We know that incidents of violence against our brown and black brothers and sisters are not novel events. Nor, sadly, are acts of violence in which one person takes multiple people lives. But as media and the public become more alert to racial motivated violence, we begin to more and more see the evidence of it as we scroll through our social media, listen to the radio or watch TV news. Our kids are there, in the background or the foreground, paying attention. When we ourselves feel helpless and defeated (or is that just me?) what can we offer our children?
There are a couple of helpful places to go to help children process tragedy and violence they see and hear in the media, including PBS kids. We often go there for kid-safe video content but they have other helpful resources as well. The article linked above, which was written after the Connecticut school shooting is helpful in many of its points, including modeling assurance, taking action and paying special attention to children. But its first point speaks to assuring children that incidents of violence are isolated and rare and based on my own experience I would nuance this point when talking with children.
Our home was victim to a random drive-by shooting in May. We literally dug a bullet out of the wall of our front porch, several inches from the window to the kids’ room. It’s pretty hard in that situation to say, “You’re safe.” Although we did say, “You’re safe now.” Some members of our congregation were at or near SPU a year ago when that community experienced a shooting on their campus and are feeling deep resonance with the members of Emmanel AME. I think we are all becoming aware that we can’t tell children, “This will never happen to you.” We most assuredly can tell children, God is always with you and God’s love will never leave you. We can also assure them of the love of their family and community. And yes, while incidents like this do occur with seeming frequency, they are indeed very rare and very unlikely to happen to them. Carolyn Brown does a nice job of naming some important points in talking with kids about tragedy from a faith perspective at Worshiping with Children.
My go-to site for thematic literature, Storypath, has some specific recommendations following the Charleston shooting. I always find excellent recommendations there for books that help parents talk about scripture and about hard issues in age-appropriate ways. One of my favorite book suggestions from that site is a setting of Psalm 23 by author Tim Ladwig (book image left). The pictures in the book follow a child in her joys and fears, through her urban neighborhood to the words of the well-known Psalm. I also found an absolutely lovely video that has the images from this book set to music.
Story path also has a bibliography of resources to help talk with children about racial inequity and white privilege. This may be the most important part of the story to talk to about with children. Color blindness is not a thing and we need to educate ourselves about how people are treated differently based on pigmentation. I blogged about this during the Ferguson protests at pastoramy.blogspot.com. There are also links in those posts to resources on how to talk with kids about race.
It is heart wrenching to keep hearing of people whose lives are taken or whose bodies are battered because of skin color or ethnicity. May we who are people of privilege have the wisdom to know how to use it and to hold that privilege with open hands and hearts.