This collection of stories and commentaries contains reflections and reactions offered in the wake of the killing of St. Louis Park resident George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Generated by CEHD alumni, students, faculty, and staff, the contributions explore themes of lived experiences, resilience, caring for our community, and commitment and action pulled from a special issue of Connect magazine dedicated to all the victims and survivors of systemic racism and police brutality—those whose names are known and those whose names are unknown.
On Kente Cloth:
The Appropriation of Our Sacred Symbol
Ebony Adedayo, Curriculum and Instruction, 2nd year PhD Student
You must have really thought that you were doing something
Dressed in our symbols of liberation
You must have really thought that you could easily put them on
Adorn yourself in our garments
And that we would applaud and champion your efforts
Think that you were really down for the cause
And committed to the end of our oppression
As you kneeled in the halls of power
Check in with Katy and Taylor (and Miley and Kim)
They will tell you that we do not like it when you try to be like us
We do not think it is cute, funny, or trendy, when you take things that are sacred to us
and use them for your own gain
Like winning the next election
I know that you were trying
Trying to show us, and the world, that you are in solidarity with Black lives
And won’t tolerate White supremacist violence—whether at the hands of a cop or some
self appointed vigilante
At least this is what I hope!
But rather than performative gestures like these
I’d prefer you pass an actual policy that gives us the assurance that there will never be
another George Floyd, or Breonna Taylor, or Tony McDade
That sentences cops that assault and take Black life
And moves beyond calls for police reform that do nothing
And return the Kente cloth to its rightful owner
It doesn’t belong on your necks
Not after 400 years of your knees being on ours
I Hear America Gasping
(160 Years After the Publication of Walt Whitman’s I Hear America Singing)
Ryan Warren, Educational Technology Innovations
I hear America gasping,
The mechanics of the country dripping blood spilled before our eyes,
The scaffolds shaking on cracked cement of the
Mason, whose concrete covers Indigenous bones
As if the boatman’s galleys weren’t filled with slaves,
Side by side, breast on breast, unable to know about shoes, hats
Luxuries of founders’ kin in houses built from
Pillaged forests overseeing farms of stolen land
America gasping, “I Can’t” for all America to hear, recognized by
Mothers, wives, and daughters and understood still
Inalienable rights collide with alienable intentions; Gasp, “I Can’t”
And you tell me what belongs to whom.
Day and night, day and night, day and night
Enslaved, lynched, segregated, redlined, profiled, murdered
The pitch may change but not the refrain
Gasping on American air
Parenting through pandemic, protest & policing
Leah Fulton, PhD student, Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development (OLPD)
Mommy, why does that sign say f*ck the police?
I had not thought about what I would say to my children, but I knew that on the day following George Floyd’s murder that I wanted to go to 38th and Chicago. I needed to go. We spent our first four years in the cities living in an apartment within walking distance of the murder scene and delivered all three of our children at a hospital a dozen blocks north. It was inconceivable that our neighborhood Target and Cub Foods where we had shopped for diapers and collard greens would be plastered across the national news, but in the days and weeks following his death that is exactly what happened. Living in isolation for the months leading up to that time drove me out of my home (mask in hand) to mourn with friends and strangers. Though I did not know George Floyd, the same structures that made his death possible are those that threaten my life and those of my children. My six-year-old is in the stage where he reads everything he sees and the signs strewn across the buildings along Chicago Avenue were no exception. I answered him, “They are angry because a Black man was killed here yesterday.”
“Who killed him mommy?”
“Because he used fake money.”
“But that’s not fair.”
“I know, baby. You’re right. That’s not fair.”
“Mommy, were they White?”
I was grateful that this was not our first conversation about race. Children really are always listening. Though he believes that he’s “lucky to be Black” and “knows a lot about African Americans,” he is also disinterested in discussing George Floyd’s death or the exhibits from the Detroit African American history museum—because they give him nightmares so he tells me.
