The #BlackLivesMatter Movement has sparked an important and necessary time in our lives. But what I've battled with most is it needing to exist at all.
Children growing up in underfunded neighborhoods - whose speed of life is already years ahead of their actual age - are now faced with new realities, and are forced to question why their lives didn't matter in the first place. Everyday life is becoming more and more confusing and scary. Recurring violence is unfortunately nothing new, but a different type of tension and unrest has taken over these communities.
Perhaps the most untold story of this movement is the affect it's having on children, and the child development specialists working with these kids on a daily basis. How do you rationalize the nightly news to a 9 year old child? How do you justify there needing to be a movement validating the worth of their lives? How does it feel when you communicate detailed tactics to keep kids safe on the streets, but the same methods used ended up in a black person being shot dead?
It's just not fair - not fair for these kids, and not fair for these professionals thrust into having all the answers.
I am honored and humbled to be supported and surrounded by an incredibly committed and gifted community of child development specialists who allowed me to interview and photograph them so they could share their thoughts, fears and struggles.
Their stories are told this week on our feed. #WhatDoWeTellTheKids?
Chris M: Child Development Specialist, Camp POWER Staff Member
"The #BlackLivesMatter movement is absolutely affecting kids’ mindset. I’d stretch to say that it’s causing post traumatic stress. If you look at war vets watching their soldiers die next to them, it’s kinda like what these kids are watching on the streets. They turn on the TV and see people with the same color skin dying. How they think of the world is impacted. How they act around other people is being affected. Do they now think racial thoughts? Is this person with me or against me? Does this person feel my pain and know what I’m going through on a daily basis?
Even though #BlackLivesMatter is a movement now, we always had to fight and tell people that our lives matter, dating all the way back to slavery, Jim Crow laws, etc. It’s sad that we even have to say that our lives matter.
So #WhatDoWeTellTheKids? You’re gonna see a lot. You’re gonna hear a lot. You’re gonna experience a lot. But that shouldn’t determine the man or woman you’re going to become. You gotta keep pushing forward. You gotta keep going. You’re gonna get angry. I’m angry, everyday. Any person that’s conscious enough to know what’s going on is gonna feel angry, but how you deal with that anger and how you express that anger and what you use that anger towards is gonna define who you are. So you can go out here in the streets and be angry all you want about your brothers and sisters getting killed, but that’s not gonna solve anything, make you better or your family better.
So how do you beat this? Getting good grades, striving to go to college, striving to get a career, striving to be the best you can be, striving to live your dreams...that’s how you beat this. Because you get yourself out of this environment and put yourself in better situations, surround yourself with better people giving you positive vibes and energy, but it starts here and starts with you.
I’m angry, but how do I deal with it? I dance it out...that’s why I dance so passionately because when I’m out there, I just think about everything I’m going through and dancing is my peace. What’s your moment of peace - what’s your silence? Whatever it is, tune into it, because that’s what’s gonna set a fire. Every time you turn on the TV you see something and say that’s not right, but then you gotta tune back into your peace and what you love.
Stay focused - moving forward, never back."
Stevi: Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Camp POWER Staff Member
"I have very much felt the #BlackLivesMatter movement working with kids of color, and am very aware of my whiteness at work. The benefit of working with this dynamic is that I’m not upset that they don’t want to trust me from day one. I get it. Who the hell am I? They don’t know me, I look the way I do, and I can’t expect them to think this person is kind, has a good heart, and means well. They know what they see in white people in their communities, whether that’s the police or social workers who a lot of times when I started my jobs the impression was that we just take kids away from families. I can understand why they are weary of me, but the only thing I can do and have done is be as authentic as possible and be me...loving, caring and supportive.
So #WhatDoWeTellTheKids? I can be their ally and advocate, and no matter what my skin color is, I am there to support them 110%. Just last week a kid told me that two days in a row, police stopped and frisked him...which is illegal and unlawful. I didn’t have words to say to him, but I just sat there and listened. I didn’t say I’m sorry, I just said this sucks. This sucks that you have to live in a life and this body that is being stopped and questioned just because of the way you look.
