Why George Floyd Matters to Early Childhood
“Hope begins in the dark.” -Annie Lamott
Normally, when I write to the community, it is about the happy magic of childhood. I write about the indelible influence of adults in the lives of our youngest citizens, and the promise that teachers hold for their future. I write about the urgency to have each member of our society, from parents to pediatricians, from educators to elected officials, come together to support the advancement of each and every child in our community. Today, although the topics are the same, I am writing from a place of sadness.
When I first read the story and saw the video surrounding the death of George Floyd, I thought: “This is too much,” and I pushed my feelings away. I pushed them into a box buried inside me, which contains feelings that have been festering in me for a lifetime. In that box is the frustration I’ve felt when people think that Black and Brown people can’t be smart. That we can’t achieve. It’s the sadness I’ve felt watching leaders speak publicly about how people like me are thugs, criminals or rapists, incapable and illiterate. It’s the fear I’ve felt knowing that my Brown spouse, brother, cousins, sisters, uncles and nieces face potential danger in 2020 if they travel into the wrong neighborhood or drive through the wrong state.
This is the box that holds my feelings about a young boy who was shot because he was crossing someone’s lawn after buying Skittles. It holds the feelings about a leader who characterizes White supremacists as good people. It’s too big a box and too much to deal with. That is why it is usually closed tight. It took me some time to respond to the death of George Floyd, because it meant going into that box.
Beneath the emotional cadence of these narratives is the undeniably tragic perception that Black and Brown people aren’t as valuable as other people… that our communities are more expendable, our voices less tolerated, our minds and bodies less capable, our children less valuable and our lives less meaningful. The pervasiveness of those feelings in many communities and institutions is what makes George Floyd’s death an early childhood issue.
On May 25, 2020, when George Floyd died, an effort failed. The effort to love and nurture him and see him through to a life of promise had ended. The hope that was invested in him, by all around him, had died. A loss was felt by all of the people who loved him, relied upon him and nurtured him, beginning with his birth and childhood and schooling, all the way through to his adulthood.
No parent raises a child to die before her. No schoolteacher instructs and loves a boy and anticipates that he will die on a street, pleading for air and calling out to his mother. No child hopes to grow up and be remembered for his unjust death. There are better ways. There are brighter paths. The reason we work so hard in the early childhood space is to help children exceed our wildest expectations. We work against disparities and systemic barriers to make sure that families and children can live the life they desire and deserve: a life of promise and hope. A life free from violence.
Violence isn’t always a knee to the neck, or a bullet. Violence is also seeing a pregnant Black woman at the checkout counter and inserting negative stereotypes into her experience. Violence is accepting a Black boy into a preschool classroom and espousing the assumption that he won’t be given the opportunity that other children will have. Violence is stealing the hope that a Black family has when they make sacrifices to bring their children to a private preschool, only to find that their tuition didn’t pay for patience or understanding. It is shortening a Black child’s preschool day due to suspension. Violence is quietly accepting the likelihood that a Black family’s work to raise a baby from a child to a young adult may inevitably end in them losing him, simply because others can’t see his potential… or because he wore a hoodie.
The well-documented epidemic of the disproportionately high preschool suspension rates for Black boys is part of this problem. It begins as early as two or three years of age, when studies show that Black boys are sent home at a rate much higher than any other children. It is when they are first told that they don’t fit, or that their presences, their contributions, their lives don’t matter. Gone unchecked, this lack of belonging finds children engaged in juvenile justice and law enforcement. Two or three decades of this exhausting and discouraging dynamic can convince any Black mother, any Black family, any Black child, any Black man to lose hope. It’s not a surprise, then, that so many people feel that in the absence of hope, they can’t breathe.
A community pleads today for air and marches for a chance at a new story that departs from the familiar old narrative of loss of life and loss of opportunity. We hunger for a more hopeful, human reality that has been too often lacking in Black narratives. We all deserve a better story. Black stories are our stories. Black families are our families. Black children are our children. Every Black man who is arrested inappropriately today was a preschool student yesterday. Each Black child that we love and nurture and promote today will be a George tomorrow… a father, brother, uncle, son, a person of value to us.
If the Collaboration for Early Childhood stands for anything in our work, it is the conviction that each child deserves that chance and the opportunity to live a life that is full of love, support, belonging and promise.
The Collaboration wholeheartedly supports the rights of our Black and Brown families and children to live fully. We hold dear their right to dignity and justice, and stand behind those who are working to ensure that Black children, adults and families are protected and treated with fairness and human kindness.
Let’s all breathe.
The Collaboration invites members of our community to take action. Help us to light the way for young Black and Brown children and ensure a path of promise for Black families in our community. Here is what you can do today:
- If you are a parent and you think that your child has been deprived of opportunity because of his/her race, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would like to know about your experience. We would like to listen to you and use our position in the community to help resolve issues around access to opportunity.
- If you are a teacher or program staff and you would like training on how to identify your own biases, and gain strategies on how to adopt equity as your lens, or if you want to make sure that you are creating a bright path for Black children in your preschool classroom, reach out to us at email@example.com. We would like to hear about your needs and make training opportunities available to you.
- If you are a program director, or teacher and one or more of your classrooms is struggling to understand and navigate the impact of stress or adversity in the life of a child in your program, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know. The Collaboration would like to pair you with a clinician who will work with you to examine and understand what you are seeing in the classroom and give you strategies for retaining and helping this child to thrive in your classroom.
No matter your experience or perspective, the Collaboration for Early Childhood wants your help in building our community’s capacity to love, nurture and promote the success of tomorrow’s Georges.
Partner with us today.
Let us begin to grow hope in darkness.