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Minneapolis youth reflect on George Floyd and racism in their 4-H meeting

Youth programs are designed to be safe spaces that honor young people's identities and are centered around their voices.

In this blog post, I feature (with permission) the voices of seven 4-H youth who identify as Black, Somali, and Muslim and share their reflections after the killing of George Floyd -- a trajedy that occurred just a few miles from their homes. Youth dedicated a virtual 4-H club meeting to this topic. Here is what they said.

What happened to George Floyd was not right

I’m confused. Why were there so many police for just a bad check? They could have just booked him and put him in jail. But he had to put his knee on his neck.
Even if it’s fake, George Floyd was listening to the police officer and doing everything he was told to do. They told him to sit down, he’d sit down. “Stand up;” he’d stand up. . . Even if you’re guilty, the police are not supposed to treat you like that.
But it's not the first time. Now people are realizing. 

They recognize racism

four young people gaze at the Minneapolis skylineWhy are there four officers coming for a guy with a forged check? Because he's a Black guy. They think he’s a threat.
I see White ladies getting into people’s business because they are Black or they look suspicious or something. . . They think their skin color is better, but they’re not. We are actually fighting for equality.

They know their value, even when others don't

We’re strong enough to stand up for ourselves.
There are times when you’re the only Black person and wearing a Hijab, and everyone is just staring at you, so it’s awkward, but I’m not ashamed of it.
I’d go [to a suburb] and I see a lot of 'Karens.' I feel awkward, but I’m still me.

They’re not confident racism will ever go away

I don’t think we can make the world less racist. People are convinced. They grow up knowing Black people are bad, they tell their kids that and it keeps going on. Our generation is better. Maybe some time way down the line racism will be better.
There’s always going to be that percentage of the world. We can lower it down, but racism will alway be here.

A white educator’s reflection

It is painful to learn that youth are resigned to the infinite omnipresence of racism. And yet, this everyday experience with oppression needs to be validated. In every interaction, every step, and every breath, these young people know the world in which they live is structured by racism.

Critical race education scholar Gloria Ladson-Billings asks educators and those working with youth to “come to grips” with this social reality for youth. Youth workers must recognize racism as “endemic and deeply ingrained” and develop informed empathy. This will allow us to build a sense of solidarity with young people.

In my colleague Kathryn Sharpe’s recent blog post, she makes clear that educators must not require BIPOC youth to be teachers of racism. Instead, we must recognize racism, commit to self-educate, challenge program structures that don't create a sense of belonging for all youth, and humbly make space for youth to “name their own reality” around issues of racism and oppression. This, according to Ladson-Billings, is the first step “on the road to justice.”

How did hearing from youth help you build a sense of solidarity?
Joanna Tzenis, Extension educator

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  1. Joanna, thank you so much for sharing these young people's perspectives and your own insights. I am always struck by how keenly youth sense and understand the weave of the social fabric around them, even when they may not yet understand the history or all the dynamics at play below the surface. As a fellow white woman, I am trying to listen, listen, listen and honor all that is being shared with me. Thanks for centering these young people's voices.

  2. Thank you for devoting a virtual 4-H club meeting to this conversation. Youth voice is critical and we can all learn from their experiences. I also appreciate insight from Gloria Ladson-Billings. I have so much to learn!

  3. Joanna, thank you for bringing young people's perspective front and center. I can't echo Kathryn enough in saying that as a fellow white woman I am trying to actively listen everyday, all day. I have been missing the perspective from young people and your efforts have helped fill that need for me. Thank you.

  4. Joanna, thank you for convening these conversations and sharing the voices of these young people. I appreciate seeing the themes that emerged in what you heard and what they shared; it helps me to think about these issues in more concrete ways.

  5. This is really powerful. It's so important to hear from young people as the future is literally theirs. I am curious what prompts these students were given, so I can share them with my own students!

  6. This is amazingly important work and I thank you Joanna for listening and sharing the voices of youth with such great respect and regard.

  7. Thanks to each of you for your comments and most importantly, for taking the time to read this blog and hear from young people. I was asked what prompts were given to the young people. I actually started the meeting with a lesson I learned watching the Sesame Street Town Hall and said, "I've been feeling really sad and angry, how have you been feeling?" There were definitely moments of silence on the zoom that we didn't hurry to fill with chatter, but each young person on the line shared their feelings and perspectives. After that, the conversation flowed quite seamlessly, but I often prompted youth with "tell me what you mean by that" or "can you give me an example?".


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