Guest post by Wokie Weah. This post originally appeared on the Youthprise blog on July 8, 2016.
Like most Minnesotans, I woke up yesterday to the horrific news of Philando Castile’s death. My first thought was for his family. I marveled at the poise of his fiancé Diamond Reynolds, his four-year-old stepdaughter, mother, and uncle. As a mother myself, I was filled with all of the complex emotions that come up for the mothers of African American males. We live in constant fear for the safety of our sons. According to Bureau of Justice Statistics, 13% of black drivers are stopped by police while only 10% of white or Hispanic drivers are stopped, meaning that African Americans are 31% more likely to be pulled over.
Systems recreate systems. Violence perpetuates violence. The time is ripe to reimagine a way to end systematic racism.
Redesigning How We Think
Philando’s death is not and should not be a black/white issue or partisan issue. All of us who live in Minnesota should seize the opportunity to act to dismantle racism, in all of its guises.
A first step is recognizing that African Americans experience the worst disparities, often structural in nature. At Youthprise we employ an aggressive assets-based approach to youth development to ensure that young people have access to expanded learning, economic opportunity, and health and safety. And we insist on the rights of young people to be a part of systems change.
Over the past year, the Northside Research Team, a group of youth we trained in Youth Participatory Action Research, investigated the effects of policing in their community. Their interviews confirmed that many youth had negative interactions with police, including being wary of leaving their homes. Using the research findings, the team recommended a set of actions we can take. This work epitomizes what Youthprise is about – creating opportunities for young people to have their voices be heard – and working with organizations and systems to make sure action is taken in response.
But where to start? First, we should prioritize building our capacity, as organizations and individuals, to achieve the type of equitable racial outcomes we want to see for all youth. Second, we have to remain open to really listening to what young people are saying and invest in their ability to lead. And lastly, but most importantly, we have to remain hopeful and optimistic even when things seem hopeless.
Staying on Mission
The Youthprise mission is to champion learning beyond the classroom so that all Minnesota youth thrive. It is a hopeful mission, one that demands we execute it holistically and in partnership with stakeholders who believe, like we do, that the future of our state depends on the ingenuity of our youth. As for me, I will keep dreaming about what seemed impossible yesterday morning—a Minnesota united in our resolve to dismantle racism. It will take collaborative partnerships between the police and community, investments in promising approaches that can be scaled, and legislation that will keep all of us accountable.
Today, I woke up to the news about Dallas. My heart goes out to the families of the police who were killed in this senseless ambush. My sincerest sympathies go to the Castilo family. It is my fervent hope, and my commitment, that Philando’s step-daughter will have a very different experience with law enforcement, and other systems, when she grows up.
Wokie Weah is the President of Youthprise, a nonprofit intermediary that invests in the future of Minnesota by investing in youth. Youthprise leverages its youth development expertise, organizational infrastructure, and financial, political, and relational capital to coordinate and support large-scale, cross sector initiatives and accelerate promising programs. Youthprise brokers partnerships with innovative organizations and creative thinkers who are making lasting, positive changes in the lives of young people.