“Leah, you probably shouldn’t tell them so many details.” I understood exactly what my partner was saying. I do not watch horror movies and can hardly endure psychological thrillers. The images linger in my mind long after the credits are done scrolling. The scholarship tells us that children recognize racial differences before they are a year old, exhibit implicit racial bias by the time they are three years old, and notice differential treatment based on those differences by the time they are four years old (Perszyk, Lei, Bodenhausen, Richeson, Waxman, 2019). It is uncomfortable, painful even, to describe these events to children, but withholding context does not safeguard them from the formation of living in a racialized society. This is especially true for those of us rearing children who are on the less favorable side of bias.
I did respond to my partner, “Chris, to the degree that they are able to formulate these questions, we have a responsibility to give them honest, developmentally appropriate answers.” We agree on the principle of honest answers, but not the implementation.
We woke up Wednesday morning and found the kids fully dressed. “Where are you going?” I asked them. They told me they were going to the police station to protect me.
I could neither tell them that their fears were unfounded nor say that the circumstances would change anytime soon.
It feels like my children have discovered that the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny are frauds. They know that our brown skin makes us vulnerable in ways that neither myself nor my husband can protect ourselves from—let alone protect them. I could neither tell them that their fears were unfounded nor say that the circumstances would change anytime soon. We are committed to protect as best we can for as long as we can in every way we can. Before the week was over, the city of Minneapolis had been put on an 8 p.m. curfew, highways were closed off, and we had instructions for how to safeguard ourselves against people who meant to cause harm to BIPOC homes and businesses.
“Leah, how much do your children know about what’s happening?”
They know a lot, but they don’t know everything.
When the curfew was first implemented we had them sleep in the basement. They thought it was for a movie marathon, but it was mostly our attempt at keeping them away from windows in case of incendiary devices.
Later that week I found myself compelled to be in solidarity with other people, so we stretched our pandemic practices and went to protest.
“No justice! No peace. Prosecute the police.”
“Mommy, what does that mean?”
“It means if police keep killing Black people, then we will interrupt their comfort too.”
“Why are they in the middle of the street?”
“It’s their way of saying that people can find another route or deal with the problem, but life as usual is not an option.”
Attempts to return to something closer to “normal” feel like another means by which Black life is illegible to mainstream society. There is nothing about the state of affairs. One of my children cannot go back to occupational therapy since his clinic off Lake Street suffered severe smoke damage. Our faith community is packed floor to ceiling with donated items for North Minneapolis residents who do not have access to food. And my work caseload is heavy on meeting the needs of Black students’ whose mental health and well-being have been compromised.
Six days after the murder, the kids asked, “Mommy, can we go play in the yard?”
I paused. I was afraid. I wanted to say “no.”
There are no adequate words for parenting Black children in an anti-Black society in the midst of pandemic, protest, and policing.
Perszyk, D.R., Lei, R.F., Bodenhausen, G.V., Richeson, J.A. (2018). Bias at the intersection of race and gender: Evidence from preschool-aged children. Developmental Science. 22e12788. DOI: 10.1111/desc.12788
Have an ongoing dialogue with kids
Beth Lewis, Professor and Director, School of Kinesiology
I have had many conversations with my three children (two teenagers and an 11-year-old) about racism over the years. Teenagers and tweens are significantly influenced by their peers, and as a parent, I want to know what their friends are saying. Because we have had many conversations about racism, my kids confide in me when someone has said something or done something that makes them uncomfortable. We talk about how to handle these situations and the importance of speaking up. My teenagers and I have read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which is about a teenager witnessing her Black teenage friend get killed by a police officer at a traffic stop. This book was helpful in starting an ongoing dialogue with my kids about racism and the problems we have as a society. It is important to keep talking to our kids to break this cruel cycle of injustice.
Tasha Brynn Walvig, ’05 MSW, ’17 PhD
“My face is made up of tears” our six-year-old said upon hearing about George Floyd’s murder. We decided to show her how she can be part of the change we need by taking her on bike rides every week to see the murals around Minneapolis. We talk about what we see in the art, and we talk about why people choose to share it. We talk about why racism is a bigger pandemic than COVID-19. Most importantly, we talk about what we as a family are doing to challenge the systems that hold it in place.
