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How to help young men channel rage

Marian Wright Edelman | 8/8/2015, 6:47 p.m.
The recent spotlight on systematic racial profiling and police brutality against Black boys and men has exposed a painful truth ...
Marian Wright Edelman

The recent spotlight on systematic racial profiling and police brutality against Black boys and men has exposed a painful truth long known in the Black community: just about every Black youth and man seems to have a story about being stopped by the police, and all live daily with the understanding it can happen to any of them at any time.

Dr. Terrell Strayhorn is Director of the Center for Higher Education Enterprise at The Ohio State University and a Professor of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Studies in the College of Education and Human Ecology. He also has faculty appointments in the Ohio State John Glenn College of Public Affairs, Department of African American and African Studies, and Education Policy, Engineering Education, and Sexuality Studies programs. But none of these credentials mattered one bit when Dr. Strayhorn was pulled over by a White police officer a week before he spoke at the June Children’s Defense Fund training for college-age students preparing to teach at CDF Freedom Schools® sites across the country this summer. He shared this story with the 2,000 young mostly non-White leaders because it was an integral part of his message for the young teachers in training: “How to Keep Our Black Boys Alive.”

He’d just bought a beautiful new car. “So I’m driving my really nice car because that’s what you can do in this country, right? You can work hard and you can make good money, and then you can use your money to buy a car…So I’m in my car, in my good hard-earned money car, and then comes a blue light in my rearview mirror.” The promise of the American Dream was gone in an instant. Instead he wasn’t even sure whether he would “live the next couple of minutes”—“because my nice car, and my nice degree, and my nice money, and my nice bracelet, and my nice looks, and my nice feel, my nice shoes—none of it, none of it, none of it, none of it, none of it is a panacea for the problems that we have in this country. And I watched an officer who does not know me come up to my window and say, ‘Mister, I need to see your license and registration.’ And I got ready to reach for it, and he reached for his gun—and I said, ‘Oh, my God. I know how this ends.’”

Dr. Strayhorn had to make an immediate decision about how he would respond. “I put my hands back and I said, ‘Do I have permission to do what you just asked me to do?’ And the cop said, ‘Yes, you can now move.’” Only then did Dr. Strayhorn go ahead and pull out his registration and license, along with his university identification card, though the officer didn’t seem to care. “He said, ‘Do you know why I stopped you?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Because you don’t look old enough to drive this car.’ It sounded like a compliment, but then I had to remind him—in my head, not out loud—that in this country actually, [when] you get a driver’s license, you’re free to drive any car.”