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Cindy Bass is a three-term member of Philadelphia City Council. But she’s also a mom.
So when, on Tuesday at around 5:10 p.m., a Minneapolis jury convicted former police officer Derek Chauvin of murdering George Floyd, Bass thought about how she’d deliver the news to Carson, her 11-year-old daughter.
“I’m going to do a whole lot of listening about how she feels about this, and less talking,” Bass said in a phone call.
Derek Chauvin’s murder trial and the racist attitudes it spotlighted added an extra layer of anxiety for young children and their parents, in Philadelphia and around the nation. While the country held its breath awaiting the verdict, Bass also had to think about what it all meant to her 6th grader.
The Mt. Airy-based legislator was forced to consider how racism continues to impact her relationship with the world around her, and what that means for her daughter.
“I’m certainly going to … try to make sure that I don’t impart all of my thoughts and experiences and hurt and pain to her. I don’t want to pass that on,” Bass said. “I want to make sure that she sees things through fresh eyes, but is aware and knowledgeable to the extent that’s necessary to protect her.”
Black parents, and parents of Black and brown children, don’t have the luxury of avoiding the topic of racism with their kids. Bass has seen how simply processing the idea — that a person can hate another based solely on skin color — hurts her daughter.
Chauvin’s conviction comes as police violence against people of color persists. On March 29, Chicago police gunned down 13-year-old Adam Toledo, a Mexican-American child, while his hands were in the air. On April 11, police shot and killed 20-year-old father Daunte Wright, a Black man, during a traffic stop just 10 miles from where Chauvin murdered Floyd.
Dr. Sarita Lyons is a Philadelphia psychotherapist who’s been practicing for more than two decades. In that time, she’s counseled individuals and families working through racial trauma. Often, she said, people don’t know to attribute their depression or changes in mood to the impacts of racism.
Racial awareness extends to the youngest children, too.
Erica Talbert launched a family therapy practice called the Mo ri e Group dedicated to addressing the impact of racial trauma, racism, discrimination and systemic oppression on children and teens. She said people as young as four years old can be impacted by racism and racial trauma.
“When they enter into school, most of the kids recognize that they are different,” Talbert said.
Political consultant and communications expert Mustafa Rashed, who has two young sons, knows this well. Miles, 6, and Mathias, 4, may not be old enough for “the talk” Black parents and parents of Black children have about race, policing, and how to stay safe, he said. But Rashed has learned the boys perceive when something’s wrong.
“Miles is 6 years old,” said Rashed, who lives in Brewerytown. “He knows what the police are. He knows enough that I need to start laying the framework for him, so that he understands how to handle himself as he becomes older.
“Because I mean, Tamir Rice was 11,” Rashed continued. “That’s five years from how old Miles is now.”
The kids became anxious this summer when protests igninted by Floyd’s death, the police murder of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and the racially-motivated murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, set the city ablaze.
On Tuesday, Rashed detailed the talk that he and his wife Cynthia Mauger, who is Nicaraugan-American, were preparing to have with the young boys.
“Part of it will be… here’s what happened, it’s a tragedy, and here’s how to prevent this ever happening to someone in our family,” Rashed explained. “But we can’t prevent it. I hope that it spurs a conversation about why this keeps happening, and what really can be done to stop it.”
As long as police continue to kill Black and brown people disproportionately, children will continue to feel the weight of racism and white supremacy, and parents will keep having to hold difficult conversations, Talbert and Lyons said.
Here are some tips on how to do it.
Evaluate yourself first
Lyons and Talbert emphasized the importance of parents processing their own emotions before talking to their children. It’s okay to show raw emotion, Lyons said. But it’s important that parents process how racism, or their own racial biases, have impacted them.
Make space and listen
Talbert started her race-focused therapy practice because she heard from teens who were unable to talk to their parents about how racism was impacting them. At the same time, their parents weren’t equipped to have those conversations.
“A lot of times kids have questions like, ‘Why do the police officers hate us?’ or ‘Why do white people hate us?’ And so we have to be patient, and understanding and gentle in our responses when they’re asking those questions,” Talbert said.
At a loss for words? Try writing or doodling it out. People might think it’s “corny,” Lyons said, but she and her family do it. Buy some nice journals or notebooks for the whole family, create prompts, and take 5-10 minutes to let kids write out or draw how they’re feeling.
Don’t ‘sugarcoat’ racism or police violence
Talbert recommends parents “be honest about the reality of the world,” she said. “I don’t think we should sugarcoat anything.”
That means be honest about what can happen if a Black person is pulled over in America, or what it means when a white person sees someone as a threat.
Still, emphasize the good
Lyons said police misconduct can shift kids’ perspectives in powerful ways. “We teach them that police are there to protect and serve,” she said. So when kids see officers breaking the law, it can turn their understanding of right and wrong completely upside down.
In those instances, Lyons said it’s important to remind children that there are bad officers, but there are also police and people in power who aim to do the right thing.
Empower kids by finding solutions
Lyons also encouraged parents to use this moment and empower their kids to action.
Things like “writing letters to elected officials,” or “signing petitions as a family” are safe and healthy ways to teach children that they can help change police violence. In that way, it’s a stress reliever for kids.
Take a holistic approach
Lyons and Talbert both agree: Teaching Black and brown children to take pride in themselves is paramount.
“We want to make sure we balance these conversations about race with children,” Talbert said. “That we’re telling them, despite everything… we are beautiful, we are brilliant, we are educated, we are more than capable of anything we can imagine.”