This month, four current and former police officers who were responsible for the shooting death of Breonna Taylor while she slept in her bed were federally charged. For many, this was a sigh of relief. It’s just one step, though, in holding responsible the people who killed Breonna within the safety of her home. There is no justice in unjust systems so, while I hope that her family will get some peace from this, it’s not nearly enough to address the corrosion that is police violence.
Dismantling harmful systems takes a multifaceted approach. As a parent, my work is cut out for me when I think about raising children whose lives center equity and justice for all, especially those of us who face marginalizations and racism. I want my kids to know right from wrong and to take action, not just when they’re grown, but in the here and now. And it starts with having honest conversations with them about injustice. Some parents may find it hard to talk to their kids about Breonna Taylor, given her brutal, nightmarish death. Some may shy away from such a tough topic because they may not have the language to address this with their kids. Well, here’s the thing: you don’t have to have all the answers and that’s OK.
Not sure where to start? Here are a few pointers that I developed with child and family therapist Sarah Harris, LMFT-S. Remember that you know your child’s developmental capacity the best. Adjust these pointers according to that.
Model the type of conversation you want your kid to have with others.
The conversations you have with your child — the home you create — directly impacts the type of person your child is in the world. Raise children who are brave and ready to stand against racism and to speak up in the face of injustice. “The goal is not to be unafraid,” Harris says. “Courage is feeling the fear and doing the right things anyway.” Model having brave and difficult conversations with your kids, notice any discomfort, allow yourself to feel it and still choose to tackle the truth.
Convo starter: “This is hard to talk about but I want to talk to you about a woman. Her name is Breonna Taylor. Have you heard her name before? Let's get some more information about her life, and maybe we will find some pictures to celebrate her life. Does that sound like a good idea to you? And remember, I’m here if you have any questions.”
Tell the story of Breonna’s life.
Breonna was a daughter, a friend. She had dreams and hope for a full and happy life. Breonna wanted to have a baby and she had just bought a new car. She had plans for her life. She dedicated her time as an EMT to saving others. Talk to your kids about dreaming for the future, about her family, robbed of so much. Talk to them about basic humanity, about helping others when they’re hurt, which the police failed to do, as Breonna didn’t receive medical attention for more than 20 minutes after she was shot.
Please note that society often looks for “perfect victims" Breonna's achievements have been held up to the light over and over again, but they don't make her any less deserving of death than someone running away from the police, or a person suspected of a crime.
Convo jumpstart: “Breonna Taylor was a young woman who had big dreams. What do you want to be when you grow up? Well, Breonna also had dreams for her life. She wanted to be a mom. She was a helper, just like you. What are some ways that you help others?”
Talk about Breonna’s mother, Tamika Palmer — her bravery and her commitment to never stop fighting for justice for her daughter.
“It’s hard to breathe without her,” Tamika said. You, a parent, get this deep in your core. Relate this to your love for your child and your commitment to give them a just life.
Convo helper: “Breonna’s mother is still advocating for her, even now. She’s very sad because she lost her daughter, but that’s not stopping her from marching and protesting for Breonna. She loves Breonna just like me and Dad/Mom/Parent/Grandparent/Co-parent love you. So many people know Breonna Taylor’s name because of her mom.”
Don’t shy away from the facts of the story, relaying them in an age-appropriate way.
If your kids watch action shows and movies, they understand that guns can kill and they get the impact of shooting someone. Don’t hide the truth from them. Studies show that kids are ready to talk about race and racism long before their parents address it with them.
“It's not just about their cognitive needs but emotional needs too. This can be a scary conversation and kids need to feel reassured about their well being, “Harris adds.
Convo helper: “This is hard to talk about, and I want you to know that YOU are safe. This is hard to share and I want you to know I am here if you have questions but it’s important for you to know that guns can kill and are not safe. Breonna was killed by guns used by police. We do not use guns in our family. What do you think are some ways to stay safe without guns?”
Talk about defunding the police.
Breonna was killed by police. It is essential to be honest with kids about how dangerous police are to Black and Brown communities. If you’re white and you’re avoiding that conversation, you’re using your privilege to shield your kids from a reality that many people face. Black parents are forced to tell our kids that police will not protect us. If we’re forced to have these conversations with our kids, white parents need to step up and do the same. If you’re disturbed or shying away from calls to defund the police, take time to understand what the movement is calling for. The Movement For Black Lives has ample resources.
Convo helper: “Policing as a system is harmful to Black and Brown people. Let’s think about some ways to keep everyone safe that don’t involve police and that includes safety for Black and Brown people.”
Talk about how this country views Black lives.
Talk to your kids about the way Black lives are valued. Talk to them about the way this shows up in how school administrations may treat Black kids, who are disproportionately punished in relation to white kids. Nationally, Black students are suspended three times as often as their white peers. Talk to your kids about what it means to use their voices to stand up for injustice when they see it.
Convo helper: “People with power in this country sometimes hurt Black and Brown people because they assume bad things about us/them because of the color of our/their skin. That’s why, together, we are fighting for a world where everyone is safe and has the chance to get what we need in life. What are some things you need to feel safe?”
Raising antiracist kids involves raising children who are aware of injustices around them and are open and ready to unroot it. You may think your kid is too young to use their voice but it can start pretty young. There is no justice in an unjust system. We must work to dismantle the systems that no longer serve us, and that starts at home, with you and me.
#OneAction To Take Today:
Speak to your child about Breonna Taylor today using the guidance above. Schedule time to do this when they’re not tired or hungry, and do more listening than you do talking. Ask questions as you provide resources and guidance to them.
Raising Anti-Racist Kids is a bi-weekly column written by Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs focused on education and actionable steps for parents who are committed to raising anti-racist children and cultivating homes rooted in liberation for Black people. To reach Tabitha, email email@example.com or follow her on Instagram.
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