A Reflection on the Derek Chauvin Verdict

Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a White mother’s son—we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.
–Ella Baker, 1964 

On April 20th, the jury returned their verdict – guilty as charged on three counts for the murder of George Floyd. Moments before the judge read the verdict, my heart was pounding, hoping for the “best”, but fearing more of the same– a country that consistently fails to hold those who murder Black bodies accountable for their crimes. And knowing that my hope for a guilty verdict – even as it was realized – does not represent justice. As Brittany Packnett Cunningham has consistently reminded, justice would be George Floyd still alive. The fact that this was not justice was amplified bthe murder of another child, Ma’Khia Bryant, at the hands of police mere minutes after the verdict was read. The brokenness of our systems is breaking our children, especially Black children, and in turn our future.  

Even before the news of Ma’Khia Bryant emerged, my feeling of relief was mixed with waves of other complex emotions that today’s verdict is not proof that the system works. It doesn’t. Austin Channing Brown shared about feeling “the weight of how so many Black families didn’t even get this.” Breonna Taylor. Sandra Bland. Natasha McKenna. Maurice Gordan. Elijah McClain. Philando Castile. Freddie Gray… and so many others whose families didn’t get this same accountability. And we are still waiting to find out whether there will be accountability for the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, and now Ma’Khia Bryantand many others, not to mention the names that haven’t yet surfaced because the system is actively avoiding accountability. 

Ella Baker’s words ring as true as if they were spoken yesterday. We who believe in freedom cannot restWe who believe in freedom must commit to changing the odds for children and youth so that the ability to live a full life into old age isn’t predicted by race, ethnicity, sexuality, or gender identity. We have to ensure all the places young people spend their time – whether in parks (Tamir Rice), in schools (Anthony Thompson, Jr)or in neighborhoods (Adam ToledoMa’Khia Bryant) are physically, emotionally, and psychologically safe. And that adults who interact with young people – wherever they are – shift from seeing some young people, especially Black children, as threatening to understanding how to reflect on their own biases so that they can truly nurture the potential of the young people in their lives.  

The Forum for Youth Investment has always been focused on the mission of changing the odds that all children and youth are ready for college, work, and life. This expansive mission, nurtured by our Founder and former President & CEO, Karen Pittman, over the course of her career, has helped to change the national narrative about young people from one focusing on problem prevention to one focusing on how to support them to thrive. This mission is one that will lead the organization into our future – as we wrestle with the realities that the odds are unjust and that we have to be clearer and bolder about what it will take to change the odds. Today, that is providing the appropriate spaces for Black children to process the reality of exhaling a sigh of relief for the guilty verdict and mere hours later grieve the death of another Black child. And it is also creating appropriate settings for non-Black children to process these very same events in a way that helps them build the skills necessary to understand and challenge injustice. I am inspired by this mission and by colleagues at the Forum and our partners in the field who are working tirelessly to name the odds, to learn about their historical and current causes, and to dismantle systems of oppression and reimagine systems so that they ensure racial equity and social justice. We who believe in freedom have so much work to do.   

With appreciation to Nalini Ravindranath, Delbria Walton, Sher Jamal Stone, and Amanda Heckenkamp for contributing feedback and edits.