What can I do to make him feel better and a bit safer in this situation? I can’t control what happens when he leaves our program, but I can control that he feels safe and supported with me.
Because I am a white person, I’m not personally living it, so what can I do to best educate myself and ask questions to kids? What’s it like for you in these situations? I can be their ally, their support, and something that I’m really good at is making people feel good about themselves and honing in on those unique things that make a kid so special.
The fact that this movement has had to be created in the first place makes me ill and gives me horrible stomach pains. I’m just trying to make sense of it all."
Amma: Child Development Specialist, Camp POWER Assistant Director
#BlackLivesMatter has made my job a little more difficult. We’ve had so many conversations with young people about what to do if stopped by police officers - don’t move, don’t run. More recently, I don’t feel comfortable telling kids that as we’re seeing people being compliant with the police yet still getting killed.
I’m torn on where I stand on this protest. Do we want to be silent? Violent? I just don’t know if anyone is listening, and although I agree with people rallying...I feel like it’s falling on deaf ears. When I think things are getting better, someone else gets killed. What bugs me the most is after someone gets killed - whether the police were right or wrong - you hear the laundry list about that person killed. They had a rap sheet, when reality is that they complied and did what was asked. It’s just been real difficult.
I have had kids say to me, our lives don’t matter. How could they if this keeps happening? So I have to retrain that thinking, but some kids don’t believe that. Reshaping the thought process takes a lot. We’re trying to bring police officers to sites so that they don’t always see them as a threat.
A black life and a white life are not equal. Not that this is right, but that’s what it is. I want the best for my son so he can avoid those things, but the reality is that it’s unavoidable. I’m afraid for my son and my kids every single day. The best kid in my school with honors could just be caught up. It’s terrifying.
So #WhatDoWeTellTheKids? My first approach is that I identify as an adult who also doesn’t understand why it continues to happen. I don’t have an answer - it’s more of a conversation. I express to young people that I am also a mother of a black boy, and I’m worried about him as well.
I remind them about opportunities like after school programming, #CampPOWER and others. It is difficult, but we try and focus on the positives. It’s not an easy conversation and I feel like I’m sugarcoating and trying to glorify the positive when there’s not a lot of positivity in these neighborhoods and situations.
Terrell: Child Development Specialist, Camp POWER Staff Member
"I have 4th and 5th graders fearing for their lives and are super fearful because of incidents of 11 year olds getting killed carrying toy guns. It bothers me just to hear these conversations...it’s whack as hell that these kids need to even be talking about this.
We empower these kids to the point where they feel they can do and be whatever they want to. They leave our program feeling amazing about themselves, but could still get killed for no reason. They know who they are and appreciate themselves, but struggle with the idea that somebody else can’t appreciate them for the same reasons. I try to do my job and raise great citizens and the rest is up to the outside people.
So #WhatDoWeTellTheKids? Be honest. Just be honest. People are getting killed for no reason. For ignorance. I can’t give them an answer. I can’t give them a why, but just reassure them that when they’re with me in this building...they’re safe. That kinda motivates them to come to school. In these communities, we got kids dropping out in 4th or 5th grade, so it keeps them on the right path, just to stay away from dangers as much as possible.
Stay you. Don’t let the world break you. Stay you. It’s bullshit and unfortunately I feel powerless at times, but I know what I can control, so I just do the best I can."
Scot: STATE Co-Founder, Camp POWER Co-Director
When I was 11 years old, my parents, sister and I watched The Roots together as a family, and it completely changed me as a person, and the direction of my life. Although I was a white, Jewish kid growing up in the Boston suburbs, The Roots hit me in an incredibly visceral way and sparked something that made me look at the world differently. I knew I could never match the intense feelings of bias, injustice and anger the black community felt about their embattled history, but I did carry those emotions. The Roots opened my eyes to just how unfair and unbalanced life in America's inner-cities is.
