“How many of you have seen the video of Alton Sterling being murdered by the Baton Rouge Police?” I asked this question to an audience of attentive youth during a recent speech. Every single child raised his or her hand. Then I asked how many of them saw Philando Castile get shot by a Minnesota police officer in front of his girlfriend and 4 year-old daughter. Again, every single child’s hand went up. It wasn’t the hands in the air that concerned me most; it was the way they looked at me. Trauma was written all over their faces.
Let’s be real. Seeing Alton Sterling shiver to his death after having a tangerine-sized hole shot into his chest shook up millions of grown folks. Watching Philando Castile float in and out of consciousness after being shot by an enraged Minnesota police officer sent many adults into mental shock. We’d seen many police shootings and law enforcement murders on video, but never in this kind of “3-D” fashion. Both videos sent people into literal tears worldwide. If these videos sent most adults into psychological shock, what effect do you think it’s having on our children? And an even more critical question is “are we even paying attention?”
Social media has evened the information playing field. This is the gift and the curse. Every child in America with access to a smart phone or computer can now access information that we, as parents, could once hide from them. My daughter sent me a random text message that simply said, “Dad, what’s going on?” I was so busy that day that I was clueless about what she was talking about. I immediately called her. Her concern was with these very videos, a report of a Black man hanging from a tree in Atlanta and the shooting of several cops in Dallas. I, then, realized that I’d talked to everyone else about what was going on except my children. And if I’d failed to sit down with mine, I’m sure others are making the same mistake.
When two parents decide to get a divorce, it is the children who suffer most. When a country is as divided as this one, it is the children who suffer the most. Whether we realize it or not, our children are watching as Black men and women are being murdered in cold blood by law enforcement while the officers who committed the act are NEVER CONVICTED. American society obviously does not realize that a generation is being formed in this country that will have less and less respect for a legal system that rewards its officers for killing people who look like them. And now they are seeing people take matters into their own hands by killing officers in unprecedented numbers. Ladies and gentlemen; our children are taking notes. And if you think America is a war zone filled with land mines now, what do you think this country will look like twenty years from now when this traumatized generation is in control.
Truth is, many of our youth don’t have the most encouraging home lives. Many have parents who are incarcerated. Some have parents who suffer from drug addiction. Even worse, some have parents at home who “talk down” to them 24/7. Thousands are homeless trying to make it through high school. Videos of these police murders add hopelessness to already hopeless situations. When a Black man can lose his life in a police encounter and its caught on video and the officer goes free, it reinforces the message that nobody cares. The most dangerous moments in my childhood was when I felt no one cared. I would say to myself that if nobody cares, why should I care? It was during these periods that I made some of my most reckless choices. Our youth have to know that, even in the midst of this theatre of conflict called America, somebody cares.
I am issuing a nationwide appeal through The Forward Times Newspaper to take time to sit down with your children to help them to process what’s going on in this country. I know that we are busy with our Black Lives Matter protests, civil disobedience, political debates and CNN updates. But if we don’t help our children make sense of the replica of hell that America is becoming they will be left to their own perception that nobody cares. If you do not have children take time to sit down with a group of youth in your family or community. Ask them how the Alton Sterling video made them feel. Don’t be alarmed if it traumatized them. Be alarmed if it didn’t bother them at all.
I spoke about this to a Black woman who grew up in the Civil Rights movement. She said the carnage of the Civil Rights movement gave them character, as children, and made them stronger. She made lots of sense. However, the family dynamic in the Black community was different in the sixties. Black children were forced to be a part of a tight-knit community during segregation. The children of the Civil Rights had families and community to help them to make sense of it all. Strong institutions like the Nation of Islam, The Black Panther Party and Civil Rights Organizations were very vocal. Leaders like Dr. King, Stokely Carmichael, Ella Baker and others were narrators of the struggle. Our children can be made stronger by the challenges we face in today’s climate, but only if we come together as a village to help them make sense of it all.
Let’s pay special attention to our children in this trying hour for our people. In the words of the African proverb “it truly takes a village.” Let us hold forums, big and small, where we listen to them to see how all of this bloodshed is impacting them. I know that many of you wanted to hear me talk about the recent police shootings and the even more recent shootings of police. Well, that is exactly what I’m talking about. If we don’t help our young ones process what’s happening around them we can bet money that what we see at present looks like a Valentine’s Day dance to what we will see in the future. Black America, sit down and talk to your children. Now!!!