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Building anti-racist families

“Not racist” is not enough. Change requires courage and intentional, proactive efforts from all of us.

Clockwise: Eric Bailey stands beside Jarem while he speaks to the crowd. Protester with signs. The protest crowd Jarem addressed.

Twelve-year-old Jarem Bailey stood in front of a crowd of about 400 peaceful protestors. He paused, momentarily unsure. His face reflected the deep emotions and doubt simmering inside. He looked to his parents for strength.

His father got up, embraced him, and stood beside him as he told his story: “I may be young, but I’ve been called a very, very offensive name four times. Twice at school by classmates and twice by adults on public streets. I just want to let everyone out there know: Always stand strong, no matter what happens.”

Jarem was not the only child to courageously share a painful story that day. Others stood up to talk about their experiences within the safety of a supportive crowd of families gathered in downtown Phoenix for the Valley’s first Kids Walk for A Change in support of Black Lives Matter.

It was, quite likely, one of the greatest challenges of their young lives. And perhaps the most transformative.

The first time it happened, it caught Jarem, then in 5th grade, by surprise. In fact, he wasn’t even sure he’d heard the word correctly. When he got home that day, he asked his parents, “What is a niggle?” Eric and Jamie Bailey called the principal, who called in the other child’s family. Everyone agreed the word was unacceptable. Promises were made.

The next time it happened, Jarem was bike riding with his parents in their Cave Creek neighborhood. Someone jumped out at them, screaming “f***ing n****rs!”

The third time, the Baileys had stopped in Las Vegas during a road trip. They wanted to experience the Tournament of Kings, a kid-friendly jousting dinner theater experience at Excalibur Hotel & Casino. They had some extra time, so they decided to take a walk to catch the dramatic Fountains of Bellagio water show.

Eric had his daughter Jasmine, then 6, on his shoulders. He held his 7-year-old son Kai’s hand. Jarem, then 11, walked behind them, hand in hand with Jamie.

A woman walked toward them in an aggressive manner, yelling at them to get out of the way: “Move, you f***ing n****rs!” she screamed. The vicious words landed just as she came adjacent to Jarem, leaving him frightened and crying inconsolably.

The fourth time, when Jarem was again harassed by classmates using the derogatory epithet, his parents arranged yet another meeting with school administrators and the parents of the name callers. Then, a couple of months later, they found out the only other Black boy in the school also was being harassed.

That’s when they packed up their family and moved. “We don’t need that kind of environment for our kids to learn in,” Eric says. The Baileys now live in Chandler, where their children will be attending a southeast Valley school district with a more diverse population.

Upper right: Malia Winey delivered a powerful speech about racism and her own personal experience with it at school.

Feb. 23, 2020: Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old aspiring electrician in Brunswick, Georgia, is out jogging two miles from his home in Brunswick, Georgia, when he is shot three times by two white men claiming they believed him to be a burglary suspect.

March 13, 2020: Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician, is fatally shot by Louisville, Kentucky police officers who use a battering ram to enter her home shortly after midnight and fire at the unarmed woman at least eight times.

May 25, 2020: George Floyd, 46, is killed by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota during an arrest for allegedly passing a $20 counterfeit bill. The horrific incident lights a match to long-simmering frustration and outrage about excessive use of force against Blacks by police officers around the country.

The murder of George Floyd proved to be the tipping point. Graphic, horrifying video images offered inescapable, incontrovertible evidence of casual disregard for the life of a Black man by a white police officer who couldn’t be bothered to remove his hands from his pockets while he slowly snuffed the breath and life from someone who was unarmed, outnumbered, and certainly not posing an immediate threat.

It’s hard to avoid the sickening images, which keep playing on the news as though on a loop. They kicked off massive, global protests. Most were peaceful. Some were hijacked by malicious elements determined to take advantage of the situation by looting and burning.

As tensions escalated, fueled by the risk of new coronavirus infections as thousands of people congregated and marched, it felt like the world was falling apart. The collective anguish and rage was — and remains — palpable.

A young woman I’ve known since she was in my sons’ middle school orchestra — a beautiful, thoughtful, nurturing mother of two with a compelling, if sometimes acerbic, social media presence — took Raising Arizona Kids to task in those early days after Floyd’s murder.

Businesses and nonprofits Valleywide were scrambling for appropriate ways to respond. It suddenly seemed everyone felt compelled to make public statements denouncing racism.

