This article was originally published as a newsletter from the Pitt School of Education Office of Equity and Justice. It was written by Dr. Leigh Patel, associate dean for equity and justice, and Medina Jackson, director of engagement at the P.R.I.D.E. Program, which is part of the Office of Child Development.
This flyer departs from the pattern of flyers we have put out. In this flyer, there are two women speaking about the anti-Black violence, sanctioned state violence, and core vibrance of human beings. In the coming week, the law enforcement officer, Michael Rosfeld, who shot and killed Antwon Rose Jr. will be judged, quite literally, by a group of jurors who may, in some ways be his peers, but most of whom have lived well beyond and afar from the East Pittsburgh neighborhood where Antwon Rose Jr. died. I hope I am wrong about this. I wish the jury were made up of Black elders from East Pittsburgh, to balance and perhaps outweigh the whiteness codified into law and from the environs in and beyond Pittsburgh. There is much that we will not know about the details of this legal trial until they are released by the court system and the media. What we doknow, now and always, is that Antwon Rose Jr., was not simply another young Black body to perish under state and extra-legal lethal violence. He was a vibrant, living example of life, promise, hopes, dreams, sadness, and love. In short, he was a human being, and his dignity and life were both extinguished in a few short seconds in 2018.
Violence seems, unfortunately, a regular occurrence in our lives, be it our neighbors, family, loved ones, or halfway around the world, with yet another mass murder of people who were peacefully praying. Violence does not effect peoples in the same way, but it does have some common roots: who is deemed to be human, who is suspect, already criminal, and expendable. We invite to you read, feel, think, and at the close of the flyer, link on the resources provided and where you can, be with others, discuss, contribute and perhaps pay back your energies for freedom for all.
From Medina Jackson, Director of Engagement, The P.R.I.D.E. program and Leigh Patel, Associate Dean for Equity and Justice in the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh
As Nikki Giovanni said : “If now is not a good time to tell truth, I don’t see when we’ll ever get around to it.”
My 9 year old son, Masiah, is reading a book about the life of Frederick Douglass. After he was done with his chapter for the evening, he asked me questions about slavery and the way that enslaved Africans were limited and restricted. At the end of our conversation, he proclaimed, “I’m a free Black child.” I thought about how I should respond.
So many things ran through my mind in that moment, as if his life flashed before my eyes. I thought of the continuous assault and violence that people of the global majority (people of color) of a myriad of intersections have and continue to endure. I thought of all of the trauma we have collectively experienced. I thought of what his life may be like, the challenges, and the potential pitfalls. I thought of how he is a tall, 9 year old Black boy who is around the age of adultification, where he may be perceived as older than he is, less susceptible to mental, emotional and physical pain, someone to fear and be intimidated by and less worthy of a childhood full of joy and play simply because he’s born in this body, this life, and this experience and the potential impact of implicit and explicit bias.
I thought about what it means to be Black and alive and what it has meant. What does it mean for me as a Black woman, embodying a variety of social locations? What does it mean for our children and how has that meaning evolved over time? How do our children perceive liberation? What will it mean to be free for the generations after them? What are we fighting for? What does a free Black present and future look like? One vision I’d offer is for our children to be able to show up as they are, being who they want to be, doing what they want to do without the weight of racism, systemic advantage and oppression capping their dreams. There is the fight against AND building and advocating for what we want. We have always had to hold space for both sides of this coin. We have always made way for multiple realities and ways of being and seeing for our collective survival. Perhaps the next generation will have a more evolved vision based on the progress we’ve made that we can’t even conceive of, and as their ancestors, they will be our wildest, most audacious dreams, just as we may be the most audacious dreams come true for our ancestors, many of whom were unable to read without severe punishment or travel freely without fear of lynching in a “Sundown town.”
As the trial of Michael Rosfeld, (the East Pittsburgh police officer who ended 17 year old Antwon Rose Jr ‘s life with 3 shots to the back last year) begins, I think of Antwon and young people like him as I would my own child. I think of them not as a nameless, faceless, dehumanized mass of “Black and Brown bodies.” I think of them as human beings, children, with a whole universe inside of them and an entire existence attached to them and surrounding them. Antwon Rose Jr. was not just a body, though various forms of oppression are enacted upon the bodies of people of the global majority through state sanctioned violence, individual acts and systemic racism, policies, programs and practices, food insecurity, economic inequities, wage and health disparities, access to healthy drinking water and clean air, the school to prison pipeline, displacement, colonization, subtle and overt forms of terrorism and the list goes on. Antwon was a Black boy, somebody's baby, a mother's son, a helpful human being, a skateboarder, a student, a friend, a child who was "confused and afraid" about his present and future, who questioned what is here for me? He was a full life that was cut short, taken from us all.
In considering all of this, how could I respond to Masiah’s statement of being a free Black child? I only felt it right to answer in one way. “Yes son, you are.”
We will continue to talk about racism and different forms of oppression. I know that I will have to continue to help him navigate difficult situations due to this oppression. We will continue to expose him to the reality of power imbalances as it exists in developmentally appropriate ways.
I am affirming liberation for my Black child.
I am affirming life for my Black child.
I am affirming infinite possibilities for my Black child.
I am affirming my Black child’s ability to dream.
I am affirming my Black child’s ability to be his full self.
I am affirming my Black child’s greatness.
I am affirming my Black child’s ability to be a child.
I am affirming my Black child’s ability to have joy and fun.
I am affirming my Black child’s ability to create the life he wants and deserves.
This is what I’m fighting FOR and building towards…
For my son
For all of our children
For all of us.
Below are resources that include links to alternatives to mass incarceration, the fulcrum of anti-blackness, legal and extralegal violence wrought upon Black peoples, and the work of organizers of many ages to respond and imagine beyond these realities:
Anti-Black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy
When police checks result in death