In the Wake of Racial Injustice … What Should Youth Workers Do?

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jamall - weissThis editorial is based on a series of Facebook posts that occurred in the wake of the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The murders of black people by law enforcement is not new in America; it's the capturing of these incidents that has been amplified by the increase in smartphones and social media.

Like many people around the country we have been disturbed by all the violence occurring around the country. Our center, the Neutral Zone, has always prided itself on being a safe, “neutral” space, where our ethnically diverse teens and colleagues can have meaningful dialogue even about difficult topics. This conversation, as many modern ones, happened through social media. It was organic and personal, and though it did not resolve the crises happening across the country we felt that by sharing it publicly we could take a small step in constructively contributing to the conversation.

Jamall J. Bufford: July 8 at 1:30am

I need all my non-Black acquaintances, friends and loved ones to know, that even though I've never been arrested, I graduated from the University of Michigan, I work with the youth, and I try my best to treat everyone equally, as a Black man, I can die tomorrow at the hands of the police. The same police that are supposed to keep me safe. And know another thing, if I die because I'm Black, I'll die proud of my Blackness.

John K. Weiss: July 8 at 1:36am

I’ve been disturbed and distressed by all the craziness going on, but you really brought it home.

Jamall J. Bufford: July 8 at 2:30am

Seeing these murders so up close and personal was a crazy experience for me.  I’ve never seen anything like that before.

John K. Weiss: July 8 at 12:11pm

How can I as a white man be an ally?

Jamall J. Bufford: July 8 at 12:36pm

Some of my friends say white people shouldn’t assume black people need their involvement.

John K. Weiss: July 8 at 4:16pm

The civil rights movement couldn’t have come as far as it did if white allies didn’t step up.

Jamall J. Bufford: July 8 at 8:30pm

Don’t assume your role. Let those who are most impacted (black and brown people) reach out if they feel your involvement is needed. Granted, the movement will look different here in Ann Arbor [Michigan] than other cities like Baton Rouge [Louisiana].

Steve M*: July 9 at 12:17am

My fellow white people.  If you go to marches, please make sure you're not overstepping, first and foremost.

Secondly, ask yourself why you would take pictures of yourself and post them on social media.

What are your motives in doing so? Why does your presence at these events need to be broadcast? Are you amplifying black voices or are you putting it out there for "ally points"? Because more often than not when you post these things, it looks like- at least to me- that the fact you were there is more the focus than the work happening.

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Hannah P*: July 9 at 4:43am

All non-black people need to find ways to become allies and stop this. Stop it while it’s happening and stop it from happening. Maybe every time we see a non-white person dealing with the police we should stop and ask if we can help. Maybe it’s time for white people to help enforce the fact that we all have the same rights. Create a "yes I have to get to work, but I'm staying here with you until you're safe because you matter."

Jamall J. Bufford: July 9 at 10:30am

I’m still not sure about what role white people should play in the movement, but I do believe there is power in numbers and the more people that speak up to acknowledge a problem exists, the better.

John K. Weiss: July 9 at 1:36pm

Yes I agree, how can we turn up the numbers of youth getting involved?

Jamall J. Bufford: July 9 at 5:30pm

That’s an important question.  I would want to make sure youth are even ready to process what’s going on. If they are, make sure we can find the person who they are most comfortable having the conversation with – probably someone of their own identity.

As a youth worker, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately – wondering if with all the crazy stuff going on kids just need a safe place for a kid to be a kid and just have fun. In the case of Tamir Rice, he didn’t have that option.

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Lori*: July 9 at 10:30pm

Exactly that’s why I do what I do as a youth worker.  Make change in communities.

Jamall J. Bufford:  July 10 at 1:30am

If you are going to work in any community – as a youth worker, police officer, teacher or any profession – it’s critical that you get to know and respect the people in that community. Maybe that’s the first and most important step in making sure these injustices don’t continue.

Jamall Bufford is the music coordinator at the Neutral Zone, Ann Arbor, Michagan’s teen center. JamallBufford@gmail.com @JamallBufford; John Weiss is Neutral Zone’s director of strategic initiatives. @youthdriven

* These names were changed for privacy.

Editor’s note: Most of these posts are shared directly, unedited, from the writers’ social media accounts.