Thank you to Doug Bowen-Bailey and the other member of our Acting For Justice Hub for their powerful witness. This letter was published in the Duluth News Tribune on Monday March 16, 2015.
Duluth Needs to Support All “Our Kids”
As members of the Acting for Justice Hub at Peace Church, we feel called to voice our concern and outrage about the incident that recently took place in a Duluth high school. (“Altered photo of Duluth student a hate crime, family says; school district investigating.” March 6, 2015) An image of a young black student digitally altered to have a noose around his neck with the caption “Gotta hang em all” was shared widely on social media. It is clear we as a community need to stand up and say that such hateful and hurtful messages have no place here.
As members at Peace Church, we see the ways that such images create an environment where students of color feel unwelcome and intensify the stress of growing up. One mother at our church recently shared her frustration at needing to teach her elementary-aged son all of the ways he needs to be careful so that white people won’t misjudge him. So that he won’t fit into a stereotype, or worse yet, become a statistic. When she recently asked him what he knows about police, he responded, “Some police shoot black people.”
The reality that this is part of our kids’ experience is sobering, and we have to address it in many ways. We have church members who have been involved in founding and developing the Duluth Citizen Review Board and so are involved in working with the Duluth Police Department to build relationships between police officers and the community that are built on trust, not fear. We have members who are teachers in the school district who are working to create safe spaces that are free of bullying. Yet this incident spurs us to commit to do even more. As Sharon Witherspoon said when talking about what happened to her grandson, “…a lesson has got to be learned.”
For us, part of the lesson for adults is looking at who we see as “our kids.” Robert Putnam, a Harvard sociologist, recently published a new book which is an analysis of the growing inequality gap. In an interview on National Public Radio, he shared that part of the issue is a cultural shift that as a nation, we have limited who we see as “our kids.” Too often now, “our kids” are the ones who share our social class, racial background, and place of birth.
Yet the way for Duluth to be the best city it can be is to expand our idea of who “our kids” are. Our kids include the young man whose image was altered. And our kids include the young men who altered the image. It is the children who are growing up wondering if the police can be trusted. And it is the children of police officers who wonder how safe their parents are in the line of duty. All of these are our kids and we need to mentor them in respecting themselves and each other. Perhaps we can best do this by modeling an appreciation of diversity and inclusion among adults. That includes taking risks and sometimes making mistakes and needing forgiveness. In other words, being human together.
As a community that has so many divisions, we need to come together to support our kids. Whatever their school or background or experience, they need to know that their community is here for them. So, that all can grow and succeed and feel proud to call Duluth their home.
Doug Bowen-Bailey is a member at Peace Church. He wrote this with input from members of the Acting for Justice Hub.