I responded too hastily — and perhaps too effortlessly — by simply reposting a story we first ran in 2016. Written by two ASU early childhood experts, it affirmed the importance of addressing racism in ongoing, purposeful and age-appropriate discussions and family practices. I added links to related articles we had run: books celebrating diversity, a troubling resurgence of the use of the “n” word among young people, an essay about the time racism reared its ugly head in my own neighborhood.

Then came the young mom’s Facebook message: “You did address BLM … kind of. To be honest, it looks like you posted in a way that allowed you to check the box, but avoided the larger conversation that needed to happen. … Small statements can be big when you have a large audience. You have a responsibility to speak up when you have that audience.”

Only the truth can sting like that.

The next challenge came from a woman who subscribes to our email newsletter. “For each company that has sent me information on how they are dealing with COVID-19, I have decided to ask them how they are dealing with systemic racism in their own company,” she wrote. “COVID-19 is important, and my family has taken it very seriously, but systemic racism is a long-term issue that has a much larger economic, personal and public health cost. Can you tell me what Raising Arizona Kids is doing to address issues of systemic racism?”

I flashed back to the first time we featured a Black child on the cover of our magazine. It was September 1990. The magazine was just seven months old. We were excited about that issue, our first to be available for sale at magazine racks in Valley grocery stores, bookstores and resort gift shops. When the magazines arrived at our distributor’s warehouse, he called me. “What were you thinking?” he said. “No one is going to buy this!”

I was stunned. And the experience only strengthened a commitment to fairly and adequately represent all members of our community in the magazine. It is something we often discuss in planning meetings, counting on guidance and perspective from our art director, who has been with us since 2005 and is Black. As a staff, we have a shared mission to promote values of inclusion, understanding and empathy in our coverage. But is that enough?

I called the email subscriber and asked what she was hoping to hear. Even she wasn’t exactly sure. But she defined it as “the difference between saying the right words and building policies that are specific, sustainable and meaningful.”

Shortly after George Floyd’s murder, Eric Bailey’s phone started ringing. “People kept asking me, ‘What do I do?’” he said. Bailey, author of “The Cure for Stupidity” and international speaker whose work focuses on effective leadership and communication based in brain science and psychology, still has not watched the Floyd video. Knowing about it was painful enough.

He stepped back a moment to examine his feelings. Not just about Floyd’s murder, but “all the other Black men and Black women who have been killed by the police in recent and not-so-recent years — and about a system that makes me intentionally act differently so folks are not afraid of me,” he says. “I am one of the sweetest, gentlest people you’ll ever meet. Seeing people be afraid of me just because I’m Black? It’s heartbreaking. And it has been breaking my heart since I was a child.”

He and Jamie decided to take their three kids to one of the protest rallies. They wore masks and hung out at the back of the rally, not sure what to expect.

“The march we went to started off with a prayer,” he says. “Everyone was positive. There were police officers walking in front with the organizers, in the middle, and in the back, walking with us. It was wonderful.”

The couple posted about their experience on Facebook and soon realized there was “an appetite for parents to engage their kids in this kind of movement and spark dialogue between kids and adults about race and racism.”

Eric and Jamie started thinking about organizing a family-friendly rally. Through a mutual friend, they connected with football coach and former pro Rudy Burgess and his wife Brandi, who had the same idea. The two couples put their heads together. They got on the phone to learn about city permits, notify the police department and get advice on radios, water for walkers and other logistics. They announced the event on Facebook just a few days before the Saturday, June 13 event. More than 400 people showed up in the late afternoon to walk a mile, in 106-degree heat, in support of Black Lives Matter.

Jarem was one of several children who spoke to the crowd that day. Until then, his mother says, he didn’t talk much about the hurtful episodes he’d experienced. “Putting it out so openly, in front of 400 people, getting that off his chest fully — it was such a relief,” she says. “He realized, ‘I’m safe here.’ Bringing it into such a public forum gave him some power, gave him a voice.”

The families hope to organize similar events in the future, but for now, with COVID-19 numbers spiking ominously in Arizona, they have taken their efforts online. The Kids Walk led to a private Facebook group that now tops more than 600 members.

Developing an anti-racist family value system means thinking about “small, realistic steps we can all implement into our daily lives to combat discriminatory attitudes” Eric says.

