied largely to discipline and managing behavior. I learned that I couldn’t put off teaching the boys how to do the right thing.  I figured the longer I allowed bad habits to settle in, the harder they would be to change and I would continue to pay the consequences, over and over again. That’s exhausting.  In the short term, I had to ‘pay’ by taking extra time to teach and/or correct appropriate behavior, often in the face of their tears, tantrums, and tirades.  In my work and my personal interactions, I see some parents cut corners on discipline because confronting misbehavior would upset their little buddies children.  Please take it from me — “You can pay now or you can pay later, but you’ve gotta pay.”
  5. “It will all work out in the end.  If it hasn’t worked out, then it’s not the end.”  When my children were little and I was feeling overwhelmed, I learned to look to tomorrow for another chance.  Before the boys were born, I always looked forward to each new day focused on chasing the next thing, without a lot of consideration for what a gift it was to even see it.  Now, after tucking the boys into bed, I found myself thinking about how the day had gone and what I could do differently the next day.  I tried to pass this outlook on to my children and found that they often rebounded from disappointments a little faster when they knew they’d get another chance to do better or make things right.       

My experience as a parent has certainly helped me to become more creative and resourceful, as well as more patient with myself, and others.  Most of all, it has helped me to become more courageous, not just in parenting, but in other areas of my life.  I know I won’t hit it out of the park every time, but I’m gonna keep swingin’…and smilin'!   

*Excerpt from upcoming book, Mother’s Work:  Pearls of Wisdom and Other Gems from My Journey

Why Can’t Black Kids Act Their Age?

Like many of us, I was very disturbed upon hearing the story of a young Black father that was terrorized after his 4-year old daughter took a doll from the store without paying for it.  In fact, the entire family of four was traumatized during their encounter with police following this incident.  Apparently, the family left the store, traveled to an apartment complex with their two children. Without warning (i.e., sirens, etc.), policemen allegedly approached their vehicle, banging on it and threatening to shoot them.  At some point, the father exited the vehicle and was grabbed by police officers who wrestled to get his hands behind his back while yelling at him, and kicking him. Additional officers proceeded to the passenger side of the vehicle to tell them mother and young children to leave the vehicle.  It should be noted the young mother was 5 months pregnant.  There was lots of yelling, even yanking at the toddler that was in the mother’s arms. Thankfully, bystanders pleaded with officers to allow them to take the children and remove from the horrifying scene.  It is not clear who witnessed the child taking the doll and how the police were contacted.  Further, one news account indicated the parents were also suspected of stealing an item(s) though I have not seen any reports backing that up or detailing any charges to that effect, against the parents.   

[Subsequent to the original publication of this post, surveillance footage was released that appears to show the father stealing a package of underwear but that fact had not been confirmed with certainty at the time of apprehension.]

Now, I get to the reason for my question – why can’t black and brown children act their age? The ‘adultification’ of black children is a well-researched and documented hazard of growing up black in America.  Our children are very often robbed of their innocence and held to society’s standards of behavior far beyond their chronological age.  Come on – this child is 4 years old!!  While stealing is not appropriate, her behavior was well within the range of what you could expect for a child her age.  Her logic was: “I see it, I like it, I’ll take it!”  I certainly am not advocating that we allow children to steal, even little children.  However, I don’t understand why this mistake couldn’t have been met with more rational thought, and indeed, respect.  This was a missed opportunity for that child to learn a valuable lesson about making a mistake and making things right.  The act of facing the store owner, apologizing and returning that doll would have been a powerful life lesson for that child.  The parents were not given the chance to help this child make things right.  

The parents said they did not know the child had taken the doll.  Even as police were following up on the call, one would think this could have been handled as a traffic stop.  They could have advised the couple of the suspicions and asked to search the car. When it was discovered that a 4-year old child took a doll, one would hope cooler heads would have prevailed and this situation would have been handled differently.  Instead, the children in this family experienced the following:

  1. The head of their family being made powerless to handle a teachable family situation.
  2. An early lesson that “Officer Friendly” is a folk hero! 
  3. A painful wakeup call — They won’t get the benefit of the doubt other kids get when they make mistakes. And unlike their non-black peers, their mistakes can have grave consequences for their family.
  4. A seed planted in their young minds that Black Lives Don'tMatter; a seed that will likely flourish because they can’t un-seewhat they witnessed that day.  

Even if this family ‘wins’ the lawsuit they recently filed against the department, their young children have lost so much more.