I Was Asked About Ferguson

Source: www.kmov.com – Unity rally supporting peace in St. Louis to be held in Ferguson Saturday

“What are some real/practical solutions to the Ferguson issue and the Fergusons across the nation?”

That’s a huge question. My friend posed it on Facebook and said she is collecting answers.

I have one average to huge sized answer. It does not address all of the facets of the issue, the history and the complex racial consciousness in this country. It addresses what I know. Here’s my answer:

I wish I had a short answer for this. I don’t – but I do indeed have an answer. It’s not an all encompassing answer. It’s one solution. One solution I have seen work. ONE solution for a problem that has as many solutions are there are souls involved in the story. I do not live in Ferguson, Missouri. I have never been. I don’t need to have been to Ferguson because what is happening in Ferguson happens everywhere in some form or another.

I am a white woman. I am fully conscious of the advantage and relative freedom and comfort that affords me without ever having asked for it or earned it for something special I did, achieved or accomplished. I was just born white in America. The same way Mike Brown was born black. And Tamir Rice. And Trayvon Martin. And 3,448,051 other African American teenagers in this country.

Because I am conscious woman who was born white in America this is a conversation I need to participate in. That is the responsibility of my relative freedom and comfort. It is my duty.

I have built my career by building bridges and talking about how to build them. I build bridges inside communities between schools and businesses. These two groups share a similar trait: they are where humans spend the bulk of their lives – children in our schools, adults at work.

Hatred and mistrust come from fear. Racism exists there. Fear comes from the unknown. Children are not born with hatred in their hearts, it is learned. In some cases, when white adults (who raise our white children) are insulated from the communities that exist around them or the communities that have been marginalized out of their daily awareness, fear and mistrust can evolve of those people and communities they do not know. There may be generations of beliefs handed down in families that fuel this. The fear is of people of color. Especially African Americans. Especially of young people of color and yes, especially young black men.

Fear wears the mask of racism.

When I speak, I speak from a deep place in my heart. It is the part of me that is a guardian of children. An advocate. A voice they cannot speak. I have asked a room full of corporate folks who came to a session to learn about volunteer opportunities to think about a time they saw a group of young men of color on the street. I didn’t want answers. I wanted to touch souls. I asked them to consider – did they have a fearful response? Did they cross the street? Think about it? Pass a quiet judgement?

Then I invited everyone in the room to think about themselves as teenagers. What did they care about most? Impressing a girl? How cool they were – or weren’t? What they were wearing? Yeah, my students are just like that. All teenagey, full of hormones and wanting to find things in life that make them feel happy.

They are us.
We are them.
We are all the same.

I invited these adults to come into my classroom, to keep coming and keep working with my kids so they could know my students the way I did. My class was an entrepreneurship class for eleventh graders. Students were excited and empowered by the opportunity to create their own business ideas and simultaneously intimidated by the work they had to do to write a business plan and pitch it to adults in the real world. I had upwards of 25 adults sign up to come to my class week after week to work together on this massive task of learning how to become entrepreneurs. My class united the mostly (but not entirely) white adults with the mostly (but not all) teenagers of color. Business discussion unified them. The kids were eager to learn about business stuff, or, if you will, how to hustle (teachers know: meet kids where they’re at by using their language, ignite the spark, and watch the unfolding happen before you).

The kids had multiple adults returning week after week to cheer on and support their teams, answer their questions and give feedback. And the adults got to talk about their own knowledge and experiences (kids know: adults love talking about themselves and in this capacity it worked for the kids). The adults ended up falling in love with the kids, just like I did. They saw how funny, smart, creative, alive in the moment and hungry to express themselves they were. They wanted to help them succeed. Often times they would speak to me after class about this kid or that and ideas they had to help them if that is okay. Okay? No, it’s not okay. It’s perfect!

Adults in my classroom expressed to me how they felt like they were a part of something much larger. That said they returned to work feeling much better about addressing issues and handling stressful situations. Why? Because they knew it didn’t matter as much as what most of the students had to deal with on a daily basis. The adults knew they were going home to a safe neighborhood rather than gunshots. To a warm house rather than one where heat is only turned on when it’s freezing. To wifi and new computers rather than needing to stay at school to use a computer in a computer lab.

My amazing adult mentors helped to build networks around my students – connecting them with other adults who went to a college they are interested in or who could help them apply for an internship. These connections with professional networks, while easy and simple for us adults to do without a second thought, were emerging safety nets against the pitfalls and cycles of poverty for my students.They opened up new worlds for my students. And they were quite literally safety nets: networks of adults who saw my kids for who they are, not what they look like. Adults who care about and invest in students’s futures open doors to other adults and opportunities and futures.

These types of connections build community, establish trust and and create hope. They remind adults that they too were insecure teenagers with a million questions but not many people to ask them of. I’ve seen miracles happen by building bridges in our communities in this way. This one way may be the most important solution to this problem simply because we can all do it and we can all do it today.

That’s my real/practical solution for Ferguson, for all Fergusons and the direction we need to be heading everywhere.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.