Today at school, our staff decided we needed to press pause and create a space for kids to share their thoughts and feelings in response to the killing of Mr. Crutcher. I was part of facilitating three small group discussions throughout the day: a fifth grade group, a sixth grade group, and a seventh/eighth grade group. I want to share what I experienced with the kids today, because I am convinced that if you can put yourself in the shoes of a child of color in Tulsa right now, you will have a clearer understanding of the crisis we’re facing and why we say black lives matter.
I tell [the fifth-graders] we will read a news article about the shooting together so we can all be informed. As I read, the students busily highlight and underline parts that stand out to them: Fatally shot. Hands raised. “Bad dude.” Motionless. Affected forever. I finish and I ask them, “What are your thoughts?”
They answer with questions. Why did they have to kill him? Why were they afraid of him? Why does [student] have to live life without a father? What will she do at father daughter dances? Who will walk her down the aisle? Why did no one help him after he was shot? Hasn’t this happened before? Can we write her cards? Can we protest?
As the questions roll, so do the tears. Students cry softly as they speak. Others weep openly. I watch 10 year olds pass tissues to each other, to me, to our principal as he joins our circle. One girl closes our group by sharing: “I wish white people could give us a chance. We can all come together and get along. We can all be united.” Let me tell you, these 10 year olds are more articulate about this than I am…
The sixth graders are quiet. The tragedy lives and breathes among them. It could have been their father. Boys are scattered across the cafeteria with their heads buried in their shirts. A girl who just moved to Tulsa from New Orleans because her father wanted to “escape the violence” is choked up as she speaks in the group next to mine. When we come back together whole group, one boy is still crying as another rubs his hand on his back soothingly…
[The seventh- and eighth-graders] are hardened. They are angry. Some students refuse to hold or look at the article. The speak matter-of-factl
“What made him ‘a big bad dude?'” a boy asks. “Was it his height? His size–” I look at the boys in my circle, all former students of mine. They have grown inches since their first day in my class. Their voices have deepened. Their shoulders broadened. They all nod their heads in agreement at the student’s last guess– “The color of his skin?”
I share this story, because Mr. Crutcher’s death does not just affect the students at my school. I share this story, because we are creating an identity crisis in all of our black and brown students. (Do I matter? Am I to be feared? Should I live in fear? Am I human?) We are shaping their world view with blood and bullets, hashtags and viral videos. Is this how we want them to feel? Is this how we want them to think?
Rebecca Lee, a teacher at KIPP Tulsa College Prep, the charter school attended by the daughter of Terence Crutcher, on the reactions of the children to the news of the father’s murder at the hand of a Tulsa police officer. Another sad reminder of the reality that what happens to the children on our streets also affects them in schools.