Listen to the Young

Learning about equality from our children 

It’s hard to believe that something could come along and dominate national news headlines other than COVID-19 during the pandemic, but it happened this week. It’s a headline of a different kind, one about social injustice, police brutality, protests and destructive riots. 

In Chesapeake country, we’re mostly removed from the chaotic images of cities burning, but not the issues that fuel the reactions. Social media is flooded with hurting Marylanders who feel marginalized, pledges of support from those who want to stand up against racism, and outrage from those who see clashes with police and vandalism on TV. 

I feel sick at the images brought to light, and many of us are at a loss for what to do. Am I credible if I speak up about something so unfamiliar? Am I a “joiner” if this is the first time I’ve chosen to be vocal? 

As a mother, there’s one thing I know I can do. I have two little boys at very impressionable ages, just two and four years old. They will grow up someday, and it’s my responsibility to establish the values they grow up with. 

Little kids know little of racism. Preschoolers play freely with all the children on the playground. It’s painful to think I’ll have to tell them that some people dislike others based on the color of their skin—even some grownups. The true pain is for a mother who must explain this to her black or brown children. 

Young children can be a touchstone in dealing with this subject. I feel sure that we can learn more from our young people than from the loudest voices on social media. This week, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman held an unusual community event (virtually, of course). He invited African-American county residents under the age of 30 to speak in a Zoom event called “Young and Black in the Age of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and the Coronavirus Pandemic- What is our Future?”  

Seven young local leaders, from high schoolers to a nonprofit founder and a 23-year-old Annapolis alderman, spoke about the specific changes they believe will improve inequalities in education, housing and community resources. 

Meade High School graduate Madison Medley pushed for earlier anti-racism programs in schools—at the elementary level, rather than in high school. “We need to counter racism at its core,” said Medley. “You can never be too young to understand another idea.” 

D’Juan Moreland, a UMBC freshman from Anne Arundel County, called for school curriculum changes to help minority students succeed. He wants to see more emphasis on entrepreneurship and personalized teaching to help students identify a career path. Those students not on a traditional college track “can get skills like trades within the public school system,” Moreland said. 

Hearing our youngest adults share the problems they see and offer possible solutions can help us realize that listening may be just as valuable as speaking out. And that’s something I’ll be sure my children carry with them.