Monday, July 25, 2016

All Aboard the Opt Out Bus - Day 4 Journal: "Let the Children See Us Trying" (Rev. Barber)

by Susan and Shawn DuFresne 7.16.16

originally published on the Facebook page All Aboard the Opt Out Bus:



Just prior to the time we needed to get packing for the #OptOutBus2016 Coast to Coast Free Books for Kids Tour, our nation was brought to its knees [again] by the back-to-back shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Then another tragedy in Dallas. The country's focus turned to racism once more for the time being.

I was torn. Do we go forward with the tour? I seriously considered painting the ‪#‎OptOutBus‬ and creating a ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ Bus. As I was packing, I looked at all the messages on the bus - the most recent being written predominantly by black and brown students and parents at Garfield HS.

I paused to reflect on 12 year old Asean Johnson's speech at the Save Our Schools and ‪#‎PeoplesMarch16‬ in DC...on Jesse Hagopian's speech there, Reverend Barber's speech, Jitu Brown's, Yohuru Williams', and Julian Vasquez-Helig's, to name a few.

Jesse said, ‘For black lives to matter, black ‪#‎education‬ has to matter.’…/for-black-lives-to-matter…/
Reverend Barber said, "Let the children see us trying."

Like I've said before, we aren't expecting the #OptOutBus to suddenly end high stakes testing. But as you can see - #BlackLivesMatter and corporate education reform are connected deeply. There was no need to start over on the bus, we simply needed to add on.

As a result of Philando Castile's life mattering to so many children - to so many public school colleagues of his, to so many in his community - it felt important to visit St. Paul, MN. Today was the day.

I worried about stepping into a sacred circle, as an outsider to be honest. We weren't coming as white saviors, but to demonstrate our compassion through a small act of kindness. How do I navigate this attempt - to what I know is to make a small gesture - towards demonstrating that black lives do matter to some of us whites? We wanted to "let the children see us trying"...

A stop at Subway enroute to Philando's school brought us to Jen. Jen was very receptive to our thoughts of giving books to the children from this neighborhood. She knew someone closely connected to Philando and immediately made a phone call. She said we had 3 options: 1) Philando's family was having a picnic at the neighborhood park and we could give books to children there 2) We could go to his school where he worked and see if kids were at the playground, and 3) There was an ongoing protest at the Governor's mansion and maybe some kids would be there.

Jen wrote out directions, we thanked her, and headed to the park. Turning into a parking lot we saw a small family picnic in action. I tend to be shy and wanted to be respectful. I approached, but not too closely - and chose to speak to what appeared to be the parent of the group of kids. I smiled and asked if I could ask her a question. She smiled and approached. I let her come closer to me. I told her we were on a cross country trip from Seattle and that we were looking for Philando's family picnic to give children books as is small token of our caring.

She said she was a teacher too - Special Ed for St. Paul Public Schools - and that she had seen a large group of people wearing R.I.P. tee shirts across Horton. She told me her name is Mary.

I listened intently as she told me how she was a block 1/2 away from the incident watching Diamond's narrative of Philando's murder unfold live on Facebook, as a friend of hers had been tagged by Diamond in the original post.

Mary said her husband too, is often pulled over for no reason and how he and her 7 year old very politically aware son said - "No, we are all Philando. This killed a little bit in all of us today."

We began talking about the bus and the connections of corporate reform to racism. As a teacher and a parent, she wholeheartedly agrees with the refusal of the state tests. She said, "My kids don't take the tests and neither do my principals', and you know, she's a black principal."

She talked about how she looks forward to looking up and how she hates having to comply with giving her students with special needs the computerized standardized tests, but she does it and follows the rules required of her.

Her 3 beautiful children each chose a book and began writing messages on the bus. Without a word - the Black Lives Matter became part of the messages written by Mary's children.

"Black Lives Matter"

"Love everyone."


"Be nice no matter WHAT."

"I Love YOU."

"Stop Bullying!"

"I love you, peeps!"

"Have a great education!"

"Love from St. Paul, MN.", they wrote.

She asked more about our trip and she talked about how upset her 7 year old son gets when he hears anything about Trump. We told her we'd be at the DNC protesting as well on our trip.

Mary and her children thanked us for the books and our work for both black lives and the ‪#‎optout‬ work.

Later we discovered Philando's family picnic had finished earlier in the day so we went on to his school, where we found a few families playing at the playground.

Again, strange white folks pulling up in a - shall we just say - strange looking bus might be off-putting. I gave them time to read a few things on the bus, approached, told her why we were there, and offered books to her children. She didn't give me her name. She talked about her feelings about the murder of Philando. She didn't know him, nor did her children as they had just moved into the neighborhood. She said, "These things have been going on for centuries, but now we just have cell phone technology so the police can't get by with it without the truth getting out." She wants a very organized group to step up and solve the root of the problem, which she believes is an economic problem. She said, "We live through this every day and have been for a long time."

She didn't want her, nor her children photographed, which we always ask and respect. She and her children thanked us for the books and wished us the best on our journey.

We didn't pursue the protest at the Governor's mansion and we didn't make any big changes with our small gestures. What we did do was take time to let two different black families in St. Paul, in Philando's neighborhood, that as white people, we care.

So what? Only by organizing other whites who are willing to do the work we need to do to create justice, will black lives matter.

We know we have so much more to do. We encourage other white activists to join us, because it is us who need to educate, activate, organize, and make these changes happen. Whites constructed the oppressive power structure - including the corporate colonization of our schools - and we need to dismantle it. What are you willing to do to create a just world?

Remember - in all of our work - in all of our organizing, follow Reverend Barber's advice: "Let the children see us trying."

We landed at the KOA just off I-94 East in Hixton-Alma Center in the garden spot. We'll be in Chicago tomorrow. We are almost out of books for kids so we need to stop at a local independent book store, then on to Boston area to meet with activists and our family.

Good night!

In solidarity,

Susan and Shawn


We have 2 different fund raisers going so you have transparency about where your money is going.

Gas for #OptOutBus 2016 Tour

This one goes toward the Free Books for Kids, here:

Thank YOU!

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