BLACK HISTORY MONTH
What Do We Tell Our Children? The Struggle To Save Lives In The Black Community
By Dr. Shelia Evans-Tranumn, Former Associate Commissioner of Education,
NYS Education Department
As we celebrate the dawning of a new year, it is hard to forget that 2014 represented a historical moment defined by mourning, outrage, murder and protest. Last year, the American public was inundated with painful stories and brutal images of unarmed Black men and women killed by police officers in Missouri, Ohio, New York, California, Utah and Arizona. Echoing the final words of Eric Garner, these murders and subsequent non-indictments made all of us feel as though we could no longer breathe.
However with the help of social media activist, grassroots organizers, youth community leaders and engaged local citizens, these deaths have served as a clarion call to honor Black life throughout the United States and around the world. There must be a response from the educational community to these acts of violence as well. The reality is that our children are privy to more information through social media than most adults. We have to ask ourselves, how are young Black boys and girls processing what they see? Do they feel safe in the streets and the community? Do they feel police officers are there to protect them and not to kill them? Do they harbor internal violence for the violence they see perpetuated daily? How many more times a day do they have to see Eric Garner killed by police officers, and how are those images affecting them? After all that they have seen, what do we tell them?
When Amadou Dialou was shot forty-six times in the hallway of his home as he pulled out his wallet to show the officer his university identification, it sent the message that if you are stopped by police do not go into your pocket. When Trayvon Martin was killed by a citizen of Florida, the message was do not wear black hoodies. In response to the death of Michael Brown one could surmise that one should not walk in the middle of the street even if cars are not coming. Akai Gurley has taught young boys not to walk down the steps in a New York City Housing Project even if the elevator is slow or broken. Tamir Rice has yelled from the grave, little twelve year-old boys should not play with toy guns. And Eric Garner’s death has taught us that having asthma while in police custody can cost you your life.
The reality is that there are too many painful incidents with too many variables to teach children who are of a darker hue how to survive. If we taught them to live under such irrationality, we would teach them to live as though they were going to die. We would shackle their potential to thrive and dim the lights of their radiant spirits. What we must teach them, instead, is how to live free despite the consequences they might face. As we work to change society and how the actions of some continue to depreciate the value of Black lives, we must create for young men and women an avenue to change the future.
By creating a “Curriculum of Inclusion” which values the contributions of all Americans, we can educate all facets of society on the value of all life. Through education we can address how unintentional and intentional bias affects how we respond to one another. We can ensure that each child who graduates from high school should also have a voter registration card. As adults continue to resist the efforts to repeal the Voting Rights Act, we must call upon the organizing skills of young people take charge and create an America that values their lives. And yes, we must encourage our young people to continue to video-tape injustice when they see it despite the harassment they might receive. Lives matter, and to the communities from which these victims come, Black lives absolutely matter.
Finally to the mothers of the victims, we encourage you to stay strong. We pay tribute to Gwen Carr mother of Eric Garner and a childhood friend, Sabrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, Samiria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice and Kadiatou Diallo, mother of Amadou Diallo as well as countless others who have to go to sleep each night without a son or a daughter who died too soon. May their final breaths continue to breathe new life into this movement of transformation and justice. #