When I grow up I want to be alive
Alecia Mobley, ’03 EdD
I attended the silent clergy march led by Rev. Stacey Smith, St. James A.M.E. Church in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. My 12-year-old daughter turned to me before we left and asked with sincerity, “Do I need to wear long-sleeves and bring milk just in case we get tear gassed?” She then created a sign to march with—”When I grow up, I want to be alive.”
Jessica L. McLain, Educational Technology Innovations
The weeks following George Floyd’s murder have been a mixed bag of emotions. Emotions ranged from anger, sadness, exhaustion, fear, frustration, hopefulness, and pride. I went through each of these emotions as a White woman, living near North Minneapolis, raising two bi-racial children. I grew up in North Minneapolis. I love my city, my neighborhood, the lifelong friends I have made, and the kind of person living there has influenced me to become. I hate the destruction and violence that has occurred in my beautiful city, but not more than I hate the murder of an unarmed Black man by the hands of the police. People must understand the hurt/pain/anguish… being a White woman I am using my privilege to stand up, and speak out for POC. After all, it is our privilege that allows others to listen when we speak. I have engaged in numerous difficult conversations with family members, as well as with complete strangers, who are asking me why is this happening? And what is White privilege? I intend to keep sharing and posting information on racism, Black lives matter, and White privilege in order to make people uncomfortable and explore the issues at hand.
Recently, I attended, with my 10-year-old son, a beautiful, peaceful protest at the memorial site for George Floyd. I was overwhelmed with emotion at the sight of the destruction that took place in my city, but more so I was overwhelmed by the amount of love and kindness shown by all races who chose to come together. That’s my Minneapolis! Many have asked me why I chose to bring my son down there. They told me it was unsafe and that he was too young. The week of George’s death my neighborhood was on high alert. Constant sirens, helicopters, lots of cars with no license plates, and people who just did not belong. My son is very well aware of what is going on around him in our neighborhood, and he was scared. He asked the difficult questions like why is this happening, why do some people hate Black people, why are police killing people, why are people rioting, and are people going to hurt us? I took him to the memorial site so he could see the love, and many races coming together to fight for change and equality. I did not sleep well the first week. Maybe two-to-three hours of sleep at a time with any little noise waking me up and me having to go check the doors and windows again. Visiting my parents in Blaine allowed for a break from the madness in my neighborhood. It was nice. However, heading back home, the closer we got to our community, all the emotions rushed back inside of me. Passing the National Guard vehicles, soldiers, highway signs flashing “curfew in effect, get home,” many boarded-up shops, gas stations, and even some homes. My nerves and stress shot right back up.
Raising bi-racial children, I pledge to keep them aware and proud of their Black heritage. To stand for what is right, stand for equality, tolerance, and acceptance, and to continue raising them to be the strong individuals that they are so comfortable being right now. I am not looking forward to the day that I have to talk with them, especially my son, on how to manage and down play their confidence in situations where it may intimidate some White people, particularly police officers, who could see them as a threat. I pray for change. My hope is that through the current pain and protests going on we will leave the world a better/kinder/equal place for my children and all the other youth of the world.
As a White woman raising two bi-racial children, I know their experiences in this world will not be the same as mine. I pledge to continue learning, growing, speaking up, and keeping my eyes, ears, and heart open to what is needed for change.
Free support videos
Stephanie Kennelly, ’06 Elementary Education, Kathy Flaminio, ’93 MSW
We want to acknowledge the vibrant network of parents, educators, therapists, and youth service workers in our city who are committed to protecting the health and safety of youth and families. These individuals know well that our children are stressed and looking for reassurance and guidance to feel safe during these traumatic times. Research shows that trauma and stress reside in the body and when not allowed to release, negatively impact physical and mental health, making trauma-responsive mind/body practices a critical support strategy.
In response to this urgent need, we at Move Mindfully® (an organization providing trauma-responsive mind/body practices for youth and adults) are offering two, free, short videos (1000-petals.com/health-and-healing-for-all) with breathing, movement, and rest practices for children and their families. The integration of positive life-affirming messages into the videos reflects our intention to remind children that so many adults (family, teachers, neighbors, and others) love them and are dedicated to keeping them safe.
