SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Rebecca Lee teaches at KIPP Tulsa College Prep, where a daughter of Terence Crutcher is in the sixth grade. Terence Crutcher is the 40-year-old man, father of four, shot to death by Tulsa police on September 16 after he halted his vehicle in the middle of a road. A white Tulsa police officer has been charged with manslaughter.
Rebecca Lee helped three groups of school children in Tulsa try to talk about their fears and feelings and posted some of her own on Facebook.
I look at the wide-eyed faces of the fifth graders surrounding me, she wrote. I asked them, what are your thoughts? They answer with questions. Why did they have to kill him? Why were they afraid of him? What will she do at father-daughter dances? Hasn't this happened before? As the questions roll, so do the tears.
The second group was sixth graders. When I opened the floor for discussion, Rebecca Lee wrote, silence. It hurts to talk about. It hurts to think about. It hurts. I give them the space to process silently. Then I tell them, we have different skin colors. I love you. You matter. You are worthy. You are human. You are valuable. Shoulders shake harder around the circle. I realize that this is the first time all year I have affirmed my love for them.
The third group of students were older - 13 and 14. They are hardened. They are angry, Rebecca Lee posted. What made him a big, bad dude, a boy asks. Was it his height? His size? I look at the boys in my circle, all former students of mine. They have grown inches since their first day in my class. Their voices have deepened. Their shoulders broadened. They all nod their heads in agreement at the student's last guess - the color of his skin?
I share this story, the teacher wrote, because Mr. Crutcher's death does not just affect the students at my school. We are creating an identity crisis in all our black and brown students. Do I matter? Am I to be feared? Should I live in fear? Am I human? We are shaping their world view with blood and bullets, hashtags and viral videos. Is this how we want them to feel? Is this how we want them to think?
I share this story because I spent the last two years teaching kids that we write to interact with and understand the world, that our voices matter and that our voices deserve to be heard. I would ask that you love and love hard.
Words this week from Rebecca Lee, a schoolteacher in Tulsa.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.