In times like these we can look to each other for guidance on how to discuss this topic with scholars and our family and friends. What follows is a blog post from Ryan Williams-Virden, human geography teacher from HCHS:
I stood in front of twenty or so freshmen with a heavy heart. It was Monday morning and the weekend was one marked by seemingly endless violence. Hitting closest to home was the murder of Jamar Clark on the north side of Minneapolis.
I had been thinking about how to talk to my scholars about this tragedy. I know teachers who shy away from the controversial for very legitimate reasons: they don’t know enough about the given subject, they don’t feel prepared to deal with the emotional trauma it may inflict, they don’t want to isolate anybody who may hold a separate view than the majority of the class, or, more likely, some combination of them all. I weighed those concerns myself. What I landed on was the title of a book by historian Howard Zinn: You can’t be neutral on a moving train.
As someone who cares deeply about justice and is shook to my core at the callousness with which not only Black life, but Brown life as well, is treated in this country I could not stand in front of a room full of young scholars of color and ignore what was happening. So, I told my truth. I shared with them what had been reported at the time: Jamar Clark was a suspect in an assault and that he had been shot in the head by police officers. I told them that witnesses said he was handcuffed but the police claimed he wasn’t. I was honest about what I didn’t know. I didn’t know why he was shot. I didn’t know why it keeps happening. I didn’t know how to make it stop. Much of that I still don’t know.
What I do know is that the answer lies in engaging our young people about these issues. They live in a world where racial violence—physical, emotional, and psychological– is a reality, we do no favors by hiding that fact. Some of the best teaching moments come in our own vulnerability and working through that with scholars. The most powerful lessons we can teach at times like these are that we are here for one another ready to live and learn and love together. We don’t need answers, we need willingness to search for them. Along the way we may learn about ourselves in ways we never thought possible, becoming even more effective in our goal of disrupting systemic inequality.
I dismissed class and, with tears in her eyes, a scholar came up to me and simply said “thank you.”
“No,” I responded. “Thank you.”
Recommended reading from Ryan Williams-Virden
- 5 tips for talking with kids about race
- Why Millennials Don’t Understand Race
- Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism
- Uncomfortable Conversations
- Talking with our Children about Race and diversity
- 5 things you need to know about Jamar Clark
- Activists Demand Video Of Jamar Clark Shooting, Shut Down Minneapolis Freeway
- 51 arrested in protests after black man shot by Minneapolis police
- Minnesota: 51 Arrested Protesting Police Killing of Jamar Clark
- Protests in Minneapolis after police shoot black man