Childhood Memories (RJI)

by Mary McKillip, Chair, Racial Justice Initiative

My son (white, almost 12) and I both read The Hate U Give this month. The novel is written from the perspective of a black teenage girl dealing with the police shooting of a black male teenage friend. My son is a voracious reader of science fiction, but luckily he is also a kid who won’t turn down a good book, even if it is real-world storytelling. We both highly recommend this book — for teens and grownups alike.

At the end of the novel, the narrator mentions how the story is more than just about her friend, and mentions other recent victims of police brutality. Within the story, and in this closing, Emmett Till’s story is referenced. When my son finished the book, he came to me and said he wanted to learn more about the people mentioned at the end of the book. He especially wanted to know what happened to Emmett Till. It was right before bed, so I gave him a brief synopsis of Emmett Till’s story and then sent him to bed. He pressed for more details; I told him we would discuss it later. He had nightmares that night. In the morning he woke up saying “Why did the men do that to the young boy? Why are people so terrible to each other?”

His nightmares and stress concerned me. This is my baby. I don’t want to traumatize him. But I know the importance of him knowing our history so he can understand that the current race inequalities of today are because of the ugliness of our American history and because of our inability to face that history head-on, not because of inherent qualities that make white people better than people from other racial backgrounds. I also thought of a story on This American Life a while back about a Baltimore museum of African American history often attended by black children growing up in the city, but much less often by white children living in the area (see link to the podcast below). Children of all races in America need to learn our history, the good and the ugly.

Many of us in the church, through Beloved Conversations and other ways going back many years, have been diving into our own memory banks to think about in what ways race was present in our growing up and the many cases where — among white church members — it was present and playing a role all along but we never even noticed it. If you haven’t done this dive yet, I encourage you to start to take a look – it is part of the journey to spiritual wholeness spoken of in our 8th principle, long a part of the UU path to anti-racism.

Here are some upcoming ways you can get involved and support racial justice:

  • Come to the talk by New Jersey’s Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) leader Rev. Katie Mulligan November 26, 7-9.
  • Come to a Racial Justice Initiative meeting December 9 at 12:30 pm Room 201 to meet steering committee members, hear an update on RJI activities, and share your thoughts and ideas.
  • The Greater Good Project
  • Read The Leavers by Lisa Ko, a wonderful novel about an immigrant mother from China, her New York City-born son, and their relationships with each other and those around them.
  • Watch the movie The Hate U Give, in theaters now. And the book, The Hate U Give, is available to borrow from the UUCWC Social Justice Library
  • Listen to the Suitable for Children episode on the This American Life podcast.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Email