Be agents of a just society
Jessica Toft, Assistant Professor, School of Social Work
Context: I live about 15 blocks south of the fifth precinct in Minneapolis and about the same distance from the murder of George Floyd. I have multiple identities in relation to the George Floyd killing: social work researcher and professor who studies poverty, race, ideology; South Minneapolis and neighborhood resident; mother and (attempted) role model for my children (often they lead me); concerned citizen about public health/COVID; and social worker. I found myself traversing these different identities throughout. The day after the third precinct burnt down, I walked through Uptown (a place I know well) taking pictures. Few people were on the street, although shop owners were replacing their window boards with new ones already. We organized a food drive in my neighborhood. By the time the last bag was collected there were no food shelves open in Minneapolis—the food shelves had overflowed with donations. The next day, we brought the food to Calvary Lutheran Church, a block away from where George Floyd was killed. I went to the community service for George Floyd with other mothers in my neighborhood. My daughters have protested and volunteered in raising money and volunteered at food shelves.
Our helping systems—such as social work and we social workers within them—must take a closer look to understand how we, too, may be involved in shoring up inequality. We must re-engage with history, political-economic theory, and democratic philosophy and ask how we can be agents of a just society, rather than a well-regulated one.
Stop acting like it’s 1968
Sarah Siwula, ’73 BS
George Floyd was born the year before my oldest daughter. I can’t imagine the grief of seeing your child’s face squashed into the pavement. As a White Minnesota-born woman, I cried for George’s family, friends, and the world. Enough is enough! Minnesota police departments need to stop acting like they did in 1968.
Dan-neya Yancey, ’19 BS
If a father had 8 minutes and 46 seconds left to tell me their greatest wishes, this is what I think they would tell me:
A father’s greatest wish is to witness his children grow up—to spend his days in awe, admiring all the good and beautiful parts of himself in all of his beating hearts he welcomed into this world.
His greatest wish is to pour an ocean of love into his children. An overwhelming feeling of love pulsing through their veins so that one day, when the time comes, they’ll still know the feeling of what it is like to be loved by an angel on Earth.
If any father in the world had 8 minutes and 46 seconds left on Earth, I think they would also tell me this as the time winds down: “8 minutes and 46 seconds is not enough time to tell you the wishes I have for my babies because my wishes are endless.”
A garden of peace and honor
My pain, grief, and terror led me to the earth—planting, growing, and digging was my way to find some solace. This may seem strange, but planting seeds or flowers and watching them grow gave me enough peace for the day. I subsequently wrote names of many African Americans who have been murdered over the past few years, and created tangible symbols to honor their lives.
—Alecia Mobley, ’03 EdD
A community comes together
Melissa Critchley, Institute on Community Integration
We used to live in Union Park, and enjoyed the perks of a rather affluent neighborhood. We chose to move to a more diverse neighborhood after my partner, a person of Color, was profiled by the police too many times for it to be coincidence while standing at the bus stop at night waiting to go to his job. It was important to both of us that we both felt comfortable in the community we chose to call our home.
We now live on the West Side in St. Paul, and through the years we noticed a distinct lack of police presence in our neighborhood. Our neighborhood is often an afterthought, because we do not have a precinct on this side of the river. I know how ironic it sounds that we moved to a neighborhood in part to get away from over policing, only to move to a neighborhood where there is under policing. I only bring this up because of what occurred in our neighborhood during the riots has been an amazing and beautiful display of what is possible. The West Side neighborhood was concerned that our businesses could see similar fates to what was seen in other neighborhoods around the Twin Cities, especially when we have so little police presence in our neighborhood. We rely on the businesses of West St. Paul, so concerned citizens of the West Side banded together with citizens of West St. Paul and formed the West Side Guardians. We used social media to help protect our neighborhoods. We formed patrols and not only reported suspicious activity and racial harassment to police, but kept neighbors informed, as well. We shared contact information and didn’t hesitate to help out neighbors who were scared and alone—the West Side Guardians made sure no one felt alone. Down by El Burrito Mercado, groups of up to 50 concerned citizens would stand guard the entire night to make sure that our beloved businesses were not damaged by looters or rioters, following the early fate of a handful of businesses down the street in West St. Paul. Even though there were so many concerned citizens that were out past curfew, the police knew we had no ill intent and let us protect our own community.
