The ongoing protests around America following the death of George Floyd have prompted important conversations about race in the US. Recently, Today show hosts Al Roker, Craig Melvin, and Sheinelle Jones had an open discussion about some of the difficult conversations they've had with their children as Black parents.
Al, a father of three, reflected on how he often fears for his 17-year-old son Nicholas's safety outside their home and has talked to him about what to do if he's ever stopped by the police. "I've got an almost 18-year-old son, and I've had to have this conversation with him," he explained. "If you're stopped by the police, you are polite, you're quiet, you just say 'yes,' you say 'no,' you don't get belligerent."
Al continued, sharing that his son rides the New York City subway to and from home by himself, and he fears for what could happen while Nicholas is out. "I don't breathe a sigh of relief until Nick walks in that door because I am afraid of what could happen," Al said.
Craig, who shares two children — Delano, 6, and Sybil, 3 — with his wife, Lindsay Czarniak, shared his experience with raising biracial children.
"Lindsay and I have had this conversation," Craig said. "I think sometimes people, unfortunately, they make certain, perhaps, assumptions. I'm a relatively young Black man who's rearing a young Black man, living in the United States of America. Don't be fooled by the suits and some status."
"We haven't healed, we haven't come up with some sort of comprehensive plan to actually do better."
Craig also explained that he's reminded daily of the systemic racism that exists in the US. "The number of times where you walk in a store and you know," he explained. "You're constantly reminded. And we like to think that we live in some sort of postracial America, and the reality is we are reminded time and time again that we do not."
For Craig, the most frustrating part about past movements is that no real change has taken place afterward. "I think one of the things that's most frustrating is this happens, we have these conversations, people march, we pledge to do better, and then we move on," Craig explained. "We haven't healed, we haven't done up some sort of comprehensive plan to actually do better, and then lo and behold, a few months pass, a couple years, and then something even worse happens."
He reflected on his experience covering the protests in Ferguson, MO, in 2014 to make his point. "People were adamant that [those protests] was going to be the catalyst for change, and it wasn't," he shared. "It wasn't. I don't know what it's going to take to effect real change, because the reality is you can't legislate hearts and minds."
"You want to build them up, but the world is the world, and it will strip away everything you've built them up with."
Sheinelle also shared the important conversations she's had with her three kids — Kayin, 10, and 7-year-old twins Clara and Uche — about racism after they asked why the protests were taking place. After trying to give an overview of what happened to George, she opted to share the details with her children.
"They looked at me and they were just like, 'Your little mom answers are not good enough,'" Sheinelle said. Then, she took the time to explain to her kids the circumstances surrounding George's death. "Clara goes, 'Why would he do that? Why would he put his knee on the guy's neck?' And I said, 'Well . . . Mom doesn't have an answer,' and then the little guy goes, 'So it's because he has brown skin like us, that's why he's being mean to him?'"
Although Sheinelle reassured her kids that not all police officers are bad people, understandably, they became very emotional when they learned that not all of the police officers involved in George's death are in jail. Moreover, once they learned why George was detained in the first place, they couldn't wrap their heads around it. "Next thing you know, I have three crying kids, crying because they're afraid," Sheinelle said. "They went to sleep crying. And I'm over here trying to come up with things to say . . . It was really traumatic for me, for them . . . I went to bed with such a heavy heart."
For Sheinelle, who's done everything she can to provide her children with Black role models and representation, their reaction hit home.
"We do all the things we're supposed to do, get Clara her black Barbie dolls, get Kayin his books about strong Black men," she said. "You want to build them up, but the world is the world, and it will strip away everything you've built them up with. And it's out of your control, and I think that is why I cried out of my sleep because my beautiful brown children with their big brown eyes, I can't shield them from the things that happen, and the truth hurts to talk about."
For those who have the means to donate, check out this list of organizations accepting contributions. Additionally, parents can shop this list of antiracist children's books, which seek to teach inclusivity.