Think about your choices in everyday habits, he suggests. “There are little signals toward how we treat people that show up in our daily lives, whether we acknowledge it or not. For example, if we only go to stores where certain types of people shop, that signals ‘this is the environment in which we shop.’ Find ways to break it up a bit” by traveling to different neighborhoods once in awhile to do your shopping.

Speak up if you don’t feel your child’s school is doing enough to raise the subject of racism, the Baileys suggest.

“Our [prior] school didn’t do anything for Black History Month,” Jaimie says. “Black History Month is not just for Black kids! It’s about appreciation for this culture.”

When kids grow up without experiencing racism, the only conversations they have about it are in history class, Bailey says. “Racism with slavery was in the past. Jim Crow laws were in the past. Martin Luther King was in the past. And so kids believe that racism doesn’t exist anymore.”

In the metro-Phoenix area, he says, where Blacks make up no more than 5 percent of the population, generations of children are growing up without meaningful relationships with Black authority figures. The Bailey children have never had a Black teacher.

Ask school leaders what they are doing to include People of Color on the staff, “and not just the janitor,” Eric adds. “Schools need more teachers who are Black, Hispanic, Latinx. Kids need to learn authority looks like this.”

Keeping a diverse home book shelf is important, says Jamie Bailey. “We are a big reading family. We want our children to have plenty of opportunities to explore alternative stories. We’re not forcing it down their throats; we just make the books available.”

Sometimes their kids will pull a book out they’ve ready before, when they were younger. As they hit new developmental milestones, the stories have a different impact, Jaimie says.

Being “not racist” is not enough, as the political activist Angela Davis has said. Her powerful voice and many others urge us to be actively anti-racist, which demands more listening, rigorous thinking, and intentional action.

As a white woman with the unfortunate first name of “Karen” (which has suddenly become slang for obnoxious, entitled, privileged and even racist white women), I have often held back in these conversations. I tend to overthink my every word, fearing I will unintentionally say the wrong thing or come across as insensitive.

I confessed that fear to Eric Bailey, who encouraged me to jump in anyway.

“It’s OK to be uncomfortable,” he said. “That’s how you work through it.” It’s a message he shares broadly in his work and his own relationships. He reminded me that caring people can always backtrack and try again if something we say doesn’t come out right. The important thing is that we continue to engage in the conversations.

He addressed that theme in his remarks at the Kids Walk in June, validating an approach that conveys “‘I don’t know, but I want to understand.”

He was followed by Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams, the first woman and only the second Person of Color to be named chief of police for Phoenix, the fifth largest city in the U.S.

“If we can come to that place, we can move past the pain and the hurt and get to the heart of the matter,” she says. “But it’s going to take all of us to make that happen.”

Small steps toward being anti-racist

Encourage your school to register for the Anti Defamation League’s No Place for Hate initiative, which supports preK-12 educators and students in understanding and challenging bias, building ally behaviors, and creating a climate of respect. Registration is due by Aug. 20.

Join your PTA, go to school board meetings, learn more about the curriculum. Demand accurate history lessons about race.

Support policies and legislation designed to educate all students about race, racism, its history and its effects. Change.org recently circulated a petition designed to lead to national legislation to include comprehensive race and racism education in schools nationwide.

The Bailey and Burgess families organized the Walk for a Change event for families.

Conversation starters

Arizona PBS LearningMedia offers resources on race, racism, protests, civil rights and more.

ASU Now: Eleanor Seaton, an associate professor in Arizona State University’s T. Denny Sanford School of Family and Social Dynamics, explains how racism is “baked in” to our society and its institutions, “including schools, neighborhoods, workplaces, banks, health care, the media and policing systems.”

Conversations with Common Sense: Experts in child development, children’s health, and trauma care talk about ways families can support their children, one another, and a just future as they navigate near-constant exposure to news and social media about violence against Blacks and its aftermath.

The mural project “Spread the Love”
Downtown Tempe is displaying the artwork of three local Black artists who share their vision of a better world filled with love, diversity, inclusion and positivity. Look for the murals at Centerpoint Plaza (near the AMC theater at Seventh Street and Mill Avenue) or check is out on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

The New York Times: How to Raise an Anti-Racist Kid

Holy Post – Racism in America
Three years ago, Veggie Tales founder Phil Vischer and his brother Rob co-taught a class that discussed issues of racial injustice. The class turned into a popular podcast episode, they have now turned into this video. Vischer is the creator of the computer-animated video series VeggieTales and provided the voice of Bob the Tomato.


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