I recently went on a self-imposed media blackout for about a month. I had so much on my plate, I felt it was hurting my productivity and taking away from time with my family. So I blocked it. Stopped checking Facebook, Twitter, and just about everything else.
Well, shortly after ending that media hiatus, I began hearing about “Ferguson” and “Michael Brown.” There aren’t too many media outlets you can visit without hearing or seeing something about it. It’s a sad story that brings back thoughts of Trayvon Martin and other similar cases.
As the father of three African-American children, two of them boys, I know exactly what I have to do: I have to sit down and have a talk with my kids, just like I eventually did regarding Trayvon Martin’s death. It’s a conversation no parent wants to have, and frankly I’m tired of talking to my kids about stuff like this.
But I have to.
Why I have to talk to them
We live in a media-dominated society. We are bombarded 24/7 with the news. Most of the time the media is attached to our hand (via a smart phone). At some point — somewhere, somehow, from someone — our kids will hear about Michael Brown and Ferguson. I’d rather them hear it from me first.
But that’s not the main reason I have to talk to them. Our kids need to know what is going on in the world outside of our four walls and the circle of people we’ve chosen to expose them to. I’d be a failure as a parent if I didn’t prepare my kids for what they may face once they leave the loving confines of our home.
No matter how much I don’t want to talk about events like this, no matter how strongly I believe they should never happen, the reality is that they do, way too often. My job as a father is to use this situation, like everything else, as a teaching opportunity.
What I have to say to them
I read this quote from a friend of mine on Facebook:
“The hardest thing I had to do all day is try to explain to my 8-year-old son why he must be cautious of the police. I don’t want him to be fearful, but it seems a healthy fear is appropriate for what’s taking place these days … #thiscantbelife”
I have a family to support, projects to complete, and a marriage that takes work, but I agree with my friend: one of the hardest challenges I face is trying to explain to my 8-year-old son exactly what happened in Ferguson.
I have yet to talk to my kids about it, and I’m not sure exactly what I’ll say. I’ll probably give them a summary of what happened. I’ll listen to any questions they have and intently watch their facial expressions and body language before starting a discussion about all the different viewpoints.
My conversation has to be from the standpoint of teaching our kids to avoid situations like this. It bothers me that the color of my kids’ skin can put them at risk, but it’s something I’m familiar with, and it must be addressed.
But how can they do that? How can they avoid these situations?
I don’t know, as in both cases (Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin), the kids were just walking home. Should our kids, especially our boys, never walk home alone, or even with a friend?
Do they have to be fearful, even of law enforcement? They shouldn’t have to be, but if doing so will save their lives, I may encourage it. While some may feel it’s wrong to teach them to be cautious around police, I disagree.
My job is to protect my children from anybody or anything that might harm them. A uniform, a job, or a title doesn’t reveal a person’s true character. A healthy respect and sense of caution can help keep my kids safe.
What I hope will happen as a result
I hope my kids will never be faced with a situation like what happened in Ferguson, but ultimately it is not in my control or theirs.
I hope my kids will continue to carry themselves in a way that shows the character we try to instill in them: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, honesty, faithfulness, selflessness, and discipline.
I hope they will consider the consequences of their actions before taking the action, yet never be afraid to stand up for what they believe is right — even when it’s unpopular.
I hope this nonsense ends. I hope unarmed people, especially kids, stop losing their lives at the hands of those whose job is to protect and serve. I hope my African-American sons can live with the same liberties as Caucasian boys, Asian boys, Latino boys, and all others in this country.
The liberty to walk home to see their parents. The liberty to dress how they want and not be a target. The liberty to live freely in our country.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on September 3, 2014. On November 24, a Missouri grand jury ruled not to indict the police officer who shot Michael Brown. Read more about their decision, and its aftermath, here.
Photo credit: Jackie & Stephana Bledsoe