I spend a lot of my time here in New York riding the subways out to some of the furthest stops on the map. As I get deeper into the outer boroughs, it never fails that stop after stop, less and less white people are on the train with me. And eventually, just me. Aside from the blatant segregation that these type of moments unveil, what truly breaks my heart is the stigma these neighborhoods carry. They're "scary." They're "dangerous." They're "hopeless." Because when you work with kids in these communities, they hear it, too...and it trickles down to how they view society viewing them. They're "scary." They're "dangerous." They're "hopeless."
At the end of every bag drop event, I make a speech that sometimes companies can be about more than just making money. I started the #WhatDoWeTellTheKids project because as beautiful we think our Instagram feed is, it could be even more so if we used our growing platform to shed light on how the #BlackLivesMatter movement is impacting the mindset of kids in underfunded communities as told through the mouths of those who work with them day in and day out.
What I've battled most about the BLM movement is it needing to exist at all. I can't stand the notion that kids are forced to even wonder if their lives didn't matter in the first place. It makes me cry just to say those words (and I've done so in front of hundreds of kids and staff).
This week is dedicated to the kids, and their role-models searching for answers. Our hats off to you. Thank you for guiding the present and our future.
Bob: Child Development Specialist, Camp POWER Staff Member
"I work in a very very diverse school, but there’s that core of black and hispanic kids who are very affected by what’s happening. At home, the response that they’re getting from their parents may be different from what we’re giving them at school. Their parents or guardians might be talking to them about protesting and getting involved, but in their hearts, they might not want to do that because they just want to be free and be kids.
So I look at it as sowing seed into the ground. We’re the planters and they’re the seed. In the midst of everything that takes place above ground, beneath that ground surface, there's a seed waiting to bud and eventually bloom. So if we know what's needed in order for the seed to grow to its maximum potential, why should we deprive it of a necessity? Plants need water, food, and sunlight to grow. It's true that it matters how much we give it, but it's also how much love we put into what we're giving. Our children matter because they are valuable. They are of great value. We labor diligently to ensure that they grow healthy. So let's give them what they need...not what we want to give them. But, the things we give to people can create life.
So #WhatDoITellTheKids? I tell them you matter! Keep growing and keep loving. We can't just try to make a difference, we gotta BE the difference. So it’s definitely true that #BlackLivesMatter. But to me, Life as a whole matters... I just happen to be black."
When you turn on your TV and you look at what’s going on in the world, sometimes you might be tuned into the wrong channel and if you’re not watching clearly, the image you see will be static. That’s called white noise. The black and the white shifting and shaking against eachother. But in actuality, I look at it this way. Pick a clearer picture. My good friend always said, slit my wrist and my blood doesn’t excrete black or white, we all bleed red. So if we all pour out that red, the color of love...love will overpower and overtake the world. That’s the better picture. Can you see it?
Kelly: E-Comm Exec, Camp POWER Staff Member
"Growing up I had a nanny named Ella who lived with us. Ella was born in S.Carolina in 1939 and would tell us stories about her childhood, like the time she and her brother went swimming at the public pool and the locals drained the pool. Ella was a third parent to me and I could never understand why she would be treated any differently. It created an ache in me my entire life.
Today I go to my lunch spot near my office and last time I counted: 13 black or hispanic people behind the counter making minimum wage (1 white manager), and 95% white, white-collar customers. If that isn't manifest systemic racism I don't know what is.
This is what #BlackLivesMatters means to me and it is everywhere I look. It goes so far beyond abuses of power. It is acknowledging what our history of racist policies has wrought, it is owning our white privilege and white debt, as uncomfortable as it may be.
So #WhatDoWeTellTheKids? I work at @CampPOWER and tell my girls that they are important, powerful, loved. My problem is that despite what I tell them, if we don't fix our policies and mentalities, life will still be harder for them. We tell them they can be anything they want to be but the truth is that the deck is stacked against them, having come out of underfunded schools, unstable communities, and heading into a workforce with black skin. Honestly, I really don't know what to tell them! The whole thing kills me.