What I witnessed was a community coming together during a terribly tough and scary time.
What I witnessed was a community coming together during a terribly tough and scary time. We’ve been very successful in protecting our businesses and helping community members. The West Side strengthened bonds with West St. Paul, because we rely on many of the businesses down that way as well. We formed a lasting community watch, that at last glance is more than 800 members strong and growing, but most of all we built a community that I can be proud of.
Kate Senich, Center for Early Education and Development
I am a former U of M graduate (graduated in 2014) and am now a staff member at the Center for Early Education and Development (CEED), a temp worker for the ADAPT4U study, and I volunteer my time in a research lab at the Institute of Child Development. A few friends and I have recently put together a project to create murals around the Twin Cities honoring George Floyd, as well as others lost to racism and police brutality.
Irene Duranczyk, Associate Professor, STEM Education Center
I have swept the streets two blocks from my house on Lake Street, talked to the owners and workers who were there on Thursday morning, May 28, after the Wednesday night fires. On Thursday late afternoon we walked to the precinct to take in the Wednesday evening events and talked to the Ghandi Mahal family. We live and shop only in our immediate neighborhood because we have chosen to live without a car and support our neighborhood businesses, especially small businesses. That is us.
We walked the perimeter of the third precinct on Friday morning, May 29, just to make the experience real and on Monday we participated in clean up in the third precinct area sorting burnt building material: bricks, metal, and glass. After clean up we went back to the memorial site to center our thoughts and resolve. We have been back to the site one more time since then. We have been to Powderhorn Park twice to meet with the community and our neighbors to prepare for possible disturbances in the neighborhood.
We have formed a supportive community block neighbor-to-neighbor group inviting everyone who lives on our block to meet weekly, and now biweekly, to process our experiences and continuing challenges. We have shared documents to read on race, policing, housing, homelessness, and safety. These materials have become points of discussion for our growth as citizens of one block in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood.
Reclaiming their spaces
YoUthROC team (out of the R.J.J. Urban Research Outreach-Engagement Center)
Recently, YoUthROC members Amina Smaller and Shaunassey Johnson organized a Northside clean up. There, we gathered supplies for youth protesters and held space to hear from community members. We have continued our new research project and held a virtual storytelling event to connect with youth activists and hear their stories. We will be researching to create a unit about youth in social movements for anti-racist organizations or ethnic studies classes.
BIPOC youth have always needed to recreate or reclaim spaces; not unlike Black lives, these spaces and programs are always at risk. Even after the publicly shared police murder of unarmed community member George Floyd, space was taken over. By whom? One of our research members, Awa Mally, has been documenting murals, asking, “Who had easy access to the plywood, store ownership, and paint? Where were the murals created by Black youth?”
We have to continually seek and apply for funding to sustain us, which doesn’t allow us to collaborate as much as we would like with community and school-based organizations. Please contact us for justice-oriented youth research or training. We welcome ideas for our own sustainability. Our roots need to reach a sustainable source in order to continue to grow.
Reach us on Instagram at @youthroc.umn or email CEHD Lecturer Abby Rombalski at email@example.com.
Saida Abdi | Assistant Professor, School of Social Work
Nina Asher | Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction
Stefanie L. Marshall | Assistant Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction
Tania D. Mitchell | Associate Professor, Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development
Top Splash Image: Flickr.com, by Antonella Sinopoli, Photo 1: Alecia Mobley, Photo 2: Tasha Brynn Walvig, Photo 3: Jessica L. McLain, Photos 4 and 5: Maria C. Pabon Gautier, Photos 6 and 7: Jessica Toft, Garden Sidebar Photo: Alecia Mobley, Mural Sidebar Photo: Kate Senich, Photos 8 and 9: Sashank Varma