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How to Talk with Your Kids about Charleston- Idella Winfield

In the wake of the Charleston shooting, many parents are wondering, "How can I talk with my kids about this? How much can they handle? How soon? How can I raise kids who speak up against racism and root it out of their own lives and the life of their community?" You're not alone.

To help answer that question, Do Justice is running a daily series featuring interviews with parents of various races about how they speak about race and Charleston with their kids. So far we've heard from Anissa Eddie and Rachel VerWys, and today Idella Winfield chimes in. (Stay tuned for interviews with Canadians and fathers!)

1. What phrases do you use when explaining racism and hate crimes—like what happened in Charleston—to your children?

My conversations with my children about race come from a practical perspective. When my sons were younger, I gave them the whole “what to do when you get stopped by police” talk. It is the same talk that most African American moms have with their sons: Be polite, do what they tell you, keep your hands on the steering wheel, and don’t ask questions. They know that.

I have always been frank with them that racism exists. They will face it. It's not an option. I share with them stories of how I respond in different situations, but I know that they will respond in their own ways.

Honestly speaking, we are afraid right now. My children are young adults now, and I tell them that they have to think about living to die. Charleston highlighted that. I want my children to have their affairs in order with God because anything can happen.

2. How do you help your children wrestle with God's goodness and care for us when something like this happens? How do you comfort your children and offer them hope?

When we experience racism, we talk about it in our family. We  process it together—anger and frustration, and the biblical response. We ask, “How does God want us to respond as agents for him?” God is the source of our hope. God has promised to continue to love us. As part of God’s covenant, we know that he will not abandon us. We have hope that our pain will end and that things will get better. Frankly, we don’t have anything else to stand on. There’s nothing else but God.

I share stories of my experiences with my kids—stories of when I hit rough patches in my life, and how God has always been there and put me in a position to better my life. God is always there. God continues to give me love even though I don’t deserve it. He has never wavered. I know that because I have lived it. And I continue to express the hope that we have in the gospel because it is necessary. I want my children to see that and experience that.

3. What questions do have your children had about this? Were there parts of the event that mattered to them, that you were surprised they were curious about? Did you bring the conversation up, or are they hearing about it on their own? Did they learn about it in church, or have questions about what was said in church? How is the internet a part of their processing?

My children get all their information from social media. In our conversations about racism, they all have expressed their struggle with the hope that things will get better. It is hard for me to help them along that path. They have already seen so much injustice.

Racism is in their face so often. It wasn’t ever documented before the way it is now. The stories are permeating our society, and as a result, their hope that this will get better wavers.

When Trayvon Martin died, my kids were angry and confused about the whole legal process. They had a lot of questions about how this man got off free. I had to tell them that there were two legal processes in this country—one for White Americans and one for us. Racism plays itself out in our legal system. I had to explain to them that there are the books of the law, but in reality, we are rarely able to utilize those fairly. You can see it in how Dylann Roof has been protected in his process. Compare that with Mike Brown or Eric Garner. The difference in the relationships and interactions with law enforcement is clear.

I have to turn back to God, and my experiences with God, for the hope that it will get better. My faith. I have to continue to tell them that. I dont want my children to walk through life hopeless. Faith in God’s continued provision is a gift.

4. What are you hoping other moms are telling their kids? Particularly moms who are raising kids whose race is different from your own?

It starts with awareness. They probably have a perception of racism, but we need to enlighten them with a broader picture of reality. These things are happening to people of color. Tell kids that this is real. That this is happening where we live. That’s where it starts.

It is everyone’s responsibility to be part of this. This is not just a black issue. This is all of our issue. If you don’t know what to do, that’s okay. But do something. Be in the game. We don’t have a choice whether to be in the game or not. African Americans are forced to be in the game because the color of our skin.

Genesis 1:27 (NRSV):

So God created humankind in his image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

​My question is, "Why would God create a human being in his own image and then make them inferior?​"


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