“Stop asking black people what to do, and start doing what you know in your heart is the right thing to do”
An interview with educator Stephen Minix on the death of George Floyd and America today
One of the most important things to do, as protests continue across the country, is to take the time to listen — listen to members of the black community talk about their experiences and their thoughts on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going as a society. Having worked closely with Stephen Minix in the past at UpMetrics (a company dedicated to helping nonprofits become sustainable through data), and knowing his background in the community as a coach, educator, and mentor, I wanted to connect with him to hear his reflections on this moment in our collective history.
Here’s what he said.
First question is simply, when you heard the news [about the death of George Floyd], what were the first things that went through your mind?
Crushing pain to see it happen again. The callousness of kneeling on someone’s neck for nine minutes was truly inhumane. More painful was the fact that three other officers allowed this to happen.
In the aftermath, what has stood out to you the most? What do you hope stands out the most for others?
How long nine minutes of time is for nobody to have a moment of clarity and say “this shouldn’t be happening.” Also, the visual of George Floyd actively dying on camera hopefully makes many folks who think this is only a black problem truly sick to their stomachs. You just watched a murder of an unarmed black man on video committed by a white police officer.
Now deal with that image.
Are you going to do moral gymnastics and try and justify this as a normal police act with a ‘criminal?’
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Did you happen to see the Killer Mike speech in Atlanta [also embedded below]? What are your thoughts on that?
Killer Mike always brings it. Plan, plot, strategize, and mobilize is the answer not desecrating your own neighborhoods and businesses.
Protesting these issues is often characterized as anti-American, even though the right to peaceful protest is one of most important rights we have as Americans. Your family has a military background, with multiple generations serving the country in uniform — what goes through your mind when you see pushback like that against protests?
My sister has been in the United States Navy for more than 23 years, and she will tell you she fights so you can protest. People that say protesting is anti-American have likely never had a reason to protest. How can it be un-American to say that I’m tired (as an African-American man) of seeing black people killed in this country by police? Instead of explaining why you think this is un-American, how about spending time thinking about how the police killing black people should not be an American quality.
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[Colin] Kaepernick tried to do this civilized and people struggled with that. All that pro sports pageantry associated with the Armed Forces never held weight with me. My father was a Master Sergeant in the Air Force, mom was in the Air Force — military service and sacrifice has nothing to do with a damn football game.
As a parent and coach, how do you talk to kids about these issues? Putting yourself back in the position of high school basketball coach, what would you have said to your team? How would you have discussed it?
As a coach we would talk about composure and harnessing anger for action in a way that honors our name, efforts and desires. Although punching a hole in a wall feels good at times it also bruises your hand and puts a hole in your wall. Did you want the hole in your wall?
As a parent the talk is similar, but my kids are very young. We talk about anger and frustration and how best to talk about things when you feel so bad. We also make sure that the conversation is not so abstract. We talk about the issues as they are.
As an educator, are there ways you think the field of education can better address some of these issues?
Yes! These are not black issues. These are human issues. We can’t simply teach people that everyone matters. We actually must spend time teaching anti-racism versus covering it in February during Black History Month.
More specifically, discipline disparities with black students (specifically male) and white counterparts are egregious and must continue to be addressed. Also, we need to double and triple down on our efforts to teach reading and literacy to every young person in this country before they reach kindergarten. Literacy is essential.
“I want you (non-black person) to fight for my kids’ rights, opportunities, and access the way you would fight for your own. This extends to the expectations on how adults should be treated when engaging with the police.”
It’s also important to address the teachers’ colleges to make sure the curriculum learned in order to become an educator is reflective of culturally sensitive and anti-racist pedagogy.
It might be obvious in part, but what changes do you want to see in the near future, and what do you hope will come out of this over the short and long term?
Dialogue between the silent ‘non-black’ sympathizers — how can they get together and use their platforms to elevate this issue as more than a black issue.
Community review boards should become a common practice of police depts.
I’d also like to see it understood that ‘white privilege’ can be addressed and articulated in a way that resonates with the privileged, and allows them to see the phrase as not an attack against them, but rather an acknowledgement that not all of us have been afforded the same ‘privilege,’ and that we have faced a different level of obstacles on our path.
The police and education systems need to start intentionally working together on education versus being reactive.
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And lastly, stop asking black people what to do, and start doing what you know in your heart is the right thing to do. I want you (non-black person) to fight for my kids’ rights, opportunities, and access the way you would fight for your own. This extends to the expectations on how adults should be treated when engaging with the police.
Thanks very much again to Stephen Minix for the interview — you can read about Stephen’s background and work in the South Los Angeles community here.