So what do I do? I own my unearned, undeserved privilege and try to put it to good use. I try to explain to my complacent or "not racist" friends how we are so NOT living in a post-racial society, how you can't expel the ghost of slavery and Jim Crow overnight, how it's not as easy for a man with black skin or a black name on his resume to just "pull himself up by his bootstraps" and get a decent job when he's been carrying around an insanely unjust burden his entire life. I speak out for Ella and millions of people like her who weren't given the advantages I happened to be born into.
There’s that saying: "Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are." We should all be outraged.”
Ledfi: Child Development Specialist, STATE PackMan, @CampPower Staff Member
"Kids are coming off as a little bit frightened and hesitant. They’re curious and we try and shed as much light as possible because it’s getting ugly.
So #WhatDoWeTellTheKids? I always let kids know off the bat that whatever color they are, they’re beautiful and to not let whatever people may think of them change who they are. You can do whatever you want to do - and never let that judgement change you.
I also remind them to not lose hope or site of how great the world can be. Racism is kinda like the tree...there’s roots there but if we cut the branches off, we keep going and we can have a brighter future."
Macques: Licensed Clinical Social Worker, @CampPower Staff Member
"It’s important to let kids that we work with know what #BlackLivesMatter actually is and means. You need to educate about the movement, and then implement it into their everyday lives so they have a better understanding of what they’re connecting themselves to.
First thing I always do when a child comes to me angry about what’s going on is to listen. Just listen. To say that we hear your questions, and understand your frustrations, but here’s what you can do. Finding out what he/she is into, what do they love. You love to play basketball? So what can you do at a basketball game that can bring awareness to the movement? Recite a poem, organize something, get people thinking. You see more and more kids in the protests, kneeling at the national anthem as they’re realizing that they can actually play an active role in this.
So #WhatDoWeTellTheKids? Letting them know they’re loved, they’re blessed, they can accomplish all their goals because they hear everything opposite - they’re bad, they’re thugs. Taking them to places - I’ve worked with kids in Brooklyn who have never been to Manhattan! If a kid is stuck in Brooklyn, how can they dream beyond that?
I also remind them that when you’re going after your dreams, there’s going to be adversity. There’s going to be people who try to prevent you from getting to where you want to go, so it’s important we let them know that before they reach that adversity to prepare them for what’s ahead. You can do this, but look at the adversity not as a roadblock but a stepping stone."
Tyler: Photographer, @CampPower Staff Member
I don’t think the word ‘rationalize’ applies to the tragedies that were dealing with. If someone truly figures out a way to rationalize this situation, I’d be really interested in hearing what that rationalization is.
You know, especially not being from that world, how am I supposed to talk to a kid about this without sounding at least a little bit patronizing? I don’t have to deal with it first hand the way these kids do, and that’s incredibly sad that that inequality exists on a pretty common basis. That I can say, almost unequivocally, I will not be in the situation that some of these kids will be in, being that they’re black, and from poor neighborhoods, and am I white.
I think that the best thing we can do is tell these kids - and I know they hear it all the time - to try their best to comply with whatever authority figure is asking them to do while trying to maintain some semblance of safety...and it’s so sad that those don’t always go hand in hand anymore, meaning that when dealing with a police officer, you aren’t also always safe. The thought of that makes me sick to my stomach. I know that it’s not every case, but to not address it head on, especially with our youth, is doing a disservice to them.
This is a situation that has to be addressed, because of course their lives matter. To think for a second that they don’t matter or are in someway less valuable, I’m truly at a loss for words in how to describe that train of thought. It truly just doesn’t compute to me.
So #WhatDoWeTellTheKids? I find it hard to avoid clichés here, but what else do you say? You say you are loved, of course your life matters, and not all police are bad. Try to focus on the great things in your life, the things you love, and know it’s not all bad and you will always have people that love you.